After lunch Cory, Caroline and I made the spontaneous decision to tour a Kona coffee farm. You can’t be a coffee drinker in Kona and not do this, right?
Greenwell Kona Coffee Farm was located just down the road, so we decided to go there. When we arrived there was a little gift shop and a small parking area. We parked the car and walked up. The free tour was just about to begin. Great timing! We were invited to take a taste of the coffee ahead of time and to bring a sample on the tour with us.
There were about 10 people on the tour, so it was a nice, small group. Our guide, Gloria, covered what was involved in the coffee-making process, plus a bit about the history of Greenwell Farms. She walked us across a small street to an area where they had some coffee trees growing. On the way Gloria pointed out some other things they grow at the farm – macadamia nuts, oranges, huge avocados, bananas.
Gloria told us that most of the their coffee is grown up the mountain. Greenwell Farms buys coffee cherries from 300 farmers in the North and South Kona Regions. Down by the tour site was the original farm and we could see the original, vintage coffee trees. Greenwell farms has been operating on this land since the Greenwell family was there back in the 1800s.
In the early spring time the orchards are in full bloom with white flowers. A lot of people call this “Kona Snow” because the orchard in full bloom looks like a snowstorm hit! In the fall the flowers turn and the trees are then covered with “Coffee Cherries.”
These red cherries are hand-picked and harvested from August to February. Farmers from all over Kona come to Greenwell Farms with their day’s picking. Gloria told us that all Kona coffee must be picked by hand and that is why it’s sometimes so pricey. Other coffee farms plant their coffee tree rows wider and send machines down to pick all the berries – green, red, or otherwise. This leads to the coffee being less consistent in taste. Kona pickers pick all the red berries off the tree and leave the green ones or overripe brown ones. Then they’ll revisit the tree again later on and pick the ripe berries again. It’s a longer, more laborous process, but leads to a more consistent quality and taste in the coffee.
Greenwell Farms operates pulping and drying facilities, a mill, and a bean grading and sorting facility. Though they employ many modern industrial coffee practices, some things they have are still super old school. Like the Hoshidanas, which are platforms used to sun-dry the coffee.
Greenwell Farms also has a roasting facility that is used to roast coffee that is sold retail and wholesale. They also roast for a bunch of other coffee companies in Kona. They even sell green beans to the coffee industry and have established themselves as a premiere source of Kona Coffee. Gloria told us that Greenwell Farms produces 20% of all Kona coffee sold worldwide. As a sidenote, in order for a coffee to be packaged and labeled as a “Kona blend” it has to contain at least 10% Kona coffee.
After the tour we got to taste all of the coffee products at the Greenwell Farms Store. Other than coffee, we tried chocolate-covered macadamia nuts and chocolate-covered coffee beans. The nuts and beans are grown on-site and all of the chocolate products are made from Kona-grown cocoa beans at the Original Hawaiian Chocolate Factory. They also sold some Big Island Bees honey.
Gloria told us a story about how they noticed that the Kona coffee pickers had really young-looking hands. They did some studies and found out that the fruit of the cherry is a natural anti-aging substance. They used to use this as a mulch or fertilizer, but now they sell it to a Kauai company, Malie, who uses it in anti-aging creams. I was interested in trying this, but it was $50 for just one ounce!
The coffee fruit is also chock full of antioxidents and nutrients, and so Greenwell Farms also sells the coffee fruit to KonaRed who makes a “wellness beverage” from it. I thought it was interesting how this side-product industry has popped up. Where before they would take the pulp and work it back into the ground, they now sell it for a profit.