Morimoto is coffee fest’s top pick: Kona event changes leadership, moves forward


Kona is coffee. So it’s only appropriate there’s a 10-day festival full to the rim with more than 40 events celebrating the famous bean.

The 42nd annual Kona Coffee Cultural Festival begins Nov. 2 and runs through Nov. 11, with the theme, “Kona Coffee — 100 percent gourmet.”

“Kona’s world-famous coffee is smooth and, quite frankly, the best-tasting coffee I know of,” said Mel Morimoto, the festival’s new president and a third-generation Kona resident who lives on the coffee farm his parents sowed 57 years ago. “Each bean is hand-picked, taking only the ripe cherries, leaving others to ripen. This takes patience and lots of love. You can certainly taste it in each cup of Kona coffee.”

Appointed in March, Morimoto said it’s a privilege to take over as festival president, especially following the steadfast leadership of Norman Sakata, one of the longest-serving, most dedicated festival volunteers. Sakata’s presidency lasted 19 years, but he’s volunteered for nearly 40 years. He remains the chairman of the board and is the official spokesman for the festival, sharing his invaluable knowledge.

Morimoto has been involved in the festival since 1999, when he acted as liaison between the festival and the Kona Coffee Living History Farm. Over the years, he was elected to the board of directors and served as the first vice president, and organized the Aloha Makahiki Concert and the parade.

Morimoto said his vision is to take the festival into the future by showcasing the diversity of the community and enhancing what’s already offered with the addition of more interactive components. He has tasked individual event chairmen to come up with ways to engage attendees.

Morimoto said festivalgoers this year will not just be able to watch professional, internationally recognized judges determine who has the best Kona coffee during the signature two-day cupping competition. There will be free Kona coffee cupping classes, tasting demonstrations and other presentations happening alongside the judging. “We want people to taste it, smell it, feel it and just be able to learn as much as they want about Kona coffee in an entertaining, hands-on way,” he added.

Another example is the festival’s market day and cultural events at the Old Kona Airport Makaeo Events Pavilion, where there will be craft workshops and demonstrations on lauhala weaving, Hawaiian quilting and lei making. A new event, Morimoto said, is a coffee-themed quilt show.

Other top priorities Morimoto championed were making certain the festival highlights the multiethnic heritage of Kona coffee farming, shows the rooted traditions and family values that unite those in the industry – from the pioneers to today’s young farmers who are implementing new technologies. This also include the hundreds of immigrants of Hispanic, Thai and Micronesian ancestry who ply coffee farms during the picking season, he said.

A change the public may still be getting use to is only one parade — the Kona Coffee Cultural Festival Parade — instead of two. Morimoto oversaw combining the Lantern Parade and the Grand Parade last year. He also changed the route by ending it at King Kamehameha’s Kona Beach Hotel, which resulted in increased participation and the largest number of spectators in the festival’s history.

This year’s parade features floats, marching bands, groups in colorful ethnic costumes and lanterns. It starts at 5:30 p.m. Nov. 10 at the Royal Kona Resort and ends at the King Kamehameha’s Kona Beach Hotel. A bon dance immediately follows the parade at Kaahumanu Place, fronting the Kailua Pier.

Since the festival’s 1970 launch, its board of directors, event chairs and community volunteers have worked to preserve, perpetuate and promote Kona’s coffee heritage and culture. The first coffee trees were planted in Kona in 1828. Since those early plantings, the industry has grown to more than 600 independent farms within the Kona region, many ranging in size from 3 to 6 acres.

Festival volunteers work diligently throughout the year and plan events such as the Holualoa Village Art & Kona Coffee Stroll, Miss Kona Coffee Scholarship Pageant, Kona Coffee Picking Contest, farm tours, art exhibits, cultural events, and coffee cooking and recipe competitions. They are supported by sponsors and community donors.

Recognized as the oldest and one of the most successful food festivals in Hawaii, the Kona Coffee Cultural Festival attracts tens of thousands of fans annually. Hopefully, it continues to grow and further helps attendees develop a deeper appreciation for those in the industry — past, present and future, Morimoto said.

For more information, visit konacoffeefest.com.