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Kona Coffee Competition, 2004

I was invited to be a judge at the 2004 Kona Culture Festival coffee competition, part of the broader event to celebrate the culture and work of the people of the Kona Coast. The event has been sponsored by Gevalia for several years now. I made a little travelog for the trip, which is easiest to view one image at a time, or you can scan the thumbnail images below. As an opening remark, let me just mention that the people make Kona such a nice place, not just the beauty of the land and sea - and it was a real treat to be asked to join my fellow cupper's for this event. Sweet Maria's is a mere speck on the coffee map; we're small and we want to stay that way. But when I can cup beside larger coffee buyers (like a UCC, or a Gevalia) and my input counts equal, and we speak the same language, then you realize how the coffee world is a neat place. Coffee quality, in amounts large or small, is what this is all about.

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Needless to say, the Kona region is beautiful. This is the desert-side of the island (the Hilo side is greener overall). But it is arid along the coast on the flat volcanic "skirt" and lush just up the hill in the coffee-growing altitudes.
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The Kona Culture Festival is more than a coffee competition (although I think the cupping is the heart of the festival). Here is a plate made by local ceramic artist, a rpize for the winning farm (Lafayette Coffee)
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On the display table, a nice example fo ripe coffee cherry on the branch. I assume the red is Typica and the yellow is ripe Yellow Bourbon - Red cherry does pass briefly through a yellow stage while ripening.
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The art show was nice, but I don't think my favorite piece won any awards - I really liked this quilt.
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We spent the first morning of cupping sorting out the samples and waiting for a coffee grinder ... yes, a coffee grinder. You actually do GRIND the coffee before cupping it. Alas, the situation was handled in typical Hawaiian fashion and we started 1.5 hours late. Who can possibly complain about being late in paradise? It just means more time to enjoy the view.
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Speaking of view, here is the Lanai cupping "room' What a terrible place to be stuck tasting great coffee, staring out at the ocean beyond the reef, with a faint tropical breeze. Who can work under these conditions??? Seriously, this is a very different competition - more casual, interactive, open to the public. It was a nice change from the real rigorous formal cuppings I have attended so often. And I don't think the atmposphere distracted me from the coffee ...
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If you are not aware, Gevalia is based in Sweden, and has been owned by Kraft for many years. And Gevalia has been sponsoring the competition for (I believe) 7 years now. It is really nice to see a larger coffee company promoting small farms and quality coffee. Of course, they gain great press from it ... but do you see Big Green sponsoring quality competitions? Here you see 2 of the NY-based Kraft people, who were there for hands-on help with the cupping (tabulating the numbers, sorting samples, etc etc. At the computer is Jim Meinhold and with his back to the camera is Jim Cecere from Kraft.
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This year the cupping coordinator was Scott McClung (above) a former Kona farmer himself, and unfortuneately I didn't get a picture of Trent Bateman, the event coordinator. They both did a lot of organizing work behind the scenes. Trent owns the excellent Mountain Thunder Organic farm (so sadly he couldn't enter his coffee in the competition).
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And the judges ... This is a very different event because there are only 5 of us ( most competitions I go to have 15-20). From L to R; John King of Harold King and Co. (Bay area coffee brokerage); Myself, Willy Peterson (retired after 38 years as Gevalia's cupper!); Miss Kona Shardae Grace; Jim Cecere of Kraft, Lisslotte Eckhoff of Gevaila (Willy's successor); and Shunta Baba of UCC Ueshima, Japan.
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Also unique at this event was the fat that in front of the cups we viewed the roasted sample, the green sample and a parchment sample. Locals debate the fact that farmers "primp" coffee just for the competition, since they submit just 60 Lbs. Other events have larger lots, like 20-30 bags, and the sample is drawn from that lot. The lot is then auctioned later, and it will match the coffee from the competition. But there is no auction paired with the Kona competition.
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Kona coffee is beautiful by all standards. Some samples seemed a bit too fresh/wet. But most were just outstanding.
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Perfect parchment from a traditional wet-processed coffee. One thing I would say about the primping issue: while some parchement looked like this, others definitely did not look like someone had culled it for the competition.
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Here is a case in point; nice parchment with a few pods in there. Pods are the hole cherry that did not get hulled. They will alter the cup a little, but basically these coffees are taken out of parchement, screened and run through a gravity table so defects are removed. Parchment appearance is not everything...
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Here is a good example of the roasted sample. Trent and his daughter Brooke did all the roasting on Diedrich IR-12's, about 4-6 Lb samples, roasted to 405 degrees, just to the finish of 1st crack. This is a standard light cupping roast. They did not roast the coffee to a good "appearance" or even to it's optimal degree of roast ... how could you do that with 76 initial samples? So all coffee gets the same treatment; 405 degrees, and about 9 minutes roast time.
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My problem with the roasting was that some of the coffee looked scorched. I think the initial drum temperature was probably way too high, and perhaps the roast too fast. Alas, it was not a problem in the competition since you can basically sense the quality of the coffee despite the scorch, and since all coffees were treated the same. Comptition roasting is very difficult. You receive all these coffees with 9.5% moisture, 10%, 12%! They all roast differently. All you can do is treat them the same, to be fair to all.
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Yours truly, and a fine table-top spitoon...
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Lisalotte, Jim and Shunta discuss water temperature. We boiled the water in open kettles on high BTU propane stoves. No water issues though - good temperature and water quality (bottled spring water).
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John King looks over the roasts. John's father started Harold King Co in 1958 and they were part of the old coffee district in San Francisco. He tells me they shared a wall with Erna Knutsen, and that all the brokers would get together and roll dice at lunch!
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Here is the list of finalists at the end of the first day. We narrowed it from some 76 samples down to 18.
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On the final day, Rita Cowell anounces the winners of the art competition. Rita and Skip own Kowali Farm, and you may remember the excellent Kowali Blue Mountain coffee we have offered in the past (and hopefully this year too, if she has enough for us to buy some).

 


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