Adventure Of Blair Estate
by Les Drent
After four years of farming coffee, I have realized
one thing holds true about cultivating this magical
shrub. I should have planted more lychee!
That would have been the easiest route, if not for
my abiding passion for the enchanting quality of the
coffee bean. At least I now have a much deeper appreciation
for what goes into producing my morning cup of coffee.
Since 1993 I have been pulling the threads off sacks
of green Kona coffee. At the time, I had little knowledge
about the process that brought the coffee to the sack.
After stumbling through numerous farming experiments
that were well thought out, well intentioned, and well
researched, I have found myself caught in a circle game
with Mother Nature. At times when I was sure that I
had the answer for streamlining my coffee farming operations,
I would only come to realize I was no closer to that
ultimate cup than when I first began.
When I arrived in Kauai in 1998 I picked coffee from
the wild and cupped the finest coffee I have ever tasted.
I have come close to duplicating that same tantalizing
taste, but the toll it has taken on my nerves to successfully
cultivate this coffee for a financial profit has been
discouraging. Now approaching year number five, I have
to look beyond the monetary rewards I thought we would
be reaping and look closer at the values the farm brings
that cannot be measured in dollars. This year, on the
other hand, we did make five thousand dollars in one
week selling lychee off the back of the truck!
Quiet mornings, chickens, the sheep grazing in the
orchard, and key lime pie made from our own fruit are
but a few of the rewards that cannot be measured in
money. Homemade pesto made from the basil in the front
yard and an endless supply of sunrise papayas might
begin to make me forget about the unyielding scorch
of the summer sun or the pounding rain and unrelenting
winter winds that attack our coffee grove.
My intentions have now shifted one hundred and eighty
degrees. As an organic farmer I have begun to realize
that I wasnít fully embracing Mother Nature and working
with her. Instead, I was choosing to fight her with
added fertilizer, water, and other symptomatic treatments.
Part of this realization came from looking closer at
the natural conditions around the coffee trees that
introduced me to that perfect cup 7 years ago. They
were overgrown and completely wild, flourishing within
a jungle of diverse plant life. Out of the simplicity
of nature came these near-perfect and very healthy coffee
Once I realized this, we started to transform our own
coffee orchard into a canopied jungle of gliricidia
(mother of cacao), which is a popular nitrogen fixing
over story tree used throughout South America to shade
coffee and chocolate trees. While we have no definite
idea what adding three hundred shade trees to our farm
will mean as far as added maintenance, it will begin
to re-create the natural habitat of coffee on a piece
of land that was mostly an open and abandoned field
when we arrived in 2001.
After this experience, I now tend to take a closer
look at what makes coffee trees thrive in their natural
environment. I have also realized what makes Kona, Hawaii
such a perfect place for growing gourmet coffee. Constant
shade (volcanic haze known as vog) sits over coffee
country, nestled in the rainforest between the 800-2500
foot elevations. A southwesterly exposure at the foot
of Mauna Loa (13,679 feet) and Hualalai (8,271 feet)
mountains keeps the fabled coffee country protected
from the howling winds of winter. Deep, rich, and porous
soil with good rainfall are the ingredients that round
off such an ideal combination of growing conditions.
While Blair Estate coffee farm in Kauai may not enjoy
the same benefi- cial natural surroundings as Kona coffee,
something extra shines through in the coffee that is
produced. There is a sweetness of taste that one can
only attribute to the will to survive in Kauaiís landscape.
When I consider the islandís history with hurricanes,
along with geography such as the deep cut valleys, towering
swordlike cliffs, abundance of riverways, dense jungle
foliage and countless waterfalls, I begin to believe
it is the grand adventure of living in this incredible
environment that produces such a great cup of coffee.
While we wait another couple of years for the gliricidia
and Mother Nature to fully interact with our coffee
farm, we will continue to enjoy what she does bring
us for harvest in both coffee, fruit, or peaceful days
on the farm; and we will continue to strive for that
same elusive perfect cup that originally lured us here.
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appeared originally in Coffee Times print magazine and
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