Kona Coffee Mourns the Death of Ward Barbee

founder and publisher of Fresh Cup magazine

by Les Drent

It's been only 4 days since we heard of Ward Barbee's passing here at Coffee Times. I know I speak for everyone in the Kona coffee industry when I say we were deeply saddened to hear of this news. Besides being one of the craziest and most honest characters in the world of coffee, Ward always stood up for what was right.

Ward was a strong proponent of 100% Kona coffee and supported Hawaii's farmers in their push to preserve the identity of their coffee. At a time when specialty coffee was sprouting its roots in the world, Ward Barbee latched on to all that was good and right in the coffee industry and its future. At a time when it was easy to ride the band wagon of big dollar Kona coffee counterfeiters, Ward took the side of the little guy (farmer) whose product identity was being abused.

Ward walked the streets of Kona, visited the farms, listened to the people (he also partied, danced, and smoked cigars with the people), attended the meetings and then eagerly did what few dared to do at the time. He ventured back to the world outside of Kona, and with his pen shouted words of wisdom and sense into those looking to homogenize the Kona coffee name. Perhaps, the most courageous thing of all is that he took this stand even if it meant jeopardizing advertising dollars.

Ward Barbee was founder and publisher of Fresh Cup magazine, an internationally acclaimed coffee trade magazine. He was an icon in the world of specialty coffee and a ground breaker in this industry. He was a constant promoter of the small coffee shop, and owner, and all they represent in the world of coffee. When he started Fresh Cup in 1992 out of the basement of his home in Portland, Oregon, I took notes on Ward's approach to doing business. I also observed and was inspired by the many hats he wore. I began operating Coffee Times magazine out of my own bedroom in 1993 in Kona, Hawaii. I often called Ward to collaborate on stories relating to the Kona coffee scandal or pick his brain on business topics. Ward was always there to help with a laugh and a joke to boot.

Outside of Kona, Ward always pressed for making the world of specialty coffee a better and more fun place to do business. And when Ward was in the house for a show... buckle your seat belts because it was going to be one hell of a truth be telling night of fun!!

It's hard to believe that he is gone... so many of us, including yours truly, took for granted that we would be closing down another karaoke bar with him in the future. He was the life of the party and in my mind one of the great lives of specialty coffee. In coffee terms... he was a master blend that pulled together every signature cup of coffee!

Aloha and A hui kaua Mr. Barbee! We will miss you more than words can express.

My favorite Ward quote:

"They ought to think twice about who they're fighting with, I buy ink by the barrel load." Ward Barbee

Ward Barbee was 68 when he passed away in Italy on August 5th. At the time of his death he was vacationing, and of course having the time of his life with his grandson and girlfriend Paula. Coffee Times pledges its support to our dear friend Jan Weigel, who is co-owner of Fresh Cup magazine and a long time partner with Ward Barbee. Fresh Cup magazine staff, and supporters are planning a celebration of Ward's life. For more information please visit www.freshcup.com

Press release submitted by Les Drent, publisher and founder of Coffee Times

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.