Ready to pour vs plunge?

A loyal customer asked, “I’ve wanted to try one of the other methods besides my French press, to see if I can get a truer flavor, but have never really done the research on what to get. Do you have a good list of what to get for whatever other methods you like to use? (I’m more of a buyer than a shopper… Lol!)”

My edited answer is here. I’m answering simply from my limited experience, with my personal quirks of what I’m willing to consider, go through, etc. I’m reluctant to buy big, expensive machines that need maintenance and maybe repairs. I’m not an Amazon affiliate, I don’t receive free coffee paraphernalia to try/review, etc. So I’m not financially motivated to share what we use. I’m motivated to sell our coffee and to have you extract as much flavor and enjoyment out of it. I think there are some techniques you can do, often without buying anything (e.g., wet your paper filter first, let the coffee bloom), and affordable items that can up your game, depending on where you are with your game.

I’m a big fan of the pour over.  The reason I prefer it over a French press is that the paper filter gets the last sediment out.  I prefer a paper filter over the reusable metal or nylon filters. Pouring the French press coffee through a filter could take care of the last sediment problem though.  If you’re served coffee in the press, like at a restaurant, often you might leave some coffee sitting with the grounds, which results in a different end taste.

So … for a pour over, minimally, you need a dripper and filters.  I like the Hario V60 ceramic dripper & their filters.  I’m not a fan of plastic, in general.  Ceramic holds the heat.  We have size 02, which makes a nice 12-oz cup.

The rest is all extra to improve your game.  A grinder, which is its own subject.  This former post describes the little manual grinder we have.

It’s nice, but not necessary, to have a gooseneck kettle.  Once you’ve had one, though, you get spoiled and want that easy pour-volume control.  When I use a regular kettle, e.g., if we’re staying at a vacation rental, I end up dumping water in the dripper and I just can’t control the pour.   So if I can find a Pyrex measuring cup, I’ll pour the hot water into that, then make the pour over.  

We first got a Hario beehive gooseneck stovetop kettle.  After a good year or so, however, it started to rust inside.  That’s when I learned online that the stainless steel differs when you buy a Japanese-made vs. Chinese-made kettle.  When buying online, I couldn’t determine where it was made.

I also wanted to be able to offer some tastings elsewhere where there might be an outlet but no range/hot plate for a stovetop kettle, so I decided to look for an electric kettle. And many had the feature where you can specify the temperature and have it hold that temperature, which is more convenient than letting water boil and waiting a bit.  We have the OXO electric kettle now and are very happy with that.  

Because we are such pour over fans, when we’re making coffee for a group of people, our regular drip coffee machine wasn’t performing well enough for us.  So we went to the larger version of the manual pour over, the Chemex.  Warning: the coffee to water ratio and grind size for a pour over for an individual don’t just linearly scale up with the Chemex.

I say, start small, experiment, learn what you care about, and then expand from there if you feel like it. 

And, if you like your French press better than a pour over, that’s what you like, and that is just fine. We loaned our pour over equipment to French-press-fan friends, and I think they determined they still like the press better. Maybe you can even improve your French press techniques.

The Moral of the Princess and the Pea(berry)

We just roasted peaberry this morning, so peaberry was on my mind. Peaberry is about 5% of our harvest. When I looked over my list of possible blog topics and reference articles I’ve saved up, I saw this peaberry myths and the reality article from the Perfect Daily Grind that I meant to share. It brings up a few more nuances I haven’t mentioned in other posts relating to peaberry. And then my blog title just sprung to mind based on the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale. Somehow, in my mind, they relate.

A young woman’s credentials (claim of royalty) are tested by her sensitivity (to a pea under a stack of mattresses).

What’s the moral of the fairy tale? One blogger said: “Perhaps the fairy tale is intended to be a mockery of those occupying a comfortable position in society, whether royal or aristocratic, and their over-sensitivity to small details which the great unwashed (i.e. the rest of us) don’t have time even to notice, let alone be bothered by.”  … “perhaps ‘The Princess and the Pea’ is meant to ridicule those people who are incapable of understanding true suffering. This is seen as a sign of one’s nobility and good breeding …”

The Wikipedia entry included a commentary, “… Andersen “never tired of glorifying the sensitive nature of an elite class of people.”

Third wave, specialty coffee is sort of elitist. For those who drink this quality coffee, it’s a small luxury. Compared to my grandparents who labored hard with Kona coffee and drank Folgers instant, I’m a coffee snob. But we are far away from Californian coffee at $200+/pound.

It’s interesting to reflect how attitudes change. My mom shared that in the old days people thought of peaberry as “kuzu,” abnormal rubbish coffee. The size was smaller and there was only one bean in the berry. UH (Uncle Harold) thinks it’s a modern day marketing gimmick to claim special flavor of peaberry coffee beans. You’ll have to try peaberry for yourself. If there’s a market for it, simply because of its relative scarcity, peaberry will command a higher price.

It reminds me of the changing attitudes about lobster. In the 1800’s & earlier, these crawling, bottom-dwellers were plentiful and considered “the cockroach of the sea.” They were fed to servants, migrants and prisoners.  Indentured servants had contracts stating that they wouldn’t be served lobster more than three times in a week. Lobster itself hasn’t really changed over time, but rather attitudes and perceptions of people towards lobster have morphed. Nowadays, it’s one of the most expensive food items and you might enjoy it on special occasions. 

At this point I have to make a shout out for Kona Cold Lobsters. Years ago our good friend introduced them to us by bringing lobsters (and abalone and kanpachi) for us to share with the in-laws. We discovered one live lobster tried to make a run for it in the fridge. Don’t be misled by the company name to think Kona has its own native lobsters. You can visit their website and learn their story. We actually like to get oysters and kanpachi there rather than posh sea cockroaches. I like one of the “junk” cuts best — the kanpachi kama (collar).

So, peaberry, fairy tales, lobster, and food trends and culture. It is truly amazing where one’s thoughts can go, just starting from coffee.

The Scary Act of Planting Trees for the Future

Planting coffee trees isn’t so daunting, but planting other trees is scary to me. We see plenty of examples of how coffee trees grow and how they can be pruned and managed. Ours are mostly around 80 years old or so. We are behind on planting new, young grafted coffee trees in the empty spaces we have. That has been an ongoing saga; I won’t go into that here.

avocado, lime, 'ulu (breadfruit), mgambo, native white hibiscus, and lemon cutting.

We have been motivated to do some new plantings, maybe it’s the Hawaiian version of mainlanders, spending more time at home, wanting to plant and grow things. It’s a healthy reaction to the pandemic I hear. Many things grow well here, perhaps too well, and that’s what I’m afraid of. We don’t want to plant the wrong things and create future problems for ourselves.

From L to R: avocado, lime, ‘ulu (breadfruit), mgambo (Hawaiian pussywillow), native white hibiscus, and a sad lemon cutting.

Large Song of India tree.

One example is the $5 Song of India 8-inch cutting we bought at a now-closed Kainaliu nursery. Bea admired it in a flower arrangement, so later we bought a cutting. That’s it on the left in the photo. That has even been cut several times. You can’t slack off on your pruning.

We’ve been enjoying our aunty’s Kahalu’u avocados for years. It’s not uncommon that you buy an avocado at the farmers market, ask what variety it is and get an answer like, “We’re not sure. We think it might be XYZ. The tree was already there when we bought the land.” People keep referring to the “over 200 varieties” of avos grown in Hawaii. See this poster by Ken Love, fruit freak, maven of tropical fruit. This article from Hana Hou magazine is one of a few about him that gives you a taste of how special and unusual Ken Love is.

Kahalu'u avocado tree.

Anyway, we want to grow our own Kahalu’u avocados. The hard part for me is planting something that’s now a toddler and imagining what it’ll grow up to be. How tall will it be? How wide will the umbrella be? When and how do we have to prune and guide it so we’ll be able to harvest and maintain it?

We have a lychee tree that even with our extension picker, we can only barely reach some of the very lowest fruit. The majority of the fruit just goes to waste because we can’t reach it. Bea used to climb the tree in her croc shoes (!) and prune branches with fruit. She was in her 70’s, and it would freak everyone out. Others have problems convincing their elderly parents not to drive. How do you get your mom to stop climbing trees if she wants to? She has been saying that she’s losing the arm strength/stamina to saw off branches, so maybe that will do it.

Two foot triangle palm.

This is a triangle palm “tree” that we bought at a garage sale. It’s now two feet tall and is hardly taller than our weeds. Have we planted it far enough away from our house? Supposedly they can reach heights of 25 to 35 feet with a crown spread of 15 feet. I’m just not good at imagining such things.

Is small and traceable better? Or just marketing fluff?

What is a micro lot? It’s a term “used by many members of the coffee industry to refer to small, exclusive, and traceable lots of coffee.” I consider Bea’s Knees Farm a micro lot according to this definition, one of many described in the article:

For producers, the term often describes a small lot of a single coffee variety that comes from one area and has been processed together.

Note, in that same paragraph in the article the man says, “Micro lot is not a quality indicator.” We are not the pinnacle of Kona coffee, and we aren’t attempting to be. We are one family-sized lot, working honestly, doing the best we can with what we have. We are not yet profitable, but we hope to someday be. We are doing things differently, not necessarily better, than the way my grandparents ran things. For one thing, we are not a family of two adults and six children laborers.

My mom, uncle, and their peers all mention how hardworking their parents were, working every day except New Year’s Day, and the kids-now-kupuna (elders) worked hard, too. Some still today work very hard out in the coffee land in addition to their other day job or in their retirement. They know coffee and they can’t witness it go wild or get taken over by weeds; there’s a strong sense of duty to care for the ‘aina (land).

Nowadays coffee trees produce less than the old days for various reasons. And you don’t often see pickers lugging around tall ladders. We utilize paid professional help who aren’t relatives, and we sell higher up the food chain, roasted coffee from only this farm directly to the end consumer. Grandpa used to sell his parchment, which got further processed along with many others’ coffee and sold as general, regional Kona coffee.

On a related note, I have written about and provided links about California-grown coffee. I’m still not drinking the kool-aid about the viability of Californian coffee, but I enjoy following the topic. Here’s an October article interviewing the driving force, Jay Ruskey: A Chat with Jay Ruskey About California-Grown Coffee. He and his cohort farmers have micro lots or something similar, and they market the heck out of them, enough to command $200+ per pound of roasted coffee. He even has meetings to try and entice more Californian farmers to plant coffee. What kind of farm and situation will their grandchildren inherit?

Farm updates — the good news and the worrisome news

We did our first dry milling last week, a portion of the 2020 harvest. We’re waiting to finish harvesting, wet milling, and drying/aging parchment to do our final, larger dry milling. I’m very happy to report that so far we already have 23% more cherry than we did in 2019. We aren’t yet done harvesting (maybe one more small picking), but there isn’t much left. The photo for this post shows one of the trees that still has berries. The trees look worn out, plus we’re exiting Kona’s rainy season (opposite of Hilo and the rest of the state, who are just entering theirs), so they’re thirsty. We were fortunate to have good rain both last year and this year.

However, as I mentioned two posts ago, we now have coffee leaf rust (CLR) to contend with. At the time of writing, there was tentative CLR in Hilo, the other side of our island; that was determined not to be CLR. But in the meantime there has been confirmed CLR found in the Kona region, in Holualoa. Our address is Holualoa because that’s the post office that serves us, but we are actually in Honalo, a few miles south of Holualoa. Still, very close. Much closer than Hilo or Maui.

We are currently putting together our plan to either treat or help prevent the spread of CLR.  In an effort to learn more about spraying techniques, we are going to be spraying one of the approved fungicides as a preventive measure.  This allows us to fine tune our spray practices and also to potentially curb any CLR that may be present before it becomes an issue.  This is the scary prospect we’re looking at:

Over a three- to five-month period, one CLR lesion can produce upwards of 400,000 spores that become airborne and easily spread throughout a farm and between farms. If left untreated, berry production and foliage losses caused by CLR on non-resistant coffee varieties can be significant, ranging between 30% and 80%. Yield is completely lost when the tree is killed.

University of Hawai’i at Manoa, College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources

Sigh. We must rise to the occasion and think resiliency. Just like with COVID-19. It’s here. We have to deal with it wisely, study the science, and learn from others’ experiences how not to get infected, how not to spread it, and best practices to follow if we do get it.