Hawaii a nice place. They grow nuts, fruit, and coffee. The coffee is expensive. It is mild (sometimes too mild). It can be terrible and flat, or it can be wonderful! The best coffees cost a lot and the worst cost way too much. So the goal with Hawaiians is to quit thinking that all Hawaiian coffee is good, and to realize that only a handful of coffees deserve the high price in terms of cup quality (you can easily argue that all deserve a high price in terms of the care and labor expended in producing them). And frankly, you must pay quite a bit for the truly great small-farm Kona.
Sweet Maria’s had occasionally offered coffees from Maui, Molokai, and Kauai. But these are not usually grown like true small farm Estate grade coffees from the Big Island, nor do they taste like them. Kona isn’t grown at impressive altitudes compared to other coffee origins, but on Maui and Kauai coffee is grown at exceptionally low elevations, sometimes near tide pool. Also, much Kona is an older coffee variety, Typica, a traditional type that cannot be grown at the lowest elevations. Recently, we found out that Ka’u coffees have come a long way, and can be excellent. So Ka’u is a region with credible quality potential.
In a historical sense, coffees like Kona are the pinnacle of a particular definition of what “good coffee” is: clean, pleasant, mild, good aftertaste. This is a notion of “good coffee” handed down from a time when low-grade coffee was called Brazil Rio and it had a seriously foul, dirty taste (so distinctly awful it is still called Rioy in defective coffee terminology). The best coffees were considered the polar opposite; island coffees — mild, delicate and clean.
Certain exotic coffee origins we appreciate as intense and unusual flavor profiles, such as Yemeni coffees, Ethiopian Harar, and wet-hulled Sumatras for example, would be considered defective in this definition. If you love those intense coffees, Kona may seem too timid, too simple, and too mild. With scores in the mid-80s, they don’t rate like the best Kenyas or Ethiopias, but the descriptors indicate balance and clean cup quality. Consider this when you taste good Hawaiian coffees.
The famously fragile ecology of Hawaii has been shattered; along with other invasive species and insects, the recent appearance of Broca, the Coffee Berry Borer insect, has had a huge negative effect on the farms of Hawaii. Coffee is being downgraded before export, and can’t fetch the prices it used to as an Extra Fancy grade when it gets knocked down to Kona No. 1 Grade. The affected beans do affect cup quality, but can be sorted out. Yet this takes labor, and in an expensive market that is just not feasible. Still, Sweet Maria’s is landing some really nice small-farm coffees, and paying prices to offset the losses the farms are experiencing from this latest crisis.