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Kona Coffee Cultural Festival Farm Tours
28 November 2011


Roasting Every year in early November is the 10 day long Kona Coffee Cultural Festival.  The festival includes a parade, a concert, several different exhibits, a couple markets, farm tours, an auction dinner and lots of competitions including the cupping competition, barista competition, art competition, recipe contest, beauty pageant, coffee picking competition and more.  In addition to all the activities, November is also the height of the coffee harvest season so it is a very busy time for us.

I am not directly involved with the festival planning committee but I am involved with several of the events.  The main event I organize is the coffee farm and mill tours.  Every year I find six different coffee farms to tour.  Then we load up a couple bus loads of interested coffee fans and visit three farms on Tuesday then three more farms on Friday.

While there are approximately seven hundred coffee farms in Kona, finding six that are well suited for tours is more difficult than it seems.  The biggest factor that rules out most farms is access.  If you're planning to visit a Kona coffee farm and the farmer asks if you have a four-wheel drive vehicle then you better have a four-wheel drive vehicle or else you very likely won't make it to the farm.  All of Kona is pretty much perched on the side of a volcano Hydro so steep, narrow roads are to be expected.  Even those farms with decent road access usually don't have a driveway large enough for a tour bus.  It's difficult to stay on schedule when the bus gets stuck so now I am very careful about what farms I choose for the tours.

After ruling out all the farms with difficult access, the list shrinks from several hundred potential farms down to several dozen.  Out of those, I try to pick farms that are interesting, fun to visit and haven't been on the list recently.  Many people plan their annual Hawaii vacation to coincide with the coffee festival.  I don't want to take these people back to the same farms year after year so I try to find new places to visit.  If you're a Kona coffee farmer, and your farm has decent access, and isn't too far from town, and we haven't been to your farm recently, and you're farm is interesting, and you like to give farm tours, and you're a nice person (it's amazing how many farmers those last two qualifications rule out), then let me know and maybe I'll add your farm to the list for next year.

KonaLisa The tours start downtown at 9am.  That's rather late in the day for a farmer but still somewhat early for most people on vacation.  No problem, to fight morning fatigue I get my buddy Pete to greet everyone with free cups of 100% Kona coffee.  Pete is easy to spot, he's the tall guy with the big, cheerful smile.

This year the buses were completely full.  We even had one couple waiting on stand-by.  Then another couple showed up at the last minute without any reservations at all.  I explained that the bus was full and I couldn't let them on.  It turned out that it was John Hamilton, a well known radio host for KGO.  I recognized his name and felt bad that I couldn't let him on the bus, especially since he is so well known and would create good publicity for Kona coffee.  But the bus was already full, what could I do?

It turns out that the booking agent had made a scheduling error.  Instead of the coffee farm tours, John Hamilton and his guest were hurried off to a snorkel tour and a zipline adventure.  Valerie has always been a fan of KGO and John Hamilton.  When I told her about the incident, she was not happy that she had missed an opportunity to meet him.  No problem, it turned out that he was at the Kona Coffee Council auction dinner a couple nights later.  I introduced myself as "the guy that wouldn't let you on the bus" and he remembered me instantly.  We had a fun conversation.  He wasn't upset at all because he had a fantastic time on the zipline adventure.  He enjoyed it enough that he mentioned it on his next radio show.  Too bad he couldn't go on the coffee tours but I'm glad it all worked out.


This year's coffee farm tours were a success.  Our first visit was with Ron and Mary Lake at Kona Lisa Farm.  Last I heard, their farm was for sale.  Too bad because they are very nice people, hard working farmers and gave an excellent farm tour.  The new owners will have big shoes to fill.

Next we visited Aloha Hills, one of the larger mills in Kona.  They ended up winning the cupping competition this year.  For the tours, they turned their drying deck into a fancy restaurant complete with Mill white table clothes and an awesome ocean view.  I tried to get Jimmy to fly his RC airplane off the coffee deck but he didn't have the batteries charged.

The final stop on Tuesday's tour was Wailapa Farms, a two time winner of the cupping competition.  Wailapa Farms has great coffee but not so great access.  I almost cut it from the list because of the difficult access but decided that it wouldn't be a realistic coffee farm tour without some walking.  So the bus parked at the bottom of the hill and we all walked up the very steep and slippery driveway to the farm.  As a reward, Charlie roasted up a fresh batch of coffee for us.  Everyone was happy.

Friday's tours started with a chocolate factory.  There weren't any Oompa Loompas but the tour was still fascinating.  To make up for it having nothing to do with coffee, the next two stops were both large Kona coffee farms.  We had lunch at Heavenly Hawaiian where Dave Bateman shared his extensive Kona coffee knowledge followed by a tour of their facilities and brand new roasting room.  Then the last stop was Buddha's Cup (2010's cupping competition winner), where Mario Ochoa showed us the farm's new coffee pulper and dryer.  I find the big machinery fascinating but some of the other guests may not have been as impressed.  We were a little behind schedule so we didn't get to see much of the farm which is too bad because Buddha's Cup is a beautiful farm with lots of great places to explore.

My favorite part of the tours is that every farm is different.  Even though I've been to most of these farms several times, I still enjoy visiting them because they each have a unique personality.  From tiny one-man operations to large professional mills, there is an amazing amount of diversity.  Now all I need to do is find some four-wheel drive tour buses.


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