By Kirstina Bolton
SPECIAL TO BARISTA MAGAZINE
Coffee by the cup can be considered pretentious. Or it can be a jolt to wake you up and fuel your day’s work. Some make it an art while others make it a business, yet at the end of the day, it’s the stories behind the beans ”not to mention the teamwork it takes to bring them from the farm to the cup ”that everyone seems to drink in. So when Hawaii’s Big Island had its 44th annual Kona Coffee Cultural Festival this past week, we found the perfect opportunity to see how this small city with a hefty claim in the coffee-growing region shared its legacy among its residents and visitors.
The nine-day festival began November 7 and highlighted nearly everything related to Kona coffee and Hawaiian culture. Each day gave local artisans a chance to feature their works, while specific events catered to coffee connoisseurs, couples, and families, offering myriad ways to revel in the unique Kona coffee culture. There’s a reason this festival was named among the top 10 Best Specialty Food Festival by USA Today. From coffee bag label design contests and coffee recipe contests, to coffee-picking competitions and the Miss Kona Coffee scholarship pageant, the week-and-a-half-long festival not only provided a platform for the coffee industry in Kona, but also allowed local businesses, schools, and individuals to share how the community is an integral part of this unique coffee region and industry.
To fully immerse oneself in all things Kona coffee, attendees were encouraged to take part in daily events like coffee farm and mill tours, concerts and talent shows, and the Holualoa art stroll, where people could sample dozens of coffees at different farms’ booths and vote for their favorite coffee. Other events included a family day at UCC Ueshima Coffee Co. complete with a coffee spoon relay and a coffee bean chopsticks challenge (both of which were actual games created by Hawaii’s first coffee farmers).
For baristas and coffee enthusiasts who are more about the actual beverage than the festivities, several events showcased a number of coffee talks with industry experts, such as a œTalk Story event with Greenwell Farm‘s founding family, who reminisced about the last 100 years of cultivation and promotion of Kona coffee industry, and coffee pairing events including a food pairing event at Kona Coffee and Tea Company’s shop that showcased coffee inspired dishes (think coffee crusted sirloin) paired with a local brewery who crafted a coffee stout and other brews.
But perhaps the crown event of the festival, especially for the coffee farmers and those who can decipher the different tasting notes of coffee, is the Kona Coffee Cupping Competition. More than 70 coffee farms stretching from low elevations to the island’s highest farming peaks along the 22-mile stretch of the Kona coffee growing region are cupped by a panel of judges over the course of two days and slowly whittled down to the top five in each division. (Hula Daddy took first for the Classic division, while Hawaiian Queen placed first for the Crown Division, specifically for larger farms).
The festival rounded out with Celebrate Kona Day along the town’s waterfront, combining music and entertainment with food and craft booths and of course, more Kona coffee to be sampled.
So while some still consider Kona coffee an overhyped growing region that has yet to tap into its potential to be synonymous other heavy-hitter growing regions in Africa and Central America, one can’t undermine the fact that the people who make this coffee worth writing about sure know how celebrate the beloved beans, and the culture that makes the annual event worth visiting year after year.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Kirstina Bolton is freelance writer originally from Kona, Hawaii, though currently living in Nashville. When she is not writing, she is mapping out her next adventure, usually involving some pen and paper, a camera, and the great outdoors.