After three years in O’ahu, opening my cupboard to be greeted by regular grocery store coffee is a little depressing. There’s just no comparison to the freshly ground coffee I could get on the North Shore at Coffee Gallery. Since I feel a little guilty about the carbon footprint involved in having specialty Hawaiian coffee shipped to me in England, I try to stick with beans picked on this side of the world. But if you’re on your way to the islands, follow these tips for choosing a fine brew that will spoil you for all others.
1. Don’t buy a Kona blend
For the full Big Island Kona experience, you need 100% Kona beans. The Kona blends that you can buy in a store normally contain no more than 10% Kona, but since the Kona name is great for marketing the price can be higher. Don’t give in! Insist on the real thing. It’s more expensive, yes, but the difference is sublime. Save the Kona blends for budget-stretching obligation gifts for your coworkers or house-sitter and treat yourself. Speaking of treats…
2. If you really want to treat yourself, buy Hawaiian peaberry
Coffee cherries normally grow two beans to a fruit. Peaberries are happy little mutants that occur about 5% of the time: a single bean that’s allowed to remain plump and round because there’s no pesky sibling bean to take up space and flatten it out. The flavor is more intense and some claim the round shape leads to better roasting. I had a hard time debating the merits of peaberry to my non-coffee-drinking husband because my mouth was full of delicious, delicious peaberry coffee. The price often reflects the scarcity of the product (I’ve seen Kona peaberry at $50/lb) but as a special treat, it is so worthwhile.
3. Go off the Big Island
Each of the islands has coffee farms. Just like with growing grapes for wine, the different soils and climates make for a variety of flavors and tasting notes in the coffee. Coffee Gallery calls their Maui Kaanapali a lower-acid sipper with notes of honey and chocolate. It’s been a tough year for Hawaiian coffee growers so the Molokai peaberry is out of stock, but when it becomes available it’s a highly affordable full-bodied peaberry option from one of the least-developed and earthiest of the Hawaiian islands.
This isn’t a tasting note but it’s important nonetheless: as always with buying agricultural products, be sure you won’t have to throw this out at your destination. You should have no problem bringing coffee from the islands back to the American mainland, but if you are going from Hawaii to a non-American country, you need to know the customs laws. It would be a shame to select a fine sack of beans and have to throw them away at the airport. Tragic, really. You should have just sent them to me for safekeeping. Ahem…
Where is your favorite coffee region located?