Recently, after a long drought of not having any in stock, we at Café Imports were able to secure a small amount of coffee from the Island of Kona in Hawaii.
This coffee is a sort of hot button bean in specialty coffee circles. Some roasters and customers love Konas and are more than willing to spring for them at any cost. Others claim the cup does not equate to the price. Kona coffees are known for their mild, smooth and even nutty characteristics. However, in recent years, most “boutique coffee” roasters have not valued Kona coffees very highly due to them being perceived as not having the intensity (namely acidity and sweetness) of contemporary niche’ coffees. When cupped next to a bright, vivacious Kenyan coffee, or a micro-lot Colombian coffee boasting notes of pure raw sugar and orange, some Kona coffees seem somewhat low key and simple, but as with any origin, it's problematic to make broad generalizations.
When Kona coffees hit the scene, it was a much different coffee world: commodity coffee was booming and most of it tasted harsh and bitter. Hawaiian coffees came to us smooth and boasting lots of body, as a harbor in the storm. Kona helped to pave the way toward a more refined palate, and more willing wallet.
Prices for Kona coffees are sometimes seen as inflated. However, these prices are due to a few different things: rarity, demand, strong name recognition, consistent flavor from year to year for decades, it is grown in the U.S. under U.S. standards, along with many other factors.
Compounding with this, in recent years Hawaii has seen more than its share of trials. There has been a huge invasion of the coffee bore beetle. This has blighted many crops; some farms have even experienced 80-100% loss. I spoke to my friend Pete Licata of Isla Coffee, you know the guy, US Barista Champ 2011 and 2nd in the world, (all using Hawaiian coffee). He filled me in a bit about the problems facing coffee production in Hawaii. He says:
1: The bore beetle is creating a higher number of defects in the coffee. Due to the high defects standards (meaning, there needs to be almost no defect,) there is a lot less coffee that can be categorized as “100% Kona Extra Fancy” or “100% Kona Fancy”.
2: These standards also include bean size. Due to past droughts the coffee is simply not getting as large as it has in past years. So, there is less large screen size coffee to qualify for these standards.
3: This is a little known fact, but there is literally one person who is the coffee inspector for the island. All of the coffee has to be inspected. This bottlenecks the ability of the coffee producers to get their coffee on the open market. While it is good to have a consistent system through which to analyze quality, according to
Pete, this can stand in the way of coffee moving quickly enough out of the country.
So, Kona has had a challenging year, but seems to be on the rebound now thanks to those hard workers on the island like Pete.
That being said, after a long time of waiting, we finally have some really nice Kona coffees in our warehouse! We have 3 different offerings, a Fancy, an Extra Fancy and a Certified Organic Prime. These coffees cupped out really well, even better than we had hoped. Call us today for more information.
When the Mokka Pequeño ID3896 arrived from Granja La Esperanza (you know the place… where the COTY, Brewers Cup, Roaster’s Choice Award Geishas all came from) I could not wait to get my hands on it. On the cupping table, even at the incredibly light sample roast we put it through, rich tones of spice, cedar and loads of sugar were apparent. This little bean was packing a punch.
Finally, last week I was able to put this coffee into our Probat L5. I thought I would share a few things about the roast and what it highlighted. I was excited to roast this coffee not only because of its rarity, but also its size! These beans are tiny! They are around a 12-13 screen size. Sizing them up and putting together the logical approach I would take was quite fun.
Usually, on a dense coffee I don’t use quite as much gas, and I lower the batch size. My reasoning is that few beans can more economically take on the heat, more airflow can help that process, and less heat (power) will give the beans time to absorb that heat to their little dense cores.
I knew the Mokka was dense, but, it is also so small!! My thought was that it would take less time to get the heat to go from the outside of the bean to its core. I decided to go with a bigger batch, and just give it all I had. I wanted to punch the heat to the core of the bean hard and fast. I wanted to treat it like a less dense larger bean, just for fun. Even so, the density of this coffee was more than I bargained for. Here is the breakdown: Gold @ 6:00 310F, 1st Crack @ 9:15 390F, Drop at 12:30 430, Agtron 58.6 whole bean/62.4 whole bean. I went a bit longer in the period after 1st than I would usually want to. The coffee simply would not color up!! I kept the gas much higher than typically through this period as well.
Body: Huge! Deep and lush. It seems like this coffee is trying to compensate for its small diameter with its lush body.
Acidity: Orange, very balanced
Sweetness: Very rich molasses, brown sugar and loads of chocolate.
Flavor: Spice-like characteristics; specifically clove, turmeric, nutmeg. We also found a lot of the tobacco characteristics you would expect from a lower grown Yemeni or Hawaiian Mokka, only this was very clean and refined.
As espresso we discovered a lot more nutty (specifically almond) characteristics were predominate and paired perfectly with the sugar and spice. The body was of course incredible. I was surprised by how balanced this coffee was as an espresso. I was expecting the body to be much more syrupy, dominating the delicate acidity. However, the body was much more soft and velvety, allowing the delicate tones to not only remain, but come through beautifully.
We also brewed the coffee over ice. Lovely. I think this is my favorite way to drink this coffee, and right on time for temps to begin rising! The chocolate and orange came together with sweet, vibrant intensity.
Think of this coffee as a clean, amped up version of the Yemeni and Hawaiian Mokkas you’ve known before. It still pays homage to that rugged earthy heritage, while embodying the clean, sweet, and bright virtues of a high grown Colombian coffee.
We got word recently from one of our major shipping partners that there was a labor strike in Balboa Panama, a pivotal hub for coffees. To give you some perspective, Balboa does 3 million containers per year (compared to the Port of New York which does 5 million). Even if a specific container wouldn't have directly gone through Balboa, the shipment may still be affected. It would be like a major airline hub being shut down for weeks. You can imagine the ripple effects that would have, and the same is true for ocean freight.
The labor strike is now over, but as you can imagine, residual effects are still being felt in low productivity and large shipment ques. Please plan on some delays for Central American coffees as the city rebounds from this strike and gets back on track.
Hang tight! More amazing coffees are right around the corner.