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Greenwell Farms Coffee

June 17, 2014

On Day 2 of our Hawaiian vacation, we had a full day of activities planned.  With a rental car in hand, we set out to explore the island.  In order to make the most of our time on the Big Island, we planned in advance places we wanted to see, things we wanted to do, and stuff we just had to eat.  So today, our adventure begins.

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When you think of Kona, one of the first things that comes to mind, at least for me, is Kona coffee.  It’s known the world round for its fantastic variety of coffee.  The Big Island, with its 11 different climate zones provides some really fertile land to farm, and to grow fruits and vegetables.  On the west side of the island, down in a small town called Captain Cook, just south of Kona, coffee farms rule the area.  Due to its tropical, temperate weather all year long, its subtle altitude, and its rich volcanic lava rock, these create the ideal conditions with which to cultivate coffee bean trees.  In my planning of our itinerary for the day, I knew I wanted to take a tour of a coffee farm and see how coffee is grown and harvested.  After doing a little bit of online research, I discovered Greenwell Farms.  Open 7 days a week, the historic site of the Greenwell Farms coffee plantation welcomes visitors and gives free tours of the coffee farm and an education in the production of coffee beans.

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During the tour, we walked out to part of Greenwell Farms coffee plantation which was filled with many acres of coffee trees.  This was only part of their actual 150 acre coffee tree plantation.  In fact, Greenwell Farms began in 1850 when founder Henry Greenwell and his wife Elizabeth moved from the United Kingdom to Kona.  Noticing the Big Island’s fertile volcanic land, the Greenwells began farming and ranching.  Soon, they discovered coffee trees and began producing coffee which they exported to the Americans and Europe.  We learned that coffee beans harvested from a coffee tree are best between years 4 -6, these produce the best, most flavorful beans.  During harvesting season, coffee beans may be processed pretty much around the clock as coffee beans are harvested by hand and are very labor intensive.  In order to extract the best, most pure coffee flavor from the coffee beans, the time between ripeness of the coffee beans and the roasting of the beans must be done in as little time as possible.

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Before the coffee tree produces coffee beans, you get flowers.  A nice, healthy coffee bean tree will produce thousands of very fragrant flowers which attract the pollinators, like bees.  These white flowers are sweet-smelling, reminding me of the smell of jasmine.

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Once the flowers die off, you get green coffee beans.  The green beans come in the thousands and are about the size of cherries.  In fact, you know that coffee beans are ripe and ready to be picked when they turn a bright red color.  This what is referred to as coffee cherries.  They are hand-picked by seasonal workers who are hired by the plantation.  These cherries are harvested and eventually roasted by Greenwell Farms.

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In fact, many other coffee farmers in the area pick their coffee cherries and then sell the cherries by the pound to Greenwell Farms to produce as they don’t have the production ability on their own farms.  This building is where the picked coffee cherries are processed and dried out prior to the roasting process.  The coffee cherries need to be dried and cracked as the cherries aren’t what become coffee beans.  It’s the bean hidden inside the coffee cherries that become the coffee beans that we are all familiar with.

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While we weren’t able to see the roasting process in person, the farm had beans in various stages of roasting displayed in tin cans so that we could see how various temperatures of roasting the beans caused them to produce various strengths of coffee flavor from a light roast to a dark roast to an espresso roast.  The entire process of coffee production was quite interesting as I had no idea that coffee came from “cherries” and the beans were actually inside.  Actually, I guess I had no idea that coffee even came from trees.  Once Henry Greenwell perfected his various strengths of Kona coffee, he entered his coffee into the Vienna World’s Fair in 1873 and won a special “Recognition Diploma.”  That award put Kona coffee on the map.

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Today, members of the Greenwell family still run Greenwell Farms.  When you come to the farm for a visit, you can also get a tasting of the various coffees they roast.  The day we were there, they had 10 various different kinds of coffee fresh-roasted for us to try out.  Seven of the varieties were different strengths of coffee from medium to dark roast, two varieties were flavored coffees and one variety was decaffeinated coffee.  My husband insisted on sampling all 7 of the various strengths of coffees so that he could figure out which one he liked best.  While cream and sugar is available for those who prefer to doctor their coffee, the true way to enjoy the rich flavor of roasted coffee beans is to drink it straight black.  After sampling, my husband discovered, and I agreed, that the best coffee variety that Greenwell Farms offered was peaberry, a very unique variety of coffee that is hard to find as very few coffee cherries actually produce a bean the size of peaberry.  In fact, at Greenwell Farms, peaberry is so prized that they only see peaberry to the public at their farm when you visit or via their online store.  Peaberry is not a variety of coffee they produce and sell via their various distribution channels to be found at retail outlets or coffee houses.

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Of course, once you’ve taken the tour around the farm, and you’ve sampled the different types of fresh-brewed coffees, the farm has a small little store where you can purchase a variety of coffee products, including packages, large and small, of their different roasts of coffee either as whole beans or grounds.  It’s hard not to want to go home with more than one bag of this amazing, flavorful and rich Kona coffee.

I’d highly recommend that anyone who is planning a visit to the Big Island of Hawaii to stop at any of the many coffee farms in Captain Cook and take a tour of a coffee plantation.  I felt like I learned so much about the process of growing, harvesting and producing commercial coffee beans.  It was a unique and fun experience and of course the sampling of various strengths of coffee was quite fun.  I’ve now discovered peaberry coffee which I’d never even heard of before coming to the Big Island.  I don’t think I’ll ever look at Kona coffee the same way again.  I can definitely see why Hawaiians are so proud of their rich tradition of coffee-making.

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