A tour group visits the drying slabs at the Kau Coffee Processing Co-op during the 2012 Ka’u Coffee Festival. (West Hawaii Today/File Photo)
Loren Gautz of Manoa samples fresh roasted coffee during the 2012 Ka’u Coffee Festival. (West Hawaii Today/File Photo)
Ka‘u will be celebrating its renowned coffee and heritage with a festival, brewing this month.
This year’s fifth annual celebration, happening April 26 to May 5, offers a full pot of all things coffee and more, including farm tours, recipe contests, a hoolaulea, coffee tastings, the Miss Ka‘u Coffee Pageant, a dinner featuring locally sourced gourmet food, entertainment and educational events that reveal what the industry is all about.
There are three new events at the Ka’u Coffee Festival, all of which require reservations and cost $20 to $35 per person. From 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. May 1, explore the flume systems of the bygone sugarcane era and learn about the development of hydroelectric power on a Ka‘u mountain water system hike, which is limited to 30 people. Happening at 10 a.m. May 3 is Coffee & Cattle Day, which features a tour of Aikane Plantation Coffee farm, where descendants of the first Ka‘u coffee farmer will explain how coffee is integrated into cattle ranching and other other agriculture. Also on May 3, festivalgoers can stargaze from 7:30 to 10 p.m. on the summit of Makanau.
Chris Manfredi, the main event organizer, said the goal is to raise awareness of Ka‘u as a world-class coffee-growing origin, promote its successes, and have a positive economic, educational effect on the rural area.
Coffee was first introduced to Ka‘u as early as in 1894. In the late 1800s, a Kona newspaper predicted that Ka‘u coffee would give the famed Kona coffee a run for its money, according to the Ka‘u Coffee Mill.
However, Ka‘u coffee did not reach large scale production until 1996, after the end of the sugar plantation era. Displaced workers looked to it as one of the most promising avenues for local agriculture. Ka‘u coffee is where it is today, largely because of these first post-plantation coffee farmers’ willingness to learn new skills and overcome hardships, including not originally having a market, Manfredi said.
There are now about 50 coffee farms working 500 acres and consistently churning out the elite java that has scored big over the past six years, particularly during the Specialty Coffee Association of America’s annual competition. An especially proud moment occurred last year, when out of more than 250 coffee samples representing 26 countries vying to be recognized as the best specialty coffee from around the world, three Ka‘u coffees were among the top 10 judged. This earned them the coveted title of 2012 Coffee of the Year, Manfredi said.
What makes Ka‘u coffee special is its smoothness, aroma, body and balance, as well as its distinct floral, citrus and nutty notes, Manfredi said. He added coffee connoisseurs tend to praise it having chocolate, cherry, raspberry, caramel or coconut profiles.
Besides this sweet recognition and other accolades that have increased Ka‘u coffee’s exposure, other marketing efforts have begun to percolate and bear fruit. For instance, two years ago, Starbucks began offering Ka‘u coffee as a part of its Starbucks Reserve line at some of its locations. Because of this, Ka‘u coffee received even more attention, which farmers are grateful for, Manfredi said.
“The demand is increasing, and the future of Ka‘u coffee is bright,” he said, adding the prices are about double what farmers received three years ago. Manfredi declined to give an estimated price range for what the coffee is currently commanding.
Visit kaucoffeefest.com to view the festival’s complete schedule, with detailed event descriptions, or for more information.