Lei, the symbol of the spirit of aloha

In the summer my lifelong friend came to Hawai’i, as she and her family have for as long as I’ve known them. Her mom was Bea’s Konawaena classmate, and they coincidentally both ended up raising families in Southern California less than a mile apart. There were quite a few Hawai’i transplants in the area.

My friend’s daughter’s birthday took place while they were here and several of us were meeting for Hawaiian music and dinner. I used the occasion to try and make my first maile-style ti lei. I used a dried one I had received for my birthday to try and reverse engineer how it was made. Not perfect, but I learned something, and the overall effect was good enough. The lei didn’t have to be as long as an adult’s either. It was really a symbol of my effort in making it, and thinking of her as I made it.

She was delighted to receive it. Her mom took a photo of us, and moments later it was gone. It was tucked away in her large purse. The leaves made her itch. I forgot she has sensitive skin.

Her grandma was Bea’s classmate, in the era when the school year was skewed for the coffee season, so the kids could help pick coffee. When the family now comes to Hawai’i, they always spend some time at the “mauka house,” the family coffee farm in Holualoa proper. [Our mailing address city is Holualoa, but we’re actually in Honalo, a Census Designated Place].

Apparently, last summer L picked red coffee cherry while they were on island. And the grandparents explained to her how to process coffee fruit. [You can pull down to Wet Milling and Dry Milling from this website’s About tab to see what we do.] So she took off the fruit to get the seeds/beans. Soaked it. Took it back to California. And over some period of time, sometimes forgetting it, she dried it, had parchment, dried it, removed the parchment, husk, and silver skin and had green coffee. And then grandpa pan-roasted the coffee at Thanksgiving, I believe. The adults were all pleasantly surprised at how good that coffee was. They all told me about it this summer. So they were hoping to do it again this year. I heard Grandpa was even motivated to do the same after he experienced L’s success.

One night after dinner at their rental condo, I saw little bowls of coffee in process. They had picked fruit that day, and she had removed the seeds and was soaking them. I got snippets of what she had done, but there were always a lot of people around and many distractions. I’ve asked her to describe to me in detail what she did last year. I’m hoping she’ll write a guest blog post someday. It’s how great recipes sometimes get invented — you follow the general principle, but you don’t strictly follow a recipe. Or maybe you try to follow a recipe, but mistakes are made. Sometimes the end result is something enjoyable, maybe surprising, and something new has been discovered.

Friends were moving off island earlier this month. Rather than have a sad goodbye party, they had an engagement party. So it was another occasion calling for leis. I decided it was an opportunity for more practice with the maile-style ti lei.

By the way, you can get maile leis at Safeway here. We were going to the 1-day’s notice Norwegian wedding and looked at the leis available. We finally settled on two maile leis, which we thought each was $59.99, or something like that. Expensive, but I knew maile leis were expensive. When it rang up, each lei was $159.99, and I quickly intervened and questioned that. We looked very closely at the pricetag on the clamshell enclosing the lei. Somehow both Hubby and I had not noticed that first digit!! So we had to return those. Apologies to the people in line behind us. Luckily the wedding package included leis for the wedding couple, like we figured. They were common orchid leis you can pretty easily find here. I’m curious who buys such expensive maile leis from Safeway. “Honey, can you get some milk from Safeway? Oh, and pick up a maile lei, too.”

Back to the engagement party … I was surprised that there weren’t many leis given. It wasn’t like high school or college graduation where the graduate is just buried in leis, which seems wacky and a bit of a shame, really. You can have an incredibly special, delicate, time-consuming-to-make lei buried under a string of candy or seed or joke leis. Do an Internet search on “Hawaiian graduation leis” and you’ll quickly get the visual idea.

In the photo below the couple are both wearing the leis I made, but the guy has a second ti lei that was made braided vs. twisted. You probably can’t quite see it, and it’s not important; I just noticed how they differed. Another guest brought a very special lei, the Ola’a Beauty, which he had his special-lei lady make. I had never seen such a lei. It’s a dense collection of violet pansies that were originally found growing wild in Ola’a, near Hilo. WOW!! So delicate and perishable and SO MANY flowers! [The photos below are low resolution and were taken by their professional photographer, which I cropped for privacy].

Since I’ve gotten on the lei subject, I’ll close with a few other photos. We had a family party and Aunty made purple and white crown flower leis. Cousin made a ti lei in a style I hadn’t seen before. Impactful, big and bold. It didn’t require first heating/softening the ti leaves.

Bishop Shugen Komagata of the Soto Mission of Hawaii, wearing a plumeria lei, flew over from Honolulu for a special ceremony at Daifukuji the other weekend. He was the 8th minister of Daifukuji; the current minister, Jiko, is the 12th. Here he’s talking story with UH, who refers to himself as a nonagenarian. Bishop Komagata, whom we think is a septuagenarian, said he used to have coffee with my great uncle who used to live at the property neighboring ours.

Lastly, Reiko’s birthday morning. This is the lady who will get up at 4am to freshly harvest leaves or flowers, with a flashlight, to make a fresh lei to be given in the morning. Most people (hello!) would make the lei the day before and refrigerate it. Worse, I gave her a crochet lei, recycled. Ha ha! It is so antithetical to Reiko. I didn’t have the skills or floral materials to make a lei worthy of my teacher. I told her it can be the under-support for the fresh leis. [I did make her a few other things, just not a lei.]

One friend had gotten up early that morning to pick pink plumeria for her lei (made at least before 7:45am). Another friend gave her a delicate bundle of ti hair string leis and also the white Tahitian gardenia lei. Our Tahitian gardenia has maybe five blossoms, if that. Half the flowers were from the gifter’s plants, and the other half were from some plants near Old Airport.

Leis are so special. So many beautiful plant materials can be used to create an impermanent work of art. You have to work with what’s available and in season. The Hawaiian friend who made the ti and the gardenia leis was generous about my slight self-consciousness about the recycled crochet lei. She said they have unique history and take on stories from each regifting.

Harvest and coffee processing

The pickers were here today. They worked a full day, but there weren’t many bags at the end. They go through the effort of checking all the trees, but there just isn’t a lot of red cherry to pick. There was more than the last picking, but not much. I suspect the berries are lighter and there are more floater fruit, whose seeds (coffee seeds are what we eventually roast) don’t even continue along the processing steps.

Whether there’s a lot or a little, we still have to process the coffee fruit. People suggest we sell avocados or bananas or some other crop. The problem with those crops is that they’re perishable. You need to have buyers or the ability to further process it. For example, you could process avocados into a higher priced product like guacamole, but that can’t keep for a year or more without refrigeration like green coffee can.

As a reminder, our website describes (1) wet milling and (2) dry milling. Recently there was an article in Perfect Daily Grind about micro milling, small-scale milling for one grower or a little co-op of growers. The wet mill we use is a bit larger than what’s depicted, but we also employ a little repass pulper that’s the size of what’s described in the article. The owner of the wet mill processes for a few small farms. And luckily, he’s able to service and repair the mill.

Here’s a little repeat from last year’s writeup: We use an Estrada wet mill from Colombia to wet mill the coffee the same day it’s picked. Water and machinery free the seeds from the skins and fruit. The seeds (coffee) sit in a fermentation tank overnight, then the next morning they’re raked out to dry on a covered deck before being mechanically finish-dried later that day or the next day. The end result is parchment. The parchment is put in burlap bags and the scant moisture is allowed to even out for weeks/months before it eventually gets dry milled into green (unroasted) beans.

The photo gallery is from last year. The storyline is the same, except the truck bed full of burlap coffee bags doesn’t apply this year. There are only a few bags.

The University extension, CTAHR, recently wrote:

“Communication with growers indicate a higher (than normal) amount of floater (under-developed bean/seed) parchment in the recent harvest(s). This is likely due to the dry weather we received this winter/early spring when young berries were developing.”

I’ve shared this link before, but I think it’s good to refer to it when the topic of processing comes up: coffee processing styles and terminology. According to the terminology used in the article, our coffee is triple washed since we float the cherry prior to pulping and also soak (short ferment) after pulping.

Coffee processing styles; cleaning your home brewing equipment

Our trees are showing more red again, having reddened in the three weeks since the last big picking. This week the crew will be out here again.

This article describes some of the other coffee processing styles and terminology that apply to actions done after picking. According to the terminology used in the article, our coffee is triple washed since we float the cherry prior to pulping and also soak (short ferment) after pulping.

That’s a bit detailed for your average person who just enjoys a good cuppa. I’ll leave you with another link that’s more practical, cleaning your home brewing equipment. It talks about some of the urban myths about cleaning your brewing stuff.

When I was in college and always used a moka pot, I had a friend from Italy who insisted I not clean it. He said I’d destroy the mushrooms that develop in it and give the coffee its flavor. I think mushrooms must have been a translation artifact.

Side note paragraph: I have noticed just in the past year, Kona coffee with mushrooms. One example is this 100% Kona coffee from Malama Mushrooms. I’ve never tried it. There’s a good article about Hawaii and mushrooms in Hana Hou, the in-flight magazine from Hawaiian Airlines. I stumbled on that after watching the fascinating Fantastic Fungi documentary on Netflix. With all this rain, I was thinking maybe we have to also (intentionally) grow mushrooms.

Anyway, this same friend, fluent in both Italian and French, told me he saw a log in his backyard in New Jersey. When I was unimpressed and asked more questions, we eventually determined he thought a log was a loir (French word), from the English expression “sleep like a log” and the French expression “dormir comme un loir.” However, a log is not a loir. I guess a loir is a dormouse. I don’t even know what a dormouse is. But apparently there might have been one in a New Jersey backyard. Here in Hawaii we have mongooses. And our cat recently excitedly chased and cornered one. It’s her first mongoose encounter, to our knowledge.

[9/14 addendum: Several of you have asked the outcome. I didn’t let the cat continue the hunt. I tried to show the mongoose the door out of the courtyard, but instead it ran into a nearby 3-sided area (worse!) and it panicked and even jumped and ran sideways on the wall. I just left it to its own devices to escape/leave at its leisure, and no one has seen it again.]

Hang loose, mongoose.

Coffee and pigs — ready fo’ pick off

We had a nice, big coffee picking last week, with many pickers working over two days. We use an Estrada wet mill from Colombia to wet mill the coffee the same day it’s picked. Water and machinery free the seeds from the skins and fruit. The seeds (coffee) sit in a fermentation tank overnight, then the next morning they’re raked out to dry on a covered deck before being mechanically finish-dried later that day or the next day. The end result is parchment. The parchment is put in burlap bags and the scant moisture is allowed to even out for weeks/months before it eventually gets dry milled into green (unroasted) beans.

In case you didn’t realize, we post a variety of photos about coffee and scenes from our farm on Instagram and Facebook. The bottom of each page of our website has a little camera icon (Instagram) & F icon (Facebook) which you can select if you want to follow us. Recently I’ve been sharing photos of the pigs on our land, which we’ve finally been seeing at night and around sunset.

It has been a real parade of pigs lately. One night it was like a movie. Pig noises woke me up, so I peered out the window. I saw a bright flashlight beam (my neighbor cousin’s) wildly moving about, then I heard and saw a spotlighted pig run down the coffee road next to our bedroom. Then I saw the beam quickly move back up the hill, dart about, then repeat. I heard and saw in the flashlight beam another pig run down the road. Then another. I got up and went to our lanai with our bright flashlight and shined it on the road and in the coffee land. Pigs trying to hide throughout the land.

There was a pause in the action, and I went back to bed. When I heard more pig noises, I went out again to look. There was a gang of eight pigs defiantly holding their ground on the coffee road. Then I saw two separate spotlights (my cousins) coming down the road. I heard something land nearby — my cousins had thrown something at them. Finally, the pig gang scattered.

Hubby slept through it all and had no idea. The next day I suggested we collect a bucket of rocks to keep on our lanai so we’d have something to scare them with. We also researched hunting rules and licenses, air guns, slingshots, rock chuckers, crossbows, bows and arrows, electric fences, etc. We personally don’t want to kill them, but they are destructive and a nuisance, and they are most definitely not welcome here. And there are too many!

The next day at sunset, we wanted to take pictures of the rain over the ocean. We immediately saw pigs! Within 15 minutes we saw about 14 pigs, in four different groupings, traversing and lingering on our land. The next evening, we went out looking for pigs, but we caught the sunset. It’s like life, you’re searching for A, then B shows up. Look for B, you see A. Moral: keep your eyes and ears open and be prepared for anything. OINK! Or rather … loud, sharp groinking bark!

Second Crop Available Now

Our online shop has coffee for sale again! Our first harvest was a little earlier than last year’s, but somehow the coffee got milled around the same time, close to Halloween.

We thank those of you who supported us in our first full year of coffee sales, helping us to sell out in August. Now we’re on to year two! We should have more coffee to sell this year. Your support and help could be the obvious — buying our coffee, reviewing our coffee — but also just helping us get the word out that we exist and sell coffee.

If you’re interested, we’re roasting peaberry on November 4. Contact us, if interested in ordering. Pricing is $45 (16 oz bag), $25 (8 oz bag), and $14 (4 oz pouch).  We’ll send you an invoice via PayPal. 

This journey has been quite a learning experience. Thank you!