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Ka‘u Coffee Festival highlights internationally acclaimed coffee

Updated: 
May 7, 2014 - 12:05am

Folks are getting wired in Ka‘u.

Ten days worth of celebrations are ongoing on the smoky south flank of Mauna Loa as residents, visitors and growers celebrate the region’s budding coffee industry. Farm and mill tours, a hoolaulea, a coffee college with industry experts, a rain forest hike and even stargazing are all part of activities still to come at the sixth annual Ka‘u Coffee Festival.

It’s a celebration of success for a cottage industry made up of a large number of former sugarcane workers who have bootstrapped in the face of uncertain leases and other challenges.

“They’ve been forging ahead, developing a great brand,” said Jeff Melrose, who works on special projects with the Hawaii County Department of Research and Development.

“They’ve developed a world- class coffee. Some are washing, roasting and drying, all in their backyards,” Melrose said. “And they’re selling it to people who recognize its value.”

A pending sale of some 5,800 acres — which includes the Moaula coffee lands — has growers concerned about the future of their leases under a new owner. The land was acquired under a foreclosure by Lehman Brothers last year.

Ka‘u growers, who number somewhere around 40 on more than 350 acres of coffee orchard, first came on the national scene in 2007, receiving accolades at the Specialty Coffee Association of America and going on to take the association’s coffee of the year award from 2010 to 2012. The competition was canceled in 2013 but will be revived in 2015, said festival organizer Chris Manfredi.

Since 2007, Ka‘u coffee has become known internationally as well, winning awards and a reputation for excellence, which has created another problem — but a good one to have.

“We have a huge pent-up demand and not enough product,” Manfredi said.

The festival, which concludes Sunday, showcases Ka‘u not only as a coffee-growing region but a visitor destination as well, Manfredi said.

Attendance at the event so far has been stronger than in years past, especially Friday’s Paina and open house, said Gloria Camba, president of the Ka‘u Coffee Growers Cooperative and pageant coordinator for the festival.

People who were lucky enough to book the water systems hike before it filled up were slated to be traipsing through native rain forest today and exploring flumes from the sugar era in Wood Valley. On Saturday, the Ka‘u Coffee Experience at the Pahala Community Center will feature expert baristas serving up coffee prepared using many techniques — the pour-over, French press and cold brew to name a few. It’s part of the hoolaulea that will also feature music and hula, food and crafts and give visitors the opportunity to meet Miss Ka‘u Coffee and her court. On Sunday, the community center will host the Ka‘u Coffee College, with educational discussions by visiting coffee experts.

For more information visit kaucoffeefestival.com.

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