It’s the beginning of a new year at Kauai Coffee. The rainy season has rolled in, bringing cooler temperatures and much-needed moisture to the island. Colorful coffee cherries have been plucked from their branches, and the harvesters have paraded in for the season. As preparations for the next crop of Kauai Coffee get underway, we sat down with General Manager, Fred Cowell, to hear more about lessons learned last year and what’s ahead.
Q: What are you most excited about for Kauai Coffee in 2021?
Our team has worked hard to earn and maintain our sustainability certifications. 100% Kauai Coffee is Rainforest Alliance, Fairtrade USA, and Non-GMO Project Verified. 2021 will be the year that we begin rolling out our new packaging proudly displaying each badge. Everything we’re doing for those certifications is improving our farm, our team, and our community. Our team will even begin spreading our Fairtrade premium toward worthy causes in our community.
Q: How did the uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic affect Kauai Coffee operations last year? Are there any long-term effects from the pandemic that Kauai Coffee will be dealing with this year?
As with the rest of the world, the uncertainty associated with the pandemic touched us all. Each of us had to trust and rely on our team around us. It forced us to develop a greater level of trust to work safely and avoid catching or spreading COVID-19. A positive result of the pandemic is that we achieved our best safety record in decades. One long-term effect is that nearly everyone on the Kauai Coffee team now realizes how blessed we are to live on Kauai and appreciates our beautiful island and community even more. I hope none of us ever take that for granted.
Q: Tourism has taken a downturn due to COVID; do you have any new technology or ideas for interacting with Kauai Coffee fans that cannot travel to Hawaii you would like to try this year?
I believe that tourism, as we saw a year ago, may not be back for many years. The downturn will be felt for years. We’re working hard to find ways to enhance our farm experience for those who can visit. We’re also looking at ways to offer virtual experiences for those who can’t. We’ve shared Virtual Reality experiences in the past, and we’ll continue to explore new ways to share the experience of our island, our estate, and our team with first-person video outreach. One of the first may be a small group virtual roasting and coffee tasting experience with our world-class roastmasters.
Q: In 2020, Kauai Coffee released a small-batch, Rum Barrel Aged Coffee, that was a big success and scored a 92 from Coffee Review. Can you tell us what small batches, experiments, or collaborations are in store in 2021?
We’re continuing our Seed to Cup Project coffee quality initiatives. The team has the freedom to experiment with different ideas as they dream them up. Coffee quality has so many components: soil and plant health, variety selection, processing techniques, roast profiles, and roasting techniques. Pushing hard in all those areas or seeking a twist in a single place can produce a fantastic result. Stay closely connected to the Kauai Coffee blog and social media to avoid missing the next breakthrough.
Q: The 2020 harvest ended in December; what happens on the farm, in processing, and at the roast plant this time of year?
The farm operations shift to pruning trees in a portion of the farm. Those trees will get a restart and a year off from production. Then we will focus on dialing in the right nutrition for the trees that will be blooming this spring. The orchard team will also combat weeds and vines that try to encroach on our trees. During the harvest, all of the coffee fruit was pulped and dried to parchment as soon as it came off the trees. The parchment will be carefully milled over the next few months, graded for quality, and safely stored in 100-pound burlap bags for our use or sale.
Roasting goes on all year with occasional breaks to expertly maintain the equipment. All the field and factory machinery used during the harvest is carefully inspected, disassembled, and reconditioned to prepare for the upcoming harvest. Our maintenance team is also hard at work improving and expanding our production capacity for next year.
Q: Are there any national or global coffee trends you are excited to explore with Kauai Coffee this year?
The pandemic has forced many coffee drinkers to brew and drink coffee at home. As a result, we saw a tremendous increase in our online sales. We’re also aware that there’s increased interest in specialty origin coffee, especially if it’s sustainably grown. Unlike other coffee growers, we offer consumers a direct connection to our team and our community with 100 % traceability. It’s a coffee that not only tastes great but makes you feel great when you drink it. The use of single-serve pods is also increasing nationwide with more at-home brewing. We’re anticipating a big jump in that format in 2021.
Kauai Coffee has set several sustainable farming goals. What progress has been made? What do you want to accomplish on the sustainability front in 2021?
We continue to adapt our orchard soil management practices toward greater farm sustainability. The three main areas are:
- acres mowed (vs. herbicide spraying);
- acres planted in beneficial cover crops; and
- acres treated with compost.
We’re ahead of our goals that we’re tracking with the Sustainable Coffee Challenge. In a broader sense, sustainability involves adapting to threats and circumstances that threaten the farm. Unfortunately, we had Coffee Berry Borer insect arrive on Kauai, which was later discovered at our farm boundary. The orchard team has been modifying team structure and practices to deal with this emerging threat. Coffee Leaf Rust was also found on Maui and in Kona this fall in an already unusual and uncertain year. It’s not on Kauai yet but may arrive someday. Our goal is to adapt and overcome these threats and become a stronger and more efficient farm.
Bonus Question: Is there anything else you’re excited about that you’d like to share with the Kauai Coffee’ ohana?
I’m tremendously proud of the tenacity and resilience of the Kauai Coffee team. They’ve fought hard to maintain our farm and our market during the unprecedented world events of 2020. I’m confident that the strength they’ve gained through these times will serve us well in 2021. We’ll continue to adapt and improve in our dynamic production and business environment.