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March 1993

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The Pilgrimage of Kona Coffee
by Les Drent     

A Coffee Cherry Picker

"Kona coffee has a richer flavor than any other, be it grown where it may and call it by what name you please."
Mark Twain, 1866

It has been many years since Reverend Samuel Ruggles brought the first coffee plant cuttings to Kealakekua-Kona, Hawaii. The cuttings were taken from plants growing at the home of chief boki, governor of Oahu, who with help from agriculturalist, John Wilkinson, brought back several young plants acquired in Rio de Janeiro during a royal British voyage taken in 1825.

Even though coffee was in Kona in 1828 it was not immediately seen as a viable agricultural commodity. However, the particular conditions in Kona's climate and soil turned out to be some of the best known in the world for growing coffee. The sheltered and fertile western slopes of Mauna Loa and Mt. Hualalai along with sunny mornings and gentle afternoon rains helped the coffee plant thrive in its new environment. Soon enough coffee caught on in Kona, and its distinguished flavor became known throughout the world. In July of 1866 Mark Twain stated, in his "Letters From Hawaii", Kona coffee has a richer flavor than any other, be it grown where it may and call it by what name you please."

It was not until the late 1800's, the period following the California gold rush, that the coffee industry in Kona saw its first boom. In 1898 the Kona hillsides were consumed by coffee trees; over three million of them spread out over six thousand acres.

In the late 1800's and early 1900's the initial steps involved with processing the coffee were in most cases undertaken by the independent farmers themselves. This involved hand-powered pulpers, a sixteen hour soaking period and drying the beans under "false" pitched roofs that rolled back to receive the warm sunlight. Local mills in Kona then removed the final parchment membranes and loaded the grated beans into sacks before being carried down the mountain in mule powered freight wagons. The last leg of the journey began at either Kailua or Napoopoo piers where the coffee was shuttled by boats out ot waiting steamships bound for San Francisco.

Today, very little has changed from the coffee culture in Kona as many of its farms continue to be owned and operated by independent families. There are now mills in the area that fully process the raw coffee cherries for brew guaranteeing that the hand picked beans get the full flavored roast they deserve, right here in Kona, Hawaii.

All of our beans at Coffee Times are hand picked, sun dried and undergo stringent grading standards to uphold the gourmet reputation and quality in every cup of coffee. And, unlike some of our competitors we only roast to order, so if it's freshness you seek it's freshness you will receive.

The true taste of 100% pure Kona Coffee now awaits you, so from my Coffee Times to your coffee times enjoy Kona's very best.

Les Drent


"Readers may submit editorial comments to any of our stories by sending an email to les@lbdcoffee.com. We would be happy to attach your comments and feedback to anything we publish online. Thank you for your interest."

Story appeared originally in Coffee Times print magazine and appears online for archival purposes only. Any use or reprinting of these stories without the expressed written consent of the author is prohibited.

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