Monday, December 31, 2012

Ring in the New Year with a nice cuppa Joe!

Christmas can be nice, though for many people it's a tough time... a time when we notice with acute awareness an empty place at the table, when the days seem darkest, and for some the purse strings are stretched to their limit.

New Years is different. It's a time for hope. Spring lurks over the horizon, and you can see a stretch in the evening. Who doesn't love that opportunity to start afresh? The dawning of a new year...

That's why I like mornings in general. A new day and a mini start over. Perhaps that is why I'm a morning person, or maybe it's just that I love, love, love coffee! So when we were in Hawaii (yes, I'm still banging on about this place!) we went on a coffee tasting tour, a couple of them in fact.

Our first stop was the Hilo Coffee Mills in Mountain View, Hawaii. I'd heard of Kona Coffee but not Hilo Coffee, and I was curious. Hilo Coffee Mills is an all women run business. They were great hosts and gave us a private tour, free and extremely educational. The coffee was delicious too.

We saw coffee trees growing in the grounds and some had cherries.
I learned that coffee plants needs well drained soil, though it didn't seem overly fussy about it's sun conditions since it seemed to do well either in full sun or as an understory plant with lots of filtered sunlight. Now I know why my coffee tree died a few years back - over-watering.

We also visited a coffee plantation on the West side of the Island, the Kona side of the Island, called Mountain Thunder. It's near the airport and a good quick side trip between checking out of your hotel and checking in for your flight home (sob!) They give out free samples of delicious coffee and are an organic farm.
On this side of the Island some of the coffee trees were still blossoming.
Both tours concurred on all the facts about growing coffee in Hawaii.

Keeping weeds at bay is a major problem. With the heat and copious amounts of water the weeds grew like..., em, weeds! At Mountain Thunder they employed an organic team of weeders to deal with the newly germinated sprouts each day.
Noisy but effective and an added bonus is the fertilizer they apply free of charge!

Another problem is that the coffee cherries ripen at different times, so for maximum production and quality, the ripe berries need to be hand picked, leaving behind the less ripe cherries to ripen later.
The first in a long line of labor intensive chores.

The coffee cherries are quite tasty, a cross between a grape and a cherry. However, it is the seed which is the cash crop. The pulp of the cherries is removed and the residual mucilage is fermented and then washed of the remaining beans. Our tour guide shows us the cherries and the beans below.
The beans then need to be dried. This can be a challenge in Hawaii with its high humidity and frequent rain.
Once dried the beans should be a nice green color. In the picture below the beans on the right are premium quality. Notice that the beans on the left do not have the same uniform color.
 At this point the beans are roasted in small batches.
Now I can understand why coffee is so expensive!

Interestingly, the Hawaiin coffees have a very light roast. This is because the high qualty of the beans allows for this. The longer and darker you roast coffee the less you taste coffee and the more you taste the roast. Most coffee houses start with an inferior bean and roast their coffee dark to mask the bad beans.

As you roast the bean you "burn" the coffee off. Lighter roasts of coffee have more caffeine in them. So even though an Italian or French roast seems to pack a bigger coffee punch, in fact it has less caffeine than a milder lighter roast that actually tastes of coffee.

Another thing that I learned was that many coffees are marketed as a Kona blend, but that just means that the coffee must have at least 10% Kona coffee beans...i.e. one in every ten beans is a Kona bean.

So my New Years resolution is to find a local supplier of 100% Kona coffee!

Happy New Year!

Byddi Lee

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Hawaii Tropical Botanic Gardens and the East Coast Tour

On a cold December day, in Northern California, it is nice to look back on the photos from Hawaii.  And believe me, even though it's California, today is cold - well, cold for me a complete climate wimp! My Mum, visiting from Ireland, even agrees with me and she is much hardier than me.

Today's post is really just a photo gallery of what we saw when we left Volcano and decided to drive to Kona the long way round the Big Island to get a quick look at the rest of the Island.

Our first stop was the Hawaii Tropical Botanic Gardens, North of Hilo. It’s included in the top 100 things to do in Hawaii State and well worth the visit.I don't know the names of most of these plants, though there were some labels in a jumble of vegetation, so it was hard to decide which beauties they referred to. I did recognize a whole lot of house-plants. In fact, it was like house plant heaven - now I know where all those house-plants go when I accidentally kill them!

My Mum used to have this vine as a house plant. We didn't realize that it was a giant vine - here it is growing to the top of a high palm tree. The one we had took over our dining room, and in the end, Mum gave it to a hospital or someplace with a large foyer area.

 By comparison my ficus is 18inches tall.

 I loved how this vine pressed itself so flat against the tree.
 I have one of these (above - angel wing begonia) and, actually, mines bigger - yay!

 And I have one of these (above) but mines puney.

 I also have a peace lily, though not as glorious as this.

Two glorious hours flew past as we visited the Botanic Gardens. Our next stop was Akaka Falls State Park. A quick loop hike takes you through beautiful rainforest and past stunning waterfalls.
Further north we stopped to have our picnic lunch overlooking Waipi'o Valley. Even if we'd had more time we'd not have ventured down into the Valley since it is all private land. Beautiful to look down upon though.
From here we traveled through the Kohala Mountains, still moving North. We gained altitude until we were looking down on the clouds.
We traveled through many climate zones, the one below reminding us of Ireland.
Pololu Valley is another lush and beautiful fold in the mountains. This one can be hiked into though we were running short of time.

As we hit the West side of the Island everything dried up and the view reminded us more of where we live in California.
It was dark by the time we made it to our hotel - Courtyard King Kamehameha’s Kona Beach Hotel.
I was looking forward to breakfast on the beach and a morning swim. This hotel was in the perfect location for a mermaid like me!

Byddi Lee