My New Adventure
by Les Drent
Les Drent (right) owner
of LBD Coffee and George Alfiler (left) planting
the first crop of organic coffee in Kauai. Blair
Estate Coffee will be available to the public in
As I hover over my young coffee trees, I think back
nine years when I issued the first edition of Coffee
Times magazine. At that time specialty coffee was just
sinking its roots into American culture. Within two
years of the first printing I bought a coffee roaster
and packaged and sold my first pound of 100% Kona coffee.
I have witnessed many changes in the coffee industry
in Hawaii since I came here. Before 1990 Kona coffee
was used mostly as a master blend to make other coffees
of lesser quality taste better. Coffee prices were low,
very low. In most cases it was not worth an individuals
effort to harvest their coffee, leaving many farms in
Kona in disrepair and overgrown with weeds. Those that
did harvest their coffee sold their crop to a handful
of mills that monopolized Kona coffee and even its name.
Today by sharp contrast one can find personal coffee
tours on family farms, elaborate and very informative
internet sites selling 100% Kona coffee, and coffee
estates that would impress any Napa Valley wine proprietor.
Today's self-autonomous industry provides a livelihood
for over 600 farmers in Kona, and acreage devoted to
coffee continues to grow annually. When I realized how
well the Kona coffee industry was doing and how strong
the foundation appeared to be for success long into
the future I turned my thoughts towards finding the
next frontier for great coffee.
Old abandoned coffee
pulper in Hanakapi’ai valley.
My search led me to the northern most island of Kauai.
During my first year there I hiked into the mountains
in search of coffee trees that have been growing in
a wild and natural state since their planting in the
1800s. All of these trees are of the typica arabica
style, which are the same as those trees growing in
Kona. It is believed by some historians that some of
the trees now growing in the wild in Kauai are the ancestors
of those growing now in Kona. In the valley of Hanakapiai
along the Napali coast of Kauai the remains of an old
coffee pulper still lie on the ground along side a trail
that is accessed only by a steep and rocky one hour
hike by foot. No roads have ever been laid in this area
of the island. More evidence that coffee was cultivated
in this area are the natural platforms carved into the
earth along the valley walls. The ground there still
supports the thousands of coffee trees that grow
wild under the lush jungle canopy.
After picking and hiking out with several small loads
of coffee beans from this and several other remote and
wild sites around the island, I processed the coffees
by hand. This included pulping, fermenting and sun drying
the beans. After several weeks of drying, the coffee
was ready to be dry hulled, roasted and cupped. I discovered
that tastes varied from one location to another, demonstrating
once again that it is all about the growing environment
as well as the type of coffee you grow.
The taste from one particular location (I will not
reveal its whereabouts) was exquisite. That cup of coffee
was heavenly and had a flavor I have not tasted before.
Somewhat resembling the deep chocolate nuances of a
great Guatemalan coffee, it had the body to match the
Kona coffee that I still regard as the finest cup of
coffee in the world. The after taste was without bitterness
and the finish lingered long enough to leave you appreciating
just one cup. Good thing because I was in limited supply
of that precious bean. I believe that this great tasting
coffee was the result of the very aged and humic soil
that exists on this island. Kauai is the oldest island
in the Hawaiian chain. I also noticed that the amount
of sun and rain in this particular spot seemed to compliment
the coffee growing there.
Needless to say this particular discovery sparked an
uncontrollable urge and interest in growing coffee in
Kauai. Finding a location nearest the best cup of coffee
I tasted was not easy, but within two years time I settled
on a piece of land that mirrored the conditions of that
area. Set back at the base of Mt. Wekiu and located
at the foot of the Makaleha mountains along the eastern
side of the island, I found a piece of land where the
soil had been untouched for nearly half a century and
receives an equal amount of sun and rain. In the distance
is Mt. Waialeale which is coined the worlds
In 6 months the landscape
at Blair Estate on the island of Kauai was transformed
from the wild into an organic coffee farm.
Clearing the overgrown land was an adventure in itself
especially dealing with an undergrowth of hau bush and
Christmas berry. Careful to leave a host of old trees
to partially shade my coffee and paying careful attention
to the guidance of expert Kona coffee grower George
Yasuda, I laid out and planted my first acre of coffee.
I started using coffee grown from seed from proven stock
in Kona. I also chose to go against the grain of commercial
coffee cultivationand opted to grow organically in an
attempt to utilize what nature has provided on its own
and what I believe has led to the exceptional taste
of coffee I found growing in the wild on Kauai. As an
experiment I have also started from seed the coffee
I discovered in my secret spot. Taken from the wild
I am attempting to cultivate this unknown strain on
Six months into my venture my trees range from two
to three feet tall and show healthy growth. Plans for
a complete coffee mill/roasting facility as well as
farm tours are tentatively scheduled for the Fall/Winter
of 2003. It will be the first small independent organic
coffee farming venture of its kind in Kauai, and I look
forward to entertaining the coffee loving public for
years to come. A web site will be coming soon so interested
people can follow the progress and growth of my coffee
farm, Blair Estate Organic Arabica Kauai Coffee.
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appeared originally in Coffee Times print magazine and
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