Coffee Production 101 in Hawaii

Everything from growing to bagging at farm & roastery near Hilo

For years, I lived a few blocks from the (since demolished) Maxwell House Coffee plant in Hoboken, New Jersey. I had no clear image of what went on behind the gatehouse and the formidable plant walls. Factory tours were not in vogue then, and I had only the faintest idea — gleaned mostly from TV commercials — of what was involved in bringing coffee from tree to cup. All I knew is that when it rained, the aroma of roasting coffee permeated the air. You felt as if just breathing it provided a caffeine hit. Its enormous illuminated sign was a landmark when viewed from Manhattan.

Hilo Coffee Mill co-owner Jeanette provided a crash course today, and in half an hour of trailing her around the farm and roastery, I learned more about coffee roasting that I did in years of living a few blocks from the behmonth Maxwell House plant.  I will never again wonder why coffee costs what it does — either by bag or at a coffee shop. Here are the steps (and I hope I’ve got them all inthe right order): Plant trees. Care for trees for five years begfore they begin producing usable fruit. Hand-pick fruit when it is red, which does not occur simultaneously on one tree, let alone an entire farm. Pulp. Ferment to remove mucilage from each bean. Dry to ceate a shell. Roast. Pack.

Jeanette Baysa on the farm, where sugar can once grew.
Trees planted last year ae still four years from produciing their first crop.
Mature trees planted eight years ago.
Red fruit is ripe and ready to be picked — here, handpicked.
The roasters themselves cost about $60,000 each for a simple machine and $100,00 with an afterburner. Another reason that coffee seems expensive.


The Coffee Mill has a small cafe and retail store. Here, the chalkboard of Latte da Ba.

Their cafe serves a small menu of specialty and regular coffees and other drinks, sandwiches, bagels and salads, made with local and organic foods — even the tortillas for their wraps. Their retail inventory includes their own and other growers coffees (they roast for other eastern Hawaii growers as well as some Kona Cost growers’  and even one from Costa Rica), other local food products andd of coure, T-shirts, of course. Some chefs right now are enamored of nose-to-tail meat cooking. The Hilo Coffee Mill does something  similar in the coffee realm, handling the process from sapling to sale.

Hilo Coffee Mill on Urbanspoon


5 thoughts on “Coffee Production 101 in Hawaii”

    1. DBR – I approved this comment, but I ask myself: Is this question a joke? The only “side effect,” and for most coffee drinkers I know a prime reason for sipping it, is the wakefulness that comes from caffeine.

  1. Thanks for clarifying. I think whether it’s “safe” or not depends on each individual’s tolerance for and reaction to caffeine. Coffee strength depends on how strong you brew it (proportion of coffee to water, type of coffeemaker, brew setting for electric devices, etc.) And of course, how big is your cup. Kona coffee are primarily made from Arabica beans, and cofffees labeled “Kona blend” must contain at 10% of these beans.

    Last year, the coffee berry borer beetle was was discovered on Kona Coast plantations — perhaps caused by drought conditions that reduced a fungus that controls the beetle population. The Hawaii Department of Agriculture quarantined green (unroasted) beans and began efforts to eradicate the beetle.

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