For a coffee snob, traveling to Hawaii is a treat. The only US state to grow its own beans, Hawaiian growers are eager to deliver caffeine jolts to the world, and offer a mind-boggling number of places to experience coffee from the bean to the cup.
Kauai: You can gain knowledge about the farming practices involved in growing and harvesting coffee cherries at the free Kauai Coffee Company farm in Kalaheo (this is a great pitstop before a trip up to Kokee). Self-guided tours of the farm are simple affairs, capped off with a cute gift shop, and all the free samples of coffee you can imbibe.
For those in the market to sip some of the best espresso drinks in the state, in Kapaa you’ll find the excellent Small Town Coffee Co. This is a local favorite for perfectly steamed lattes, pastries and breakfast. Not to mention there is a bookstore and an array of souvenir stalls surrounding the cafe.
Molokai: Don’t turn your noses up at the little Coffees of Hawaii stand in Molokai. Sure you can’t tour the property anymore, and the eats are mediocre, but guess what? Their coffee beans might be the best I’ve tasted in the state for drip coffee. An added bonus is that Sundays there is live music by local crooners.
Maui: It makes me sad that the best latte I had in Maui was crafted by the owner of O’o Farm. Not that he shouldn’t make a kick ass latte, sourced from the beans he grew right there. But because I had to motor all the way to Upcountry for a good espresso drink. Sure O’o’s sibling Aina Gourmet Market sells those beans, ground into a smooth drip concoction, but I still want a high caliber latte in upscale Kaanapali Beach (BARISTAS–this is an untapped market!).
That being said, the best coffee experience I had in all of Hawaii was in Maui. Piliani Kope Farm is by nature a coffee farm, but if you ask the owner, Greg, on one of his educational forays into the art and craft of sustainable farming in Hawaii, he’ll say that more than anything, he is reestablishing a relationship with the earth. Greg and Suzy offer tours of the farm, roasting lessons and even lunch, but whatever you pay for, you’ll get to sample the organic beans, hear the inspiring tales of these coffee growers’ nascent beginnings, and get to trench through the two-acre coffee field.
The Big Island: There are over 600 coffee farms in Upcountry Kona, many of which allow visitors to tour the property. Below are two of my favorites, both for quality and experience. Most tours are less than an hour, so it is easy to pop in on the way to other destinations without taking up a chunk of your day.
Mountain Thunder Coffee Plantation, a family business, operates one of the largest organic coffee farms in the state, with free tours on the hour (though with the longer VIP tour you get to roast 5 pounds of beans and take them home as a souvenir). There is a great gift shop focusing on everything from body lotion to mugs for the coffee lover. Tours are informative, but you don’t get dirty, and strollers and heels are accepted. Plus you get to sample lots of coffee.
Kealakekua’s Greenwell Farms offers free tours of their 150-acre coffee plantation, offering insightful introductions to the craft of urging that caffeine from the cherry to your cup. The farmers have been growing coffee here for four generations.
If you want well crafted espresso drinks, or single drip coffees, Mountain Thunder just opened a shop at Mauna Lani Bay Hotel and Bungalows.
For Oahu tips, see The Coffee Snob’s Guide to Hawaii, Part 1.
For information about where to stay, play and eat, order a copy of Backroads and Byways of Hawaii.