Kona. Just saying the word makes one feel exotic. Kona. The only coffee “Made in the USA.” Kona. Exorbitantly priced coffee from the paradise of Hawaii. Kona.
The first time I had Kona coffee was in an office cubicle inside American Greetings headquarters. A co-worker had returned from an Hawaiian vacation and brought some beans to share. I was blown away by the smoothness. At that early point in my coffee adventure, the concept of a “smooth” coffee had never occurred to me.
After some less than stellar follow-up Kona experiences, I learned about Kona blends: large amounts of mediocre arabica beans dusted with Kona beans. Yes, the coffee was less expensive than pure Kona, but it never seemed to capture that special Kona quality. And it was still far more expensive than much better boutique coffee I could get locally.
A couple of years ago, we were blessed to be able to spend a week in Hawaii. Not just anywhere however, we were vacationing with friends on the Kona coast, the very source of Kona goodness. The sea air, the volcanic soil, the fat-slapping sounds of tourists slathering their blubber with coconut oil. With dozens of local coffee farms from which to choose, it was spell-binding to stand in the grocery store staring at a wall of Kona offerings, each proclaiming the special qualities of their beans and micro-climates just like a bevy of fine French vineyards. Stunned into indecision, we chose the “house” coffee of the place we were staying. Haole Boy Coffee was everything one could wish for in a Kona coffee: rich, dark, full-bodied, and smooooooth.
Flash forward to Thanksgiving 2010. While planning a visit with my parents in Cleveland, my dad tells me about a new coffee roaster in Berea (Hometown!) that has just started selling to the public. I quickly go to the website and learn that Red Cedar Coffee not only has an intriguing array of coffee selections, they have just roasted a special batch of KONA. Right there in snow-swept Northeast Ohio someone is roasting Kona! I know then what I must do.
Black Friday found my dad and I standing in the small retail showroom of Red Cedar Coffee. Dad about choked when the co-owner and all-around great sales lady told us the price of the precious beans. Yes, it was pricey, even for Kona. But try some I must. So, I plunked down the cash and walked out of the store with 8oz of fresh roasted Kona.
And now I’m writing about it.
My first cuppa was actually quite bad. Swampy. Then I discovered that I had not used enough beans. In my excitement I had mismeasured. Sigh.
My second cuppa was…fine. Yeah, I know. Fine. It’s most definitely Kona. It has a dark, almost chocolate flavor. It’s velvety smooth. This particular Kona bean also has a background brightness–hinting on the edge of acidity–that is not unpleasant. But. There is some je ne sais quoi missing. Red Cedar states that “the Midwest palate leans toward the milder flavor of medium roast.” I’m not going to second-guess their experience with their client-base, but I’m thinking that a slightly darker roast (not saying they need to go crazy) might bring out some of the qualities that would raise this from a “just fine” to a “that’s fiiiiiiiiiine.”
On a related note, I also picked up a pound of Red Cedar’s Savannah Nights blend–a blend of East African beans. This dark, fruity, full-bodied blend may just be able to provide a local replacement for my “house” coffee–Peet’s Garuda Blend.