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JT's Kona Coffee Farm Adventure
6 September 2010

This post was written by JT, a volunteer we had on the farm back in July.  It was great having him here.  He was easy to be around, very thoughtful, extremely considerate and definitely a hard worker.  Now that he's been gone for awhile, I need him to come back to do some more mowing, pruning, fertilizing, digging, weed whacking and everything else he did while he was here.

In addition to all the manual labor he did around the farm, JT tried to learn all he could about coffee.  He definitely appreciates a good cup of coffee.  As you will see, his quest for a quality cup of coffee is endless.

Sign If you asked me what made a good cup of coffee then my eyes would light up with an otherworldly glow. Time would stand still as my first breath filled my lungs and before you knew it an eternity would have passed, your loved ones would all be ancient dust, civilization overrun by the lizard-people, but somehow your life preserved statically in the impossibly boring words of this time-warping dullard. Cognizant of this fact, and not desiring to meet the lizard Lord Shak'Thul until I absolutely need to, I can provide an abstraction to quality that can be used to whichever degree desired by each person reading. Thus:

Quality Coffee is achieved by:
  • The quality and freshness of green beans
  • The quality and freshness of the roasted beans
  • The appropriateness of the grind for the device used for extraction and freshness of grind

`Quality!' Gary would scoff, as he is not wont to use that word. "Quality means whatever you want it to mean." There you have it folks, to fish out the definition of quality amongst any randomly selected population your response to the question: `What is quality' or even better: `What is quality coffee', or even better still, `What is quality Kona coffee' you would get varying degrees of interpretation. To some, the caffeine is king, and any shot of joe from a derelict gas station can address that complaint. To others, flowery adjectives listed in front of the name from organic to fair trade can mean quality. To others still, taste becomes the end all fact.

For most of Gary's aforementioned quote, I am compelled to agree, but as this essay concerns my own perception of quality Kona coffee, then I am also inclined to disagree at various turns which will become clear.

Trees My first bullet point outlined the need of quality and freshness of green beans. The quote you will hear endlessly in Kona is: "After you pick a coffee cherry, the quality can only go down." So, quality processing in Kona addresses this issue by consistently rendering a fair bean from cherry without defects or dillutants. To do so, the coffee must be grown with careful attention to detail from seed to planting, with careful pruning practices, weed care, fertilizer, and of course: water. If the tree is healthy and producing, the coffee must be picked red, pulped the same day, and demucilaged either mechanically or through fermentation. Through this process, green beans are sorted out which would impart a sour flavor, and other non-bean defects are also sorted out. The beans must be dried well down to 12% moisture content and stored in parchment in controlled temperatures. When the beans are milled and graded, further defects are taken out on the screens and gravity table. After the green beans are divided into its categories of gradation, then it must be stored as the parchment was — in controlled temperature settings. The process I've described is ideal conditions for coffee growth and processing, in a painfully brief paragraph considering entire books are dedicated to pruning styles, and green storage systems. The bean's integrity is preserved to the best possible degree and it is ready to undergo roasting. Is this necessarily quality? I would address concerns with yes, as it systemically eliminates and protects for defects, and all though the process is not fool-proof, it has been carefully mastered for generations of Kona's history.

Raking Quality roasting must be done in a clean machine that can bring the bean into the first and second crack well. Numerous mistakes can be made on the roasting side of processing, from over-roasting beans and fires, to merely underdeveloped roast profiles. Quality becomes blurred here, as some prefer much darker roasts whiles some connoisseurs and Q-graders demand the lightest roasts available. I prefer a full-city roast, with darker tones that do not totally eliminate the lighter acidic flavors. Again, the only constant that I can construe for quality roasting is the lack of measurable defects.

Finally with brewing and consumption, the machine (whatever machine you use) should be clean, the coffee should be freshly ground, and the water should be just boiling. My words grow shorter as each section begins to become more subjective in terms of quality. Different cultures have different methods of preparation, different cities have different preferences, and good lord the individual. The individual makes the entire enterprise of defining quality coffee very annoying, but if you like it and you buy it, then its quality. From growing to drinking, the measurable traits of quality processing starts out obvious and clearly organized and gently begin to feather out of existence with the consumer finally destroying any concept of standardizing `quality'.

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