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The Calm Before the Storm
8 October 2012

Coffee In some years we can pick coffee all year long.  In most years the harvest starts in August or September.  This year it is already October and the coffee still isn't ready to be picked.  I wish it would ripen soon because we need the coffee and all this waiting is making me anxious.

The spring rains were a bit late this year which means our harvest is late too.  When the spring rains arrived they arrived strong and our harvest will be the same.  It will be an extra heavy harvest crammed into an extra short season which means an extra busy farmer.  I wish there was something I could do now but all I can do is wait.

It's getting close, the trees are loaded with plump, healthy green coffee cherry.  A few beans are starting to ripen but most are taking their time.  They had better hurry because we are almost completely out of coffee.  I don't think I've ever seen our storage room so empty.

We have already had to cut off some of the large wholesale customers.  Having to turn away sales is not easy.  I suppose it's better than having too much coffee and not enough customers but that still doesn't make it easy.  It has to be done though otherwise we would run out of coffee for our regular retail customers and nobody wants that to happen.

It looks like we will have just enough coffee to make it until this new harvest, assuming the coffee ripens soon.  Once it is ripe it still takes several weeks for all the processing and proper aging.  So it had better ripen soon.  Stupid slow coffee.

This time of year is the quiet before the storm.  No only will the harvest start soon, we will also start getting the massive sales rush that always accompanies the holiday season.  We do custom milling for other farms which means that even when our own coffee isn't being picked we'll still be processing coffee for other farms.  Between the harvest and the busy holiday sales, it will be a very busy season.

The work usually starts as soon as I get out of bed.  I'll answer some emails and do other office work while drinking my morning coffee.  Hawaii is so far west that by the time the sun rises here, most of the mainland is already thinking about lunch.  Being able to get some business done first thing in the morning can be quite convenient.

Almost As soon as the sun peeks over the mountain, it's time to go outside and finish processing the coffee that was fermenting from the night before.  That is a couple hours of sweaty, dirty work but it's not too bad once I get started.  The warm morning sun can even make it pleasant.  If I'm lucky I'll have someone to help.  Help doesn't make the job much faster but it does make it far less frenzied.

On heavy days, or if there are any equipment failures or other problems, then the morning's pulping will take until well after lunch.  Usually I can get all the coffee laid out to dry and everything cleaned up before lunch.  The wet coffee has to be raked constantly but that is only a 5-10 minute interruption a couple times per hour, depending on how hot and bright the sun is.  More sun means more raking.  Again, if I'm lucky, I'll have someone around to help with this.

Next on the list is filling the day's coffee orders.  During the holiday rush filling coffee orders can consume a large part of the day.  Roasting, bagging and shipping seem relatively simple but can be annoyingly time consuming.  It's often a race to get it all done in time for the day's mail.

Early afternoon is "free" time.  That doesn't mean going to the beach, it means cramming all of the day's regular farm work into those few hours.  The trick is to get it all done a couple hours before sunset otherwise we will be working in the dark.  An hour or two before sunset is when the day's coffee starts to show up.  Whether it is from our own pickers or from other farms, the loading deck will soon be full of another batch of coffee waiting to be pulped.

On an easy day we'll be done before it gets dark.  On a heavy day or if anything goes wrong, dinner will get delayed.  I think the record so far is finishing around 10pm followed by food, shower and straight to bed.  Either way, the sun races around and comes up again in a few short hours.

I suppose I could hire more help but then I wouldn't be a coffee farmer, I'd be a business manager.  Besides, I'm far too picky about exactly how everything gets done so I usually prefer to simply do it myself.  I feel less stressed when I'm staying busy than I do when waiting around for things to start.  Although as soon as things get busy I'll probably feel differently.

For now, all I can do is wait.  Well, that's not all I can do, I still have a half dozen little projects that I should finish before the harvest starts.  I'm tired of all those little projects though.  What I want to do now is get busy filling up our storage room with fresh coffee.  If only nature would work on my schedule.


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