LIHUE, HAWAI’I – Two champions were crowned during the Hawai’i Coffee Association’s (HCA) 18th Annual Conference and 5th Annual Statewide Cupping Competition at the Kauai Beach Resort on Saturday, July 20th. Big Island Coffee Roasters received 1st place in the Creative category and the highest score overall in a pool of 99 coffees from around the state. Judging by this year’s competition results, it appears new premium coffee regions are emerging with a firm gaze on a bright future in specialty coffee.
Grown in Mountain View, 1300’ up the slope toward Kilauea Crater, Big Island Coffee Roasters’ Puna coffee earned a score of 86.939. “What’s great about this is that it demonstrates the potential — and, more importantly, the reality — for amazing coffee quality outside of the famed Kona and Ka’u regions,” says Brandon Damitz, co-founder/operator of Big Island Coffee Roasters. In the ever-changing, ever-improving world of specialty coffee, this is good news for Hawai’i. Kona is a Hawaiian classic, a household name. Ka’u is the young champion winning state, national and international acclaim over the past few years. Kona and Ka’u will always be sought-after coffees. But coffee aficionados, much like wine enthusiasts, are constantly on the hunt for new flavors. And coffee’s characteristics, like wine, vary depending on terrain, varietals, cultivation techniques and processing methods. New regions mean new coffees. As Kelleigh Stewart of Big Island Coffee Roasters states, “The hope is to develop a diversity of premium Hawaiian coffees, create a stronger industry, and support our local economy by showing farmers that it’s possible to grow great coffees no matter where you live.”
Puna didn’t take the whole cake though. While Mountain Thunder ranked 1st in the Commercial category with a score of 85.51, two Maui coffees trailed closely behind Puna in the Creative category with scores of 86.510 and 86.296. The 99 coffees entered into the competition represented eight districts across the state. Four districts scored in the overall top ten. R. Miguel Meza, founder of Isla Custom Coffees, attended the conference and says with enthusiasm, “I’m very excited to see new regions represented up top.”
Not only is diversity blossoming for Hawaii’s coffee industry but the quality is improving across the board as well. The Specialty Coffee Association of America defines “specialty coffee” as a coffee that has a cupping score of 80 or greater. David Gridley, chair of the HCA cupping competition, reports that scores are going up over the years. In this year’s competition, nearly 80% of the entries achieved scores 80 and above. “At our first cupping five years ago, we had 55 to 60 percent of entries scoring 80 or more,” reflects Gridley. The Hawai’i brand is strong and, with constant improvement and innovation, the outlook for its coffee economy looks very promising.
Senator Russell Ruderman, representing Ka’u and Puna districts, will present Kelleigh and Brandon of Big Island Coffee Roasters with a Senate Certificate for their achievement. Ruderman states with confidence, “After the huge success of Ka’u coffee, I believe Puna coffee is the next big thing.”