“Big Island, small operation,” Big Island Coffee Roasters & their rich story…

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When it comes to local coffee companies, Big Island Coffee Roasters is a big winner in our book. We LOVE their coffee, we love supporting this local business and we absolutely adore their remarkable story that unveils how it all came to be.  

Once upon a time…

“We moved from Portland, Oregon to Mountain View, Hawaii in September of 2010. At the time, we were looking to buy a house in Portland or possibly land to start a farm in the Willamette Valley. When a Craigslist real estate hunt led us to a listing for a small three-acre, vertically integrated coffee farm and wholesale floral business in Hawaii, we thought, “This has to be a scam.” The property included a barn, warehouse, home, small floral business, a fruit orchard, and 1500 coffee trees on 3 acres -- all for $298,000, owner-financed. Plus, one month of training for the floral business.  As you’d expect, we immediately called the real estate agent, then flew to the Big Island to see it in person.”

Ignorance Is Bliss…

“Now I know what you’re thinking:“All that for was included? You two got lucky!” Well, yes and no… The coffee trees were in horrible shape, but at the time we didn’t know it. The 24,000 gallon water tank was a firm earthquake away from sending a tidal wave through the bedroom, but we didn't know that either. We couldn’t see it through the dream, and our naïveté was a blessing.”

 Learning to walk the walk…

“We dove in headfirst, arriving at the start of the coffee harvest season in 2010 with absolutely no idea what the hell we were doing and a house full of junk that wasn’t ours. Neither of us had experience growing, processing, roasting or cupping coffee. We also had zero experience operating a business and managing a farm. Accounting, marketing, web development, design, packaging, animal husbandry, equipment maintenance and repairs  -- we had to learn and begin addressing all of these elements… Care-taking a business, farm and animals demands great responsibility. Coffee was only a fraction of the life we had to learn to live.”

A snapshot of the first two years…

“Over the next two years we taught ourselves to farm, cup and roast. We tested and tasted the differences between coffee processes, cultivars, regions and roast profiles. Our end-goal was always the same: the objectively best coffee we could produce from our land.

"Those first few years were an exhaustive adventure. We grew the majority of our food and used old pulping equipment glued together with roofing gutter to process coffee cherry for neighboring farms. We learned to butcher sheep and wild boar, and began trading the “practice” coffees with neighboring farmers for palm heart, greens & fish. At one point we shipped 400 day-old chicks from Iowa to our farm in Puna, and resold them locally for a profit. All while trying to understand coffee, from farm to cup. Gotta do what you gotta do, right?

The beginning of the upswing…

To our surprise, our efforts began paying off. In 2013 our Puna coffee won Grand Champion in the Hawaii Coffee Association’s Statewide Cupping Competition, and became the first farm outside of Kona & Ka'u to win the esteemed award. The same year the USDA honored our efforts to improve East Hawaii’s coffee quality by awarding us a grant to purchase coffee grading equipment, so that we could help neighboring farmers add value by improving their quality as well. Later that year we were awarded a Hawaii Senate Certificate for "putting Puna on the map" and working to elevate the quality of neighboring farms. And as the year closed, our Honeyed Yellow Caturra coffee placed in Coffee Review’s “30 Top Coffees of 2013” of 400 reviewed worldwide.

Enjoying the fruits of their labor while still trucking…

“We serve on the board of directors for the Hawaii Coffee Association – Hawaii’s largest organization serving all islands and industries, from cherry to cup. Our handmade Hawaiian coffees have been praised for their artisanship by the likes of Coffee Review, Honolulu Magazine, Edible Hawaiian, Brutus, UPROXX, Island Air, The San Franciscan Chronicle and more.”

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Recently, Kelleigh Stewart, one of the owners…

became a licensed Arabica Q Grader, certified by the international Coffee Quality Institute, of which there are only 3 licensed Q Graders in the state of Hawaii, according to the Coffee Quality Institute. It’s akin to being a Master Sommelier of coffee, where the aim is to identify attributes, defects, and score coffees consistently. It qualifies one to judge cupping competitions worldwide, and to classify a coffee as Specialty or Commercial. It also helps to communicate with farmers on how they can improve the quality of their coffees, and to relay a coffees attributes to buyers.

Given their dedication to improving Hawaii’s coffee industry, along with growing Big Island Coffee Roasters, Stewart was recently named one of Pacific Business News’ prestigious Top 40 Under 40.

Currently…

“Since moving, our lives have been full of challenge, adventure, and persistent learning… A love for wild and beautiful places brought us to the Big Island. Respect for the terrain and appreciation for the farmers who craft from it has kept us here. And each of our customers have made it possible for small farms like ours to continue doing what we love to do: celebrating Hawaii’s terroir through coffee.

Needless to say, Mana Foods is proud to carry Big Island Coffee Roasters Coffee, and we hope you found the backstory as heartwarming and inspiring as we did. For more about Big Island Coffee Roasters feel free to visit their website!

*all photos & quotes are from Big Island Coffee Roasters website

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