From Seed to Cup

This page from the National Coffee Association offers a concise 10-step overview of the journey a typical coffee seed makes, from coffee seed to seedling to what we drink. I’ve made a few notes below, details regarding Bea’s Knees Farm coffee for each of NCA’s steps.

(1) Planting

Grandpa used to find his own young volunteer trees that sprouted from seedlings, and plant them as needed, e.g., when a mature tree died or was under-performing. The volunteers tended to be near rock walls, where beans/seeds would fall and not get picked up.

Several small coffee seedlings that sprouted from fallen coffee seeds/beans.

These are some volunteer coffee seedlings in my mom’s pot. Please follow the delicate stems from the right side of the photo. (1) This is a coffee seed starting to sprout. (2) This seedling can already be transplanted since it has its second set of leaves. The second set are its “real” leaves and looks like the commonly seen coffee leaves. (3) This seedling only has its first set of leaves.

Nowadays, for replacements we would not use these pulapulas (coffee seedlings pulled from the ground). We use young grafted Kona Typica trees from a nursery.  The root stock is semi-nematode resistant, and the tree will likely live longer than a non-grafted tree.  Coffee root-knot nematodes are another problem Grandpa didn’t have to deal with. 

(2) Harvesting the Cherries

We have several harvests and we selectively pick.  Last year we had 7 flowerings, 3 selective pickings from early September through mid-November, and one final strip pick by hand.  The strip pick is done to control coffee borer beetle, and wasn’t good quality and didn’t go into our estate coffee.

(3) Processing the Cherries

We use the wet method (also described as washed).  The parchment ferments overnight before drying.

(4) Drying the Beans

Our beans are sun-dried, then finish-dried in a dryer.  At this point, the beans have been dried from the outside of the bean, in.  By letting the coffee rest at the parchment stage, the moisture gets a chance to equalize throughout the bean.  The parchment rests in a light-, temperature- and humidity-controlled area. How long it rests is another one of those tweak-able variables.  Most of the moisture probably equalizes in a matter of days, but some people like it to rest a minimum of 60 days.

(5) Milling the Beans

(6) Exporting the Beans

According to the University of Hawaii CTAHR July 2014 article, The Economics of Coffee Production in Hawai’i, “Hawai‘i’s production of coffee makes up only 0.04% of total world production.” [emphasis mine]

(7)  Tasting the Coffee

We don’t do this.  This would be done as part of the certification process by the Hawaii Dept. of Agriculture.  Certification is required for green coffee shipped out of the area of production. 

(8) Roasting the Coffee

(9)  Grinding Coffee

My thoughts:

(10) Brewing Coffee

The following cold brew post is a bit wordy and detailed. Sorry.

On Mother’s Day … Bea’s Bounty

Not only does Bea have some knees, she has a green thumb. It’s Mother’s Day, so this post is an ode to Mom and her plant babies and has nothing to do with coffee.

For Mother’s Day, I visited for a few days, and I made her a coffee pot terrarium. It’s a small thing, with plants she probably doesn’t really care for all that much. But moms graciously receive the awkward gifts we kids create for them — from when our preschool teachers guide us, to the time we’re middle-aged adults, and however much longer life allows.

Mom has proudly stated numerous times that she knows every plant in her garden. She thinks she must be one of the few almost-80 year olds that still plants trees from seeds. The implication is that she might not live to see the tree grow to maturity or bear fruit. But she loves the growth process and isn’t just pursuing the end-result (the fruit).

One reason Mom isn’t tending the Kona coffee farm herself is that she can’t bear to leave her plant babies, all the living things she has cared for over decades in her Southern California yard. The lot, with a house on it, is only a little over 5000 square feet.

She doesn’t have an English country garden full of flowers for cutting or a Victory garden with all the vegetables she eats. She does love flowers and has many, and herbs, but her plant babies aren’t the most common varieties. She has been a member of the California Rare Fruit Growers for decades. The edibles in her yard, in alphabetic order, are: acerola, apples (4 kinds on 3 trees), avocado, cherimoya (4 trees), citrus (navel orange, 2 kumquat, bergamot, meyer lemon, sweet lemon, 3 tangerine, oro blanco), coffee (2 trees and 2 young trees), dragon fruit, fig, ginger, goji berry, grape, guama, guavas (7 varieties), huangpi (2), jaboticaba, longan (never fruited), macadamia nut, mango (2 seedlings), mulberry (no fruit yet), persimmon, pineapple, pomegranate (no fruit yet), rose apple (no fruit yet), sweet potato (Okinawan purple), strawberry (how ordinary, in this list …), tamarillo, and tomato. If you’re familiar with everything listed, I’m impressed!

Here are two photos from just days ago:

Even though Mom likes the exotics, she doesn’t scorn ordinary plants. And she feels compelled to keep them alive. My brother once brought back a dumb cane (dieffenbachia) house plant for emergency resuscitation. Nine weeks later, he received it back in a healthy state. It’s especially amusing to me since tropical plants are coddled in California, and can grow rampantly in Hawaii. We’ve ripped out dumb cane and have filled a van to bring it to the green waste station in Kailua. We usually rip it out and pile it in order to compost, but you have to be very careful that none of the canes touch dirt — the cane can root and grow vertically or horizontally.

This post gives you an idea of who Bea is. I’ll close with a few more photos of some of the plant babies around Mother’s Day.

  • Epidendrum
  • feijoa blossoms
  • epiphyllums
  • Hindu rope

Class of 2019, Three Months Later

The stumps of 2019 were pruned in late January. They are doing well, with lots of new shoots. In the next week or two it’ll be time to remove suckers and choose the top five verticals for each tree.

Wow, when I found the “before” photos, I realized just how much has improved. The photos below are from only two years ago, showing the same area that was just stumped this year. It was a jungle. We did the big, general clean-up of the coffee land early last year, when we unburied and revealed the coffee by getting rid of rogue avocado trees, unwanted African tulips, rampant autograph trees, etc. Then when the coffee was stumped this year, and the clippings chipped and used as mulch, the area opened up and was transformed.

We definitely feel a sense of satisfaction.

Coffee in Italy; Robusta vs Arabica

Espresso machine with two espressos brewing.  Photo by David Lundgren on Unsplash

Because the last post was about roasting, my brain made the connections of dark roast, espresso, Italy, and robusta coffee. I was reminded of this article published around New Year’s Day about how difficult it is for specialty coffee to catch on in Italy. The Washington Post published an article on January 3 called, “Italy invented coffee culture. Now it’s a coffee time capsule.”

Italian coffee tends to rely on blends that include the cheaper Robusta beans, noted for their bitterness and lack of acidity, and common in instant coffee.

Kenneth David, the Berkeley, Calif.-based editor in chief of the Coffee Review consumer report, said a few big Italian roasters use “pretty close to the worst [beans] in the world,” but Italian baristas have the machines and craftsmanship to make the most of what they have. 

Our coffee is Kona typica, a variety of arabica coffee from Guatemala, adapted to Kona’s unique climate & soil. It’s the predominant coffee variety grown in the Kona districts for over 100 years. Kona typica’s flavor is what set the bar for the heritage flavor profile of Kona coffee.

I stumbled across another article from ten years ago authored by Jerry Baldwin, co-founder of Starbucks in Seattle, who was the first coffee buyer and roaster. “For Good Espresso, Insist on Arabica.”

I know our Bea’s Knees Farm coffee has caught on with at least two Italians living in the US. I know one uses an AeroPress. The other makes espresso with a Rancilio Silvia machine and a Rocky grinder. Serious home-made coffee.

To learn a little more about arabica vs. robusta here are two articles I think are fairly informative:

First Crack, Silverskin, Melanoids, …

… and today’s topic is? Roasting!! How’s it done? What happens? Why is freshly roasted better?

Last month we had a small bag of coffee that was roasted three months prior, in its original unopened bag, that was stored at a cool room temperature. It was fun to compare it side by side with coffee that had been roasted a few days earlier. You could already see the difference during the bloom part of the pour-over (when you just wet the grounds to let them release their carbon dioxide). There were more bubbles with the fresher coffee. The freshly roasted coffee definitely tasted more flavorful and better, but the 3-month old coffee wasn’t bad at all.

I’m not a pro. I’m not good at remembering or taking descriptive notes for a single tasting (of coffee, wine, food, etc.). I can tell differences with direct comparisons, as I’m sure you can, too.

Since I’m not a pro, I try to share with you articles I find interesting on coffee-related topics, and I hope to pique your interest so you might do a quick experiment one random time you’re making coffee. I confess that I don’t drink coffee every day (for various reasons), yet I want the coffee I drink to be good coffee. And I do like to occasionally test things that I’ve learned about. But there’s a time and place for everything. I still drink diner coffee if I go out for breakfast, because several cups of coffee with breakfast out is part of my enjoyable experience. Increasingly, though, I’m initially taken aback at how bad breakfast joint coffee is. It’s hot, it’s often freshly made because they’re constantly serving it, but it isn’t very good.

To the articles …

Once you experiment, you have to decide for yourself if it’s better to order a smaller amount more frequently (& pay shipping), or buy more at one time for convenience & less shipping cost.