Visiting coffee plantation tasting rooms on the Big Island of Hawaii is one of our favorite things to do when traveling there. On prior trips to Kona, we stopped at coffee farms and did some coffee tastings of island-grown Kona Coffee, and have been addicted ever since. Last week, Frank attended a conference in Kona, and before he left, my one charge to him was to bring back some coffee. He took that seriously, and this is his tale of finding a special family-owned Kona Coffee farm at Da Kine Coffee Bean. You wouldn't dream of visiting Napa Valley without tasting the wine, so you shouldn't visit Kona without a taste of the rich, wonderful coffee.
I landed on time in Kona, and after getting a grey Chevy Impala and a bite to eat, I headed down Highway 11 to Kona Coffee country. Before I left for Kona, I had tried looking for some places to try coffee online and found a website for Kona Coffee Roasting listing a huge number of coffee farms and plantations on the western slopes of the Big Island. The list was lengthy, and it was hard to pick a place. However, many of the listings boasted about “cupping competitions,” so I started doing Google searches for Kona coffee farms who won these, and stumbled across an old article that mentioned Terry Fitzgerald and his farm Da Kine Coffee Bean. It seems he was one of the Kona pioneers.
In the early 1970s, Fitzgerald took over a coffee farm that had gone wild, and helped cultivate Kona Coffee to be what it is today. This sounded like a piece of Kona Coffee history, so I e-mailed him through the website to ask if I could visit, and was told to “come on up”.
So, between milepost 105 and 104 on Highway 11 in Honaunau, I saw the small yellow sign for Da Kine, and headed up the mountain. 20 minutes and 1 mile later (yes, it’s a really rough road), after wondering if I’d made a wrong turn somewhere, I again saw a little yellow “Da Kine” sign, and parked.
Terry Fitzgerald came out to greet me a very friendly man with a beard in a sarong. His wife, Susan, peeked out and also said a cheerful “Hello”, and wanted to know if I wanted my beans dark or medium. They had some dark, but no medium, and I said I’d try both and so she fired up the roaster. At first I was honored at this special treatment, but they said the way they always do it - the beams are all stored green and roasted to order, even when ordering through the internet. While we were talking, their 7 year old son, Sonny, started poking out from behind the bushes, taking pot shots at me with his Nerf gun.
Terry gave me the tour. Coffee plants were everywhere, dripping with green clusters of beans. I was expecting bushes, but these were as tall as trees, and some had big thick trunks and roots that were over 70 years old. His farm is a bit more than 4 acres, and the open air “house” (if you can call it that) is completely integrated with the farm. The machine that strips the outer coating of the cherry off the beans sits on a deck covered with Sonny’s toy trains. The roof of the car park slides out into the sun and becomes the deck to dry the beans. Coffee trees slap at the porch of the bedroom. It seems coffee farming is their life, and their lives are coffee farming.
And it seems like a very happy life for them – aside from harvest (“which is a lot of work!” Terry says), tending the farm needs only 2-3 hours of work a day, and the rest of their time is free. I asked how many visitors come, and he said “maybe 2 or 3 a week”, a far cry from the fancy visitor’s centers and gazebos of some of the better known operations near the highway. He is worried, however, about the Coffee Berry Borer infestation. The bugs were first found in Kona a couple years ago, and up to 90% of the crop can be ruined by the pesky bugs. He showed me his traps, which seemed to me to be alarmingly filled with bugs. Terry said “Oh, that’s nothing like it was – it’s getting better.” For his sake, I hope so.
By now, Sonny had joined us, and was happy to draw my attention to all sorts of things, like his favorite pictures of trucks and a wild chameleon on the branches of a coffee tree. He reminded me a lot of Alexander at that age. Then, he wanted to play Monopoly. They had just picked up a set at a garage sale the other day, and he was eager to try it out. So, as a gecko watched from the ceiling while we waited for the roasting to finish, we rolled dice and moved the pieces around the Board and had a grand old time.
While playing, Terry brewed up a cup of coffee, and my, it was just so good! Not the aggressive flavors that try to beat you up, like some of the exotic African coffees, just a great flavor that simply gets better and better with each sip. Something you taste and think wow, that is just what coffee ought to be – or, as they say in Hawaii, “Dat’s da kine!”
Eventually, we tired of passing Boardwalk or landing in Jail, and Susan had the coffee ready in several one pound bags, so I said “Thank You” and packed it in the trunk of the rental car. The sun was starting to sink, and I didn’t really have an excuse to hang around much longer, so I took a couple snapshots of the family, said “Goodbye”, and started slowly heading back down the hill.
What a nice day and a nice visit! And now, we can continue to stock our coffee supply from the Fitzgerald Farm from their website. I expect many of the other coffee plantations would be worth visiting, and although Terry said there was a tastable difference between coffee at his elevation (around 1650 feet) and lower elevations, but to me it all seems good. For comparison, I also got a couple bags (including a pound of peaberry coffee) from Bay View Farms Coffees, which we visited when we were here before, and so we can compare when I get home.
Anyway, it was a great coffee adventure. It was great to see Terry Fiztgerald’s farm and especially his happy family, and it reminded me of us. I wish you guys could have been with me – Alexander would have had a blast. Maybe we should think about chucking it all and becoming coffee farmers in Kona.
Or, then again, maybe not…
Photo Credits: Frank Schellenberg, Copyright 2012. All Rights Reserved. Used with Permission by The Silent I.com. Many thanks to the Fitzgerald Family for their delicious coffee and hospitality, both imbued with the spirit of Aloha.