Kona Snow and the promise it brings
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           A true fan of Kona coffee, it’s the only coffee I care to drink. You could say I’m hooked on it.
          Mountain grown in volcanic soil above a 1,000-foot elevation, Kona coffee is prized for its unique flavor. It’s described as having hints of chocolate and cinnamon—spices you see at the Starbuck’s bar. Kona’s convection weather pattern—which produces shady afternoons to protect the ripening coffee cherry from the hot, summer sun—provides favorable growing conditions, kind of like being in a greenhouse. This optimal growing scenario yields robust plants with the desired larger and heavier coffee beans—factors that determine premium grade.
          Other attributes that make Kona coffee one of the most sought-after brews in the world is that it’s painstakingly handpicked at harvest, so only the full-flavored coffee bean is used. Think of the difference in flavor when biting into a green tomato versus a perfectly ripe one and you get the idea.
          Once coffee is picked, it is immediately processed. First, the beans (or seeds) are removed from the pulp and dried. Drying is often done by the sun on a flat hoshidana platform that is covered by a moveable roof if it rains. Beans must be hand-raked to insure uniform drying before the thin parchment skin is removed by milling. Next, coffee is sorted for quality grades and called “green.” Finally beans are roasted (an art that determines flavor and caffeine content), freshly packaged as whole bean or ground, and marketed.
          Kona coffee sells from $18 to $60 a pound in Hawaii. When in Indiana in the early 90s, I saw a half-pound selling for $50 at a mall in Merrillville. Like fine wine, quality chocolates and Cuban cigars, Kona coffee is not your standard cup of joe.
          Things to remember when buying Kona coffee is that Kona coffee is rare in that it is cultivated only in the Kona districts. Hawaiian coffee is grown elsewhere in the state. Read your labels. Kona Blend coffee is not 100% Kona; by law it is required to contain at least 10% Kona. Look for the 100% Kona coffee label or specify 100% Kona when ordering online.
          Other facts to know: “Estate coffee” is coffee that is grown at one farm where the owner controls everything from seed to cup. Also, the freshness of coffee is determined by how long ago it was roasted.
          Coffee has been growing in Kona since 1828. From 1932-1969, Kona’s school year was scheduled around coffee, timing “summer vacation” to provide labor for the harvest season. The traditions of Kona coffee are celebrated each November during the annual Kona Coffee Cultural Festival, when picking competitions, recipe contests, parades, farm tours and the prestigious Gevalia cupping competition sets the bar for quality in Kona coffee. It’s the state’s oldest foodie fest and marks its 40th year in 2010. Here’s to Kona coffee, made in the U.S.A.–bottoms up!

For more info on Kona coffee, visit www.konacoffeefest.com or konacoffeefarmers.org. For the full-on experience, come to Kona and take the Kona Coffee Country Driving Tour for self-guided fun using a map detailing 56 coffee attractions open to the public—samples are on the house! Phone 808-326-7820 to receive a copy of the brochure by mail.
Fern Gavelek
          The slopes of Mauna Loa and Hualalai are covered in white, what we on the leeward side of the Big Island of Hawaii call Kona Snow. Snow in Hawaii, you ask?
          Yes, we annually get a wintry blanket of snow atop the 14,000-foot summit of Mauna Kea (meaning White Mountain in Hawaiian) and it’s a novelty for the people who live here. Local residents travel up to the summit to fill up their 4-wheel-drive pickups with the coveted snow so they can deliver it to a front yard for a quick afternoon of snowball fights and snowman making—it’s a real party pleaser for family celebrations.
          But the snow I’m cherishing now in Kona is not the icy, slippery white stuff. Kona Snow refers to the spring blossoming of thousands of coffee trees along a 25-mile stretch called the Kona Coffee Belt. A string of multiple white flowers sits atop every branch of each tree, appearing similar to freshly fallen snow. The flowers fill the air with a gardenia-like fragrance that is heady on morning walks. The flowers are soon pollinated into pulpy, berry-sized fruit that contains the coveted Kona coffee beans. The fruit ripens over the summer into red “coffee cherries” that are harvested in the fall.
          Coffee, its agricultural cycle and the industry it involves, is a way of life in the North and South Districts of Kona. I think it really defines the area I call home where it’s not uncommon to smell the fragrance of roasting coffee in the afternoon. It’s where backyard growers, small boutique farms and larger estate operations grow enough coffee to total four million pounds annually. 

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