When In Roam

Carl Chu's Food & Travel Blog

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Kona Joe Coffee

I didn’t come to Hawaii looking for coffee on this trip, but while grocery shopping for my stay, I came across this brand, Kona Joe Coffee, on sale at the Kaneohe Safeway.

Kona Joe markets its coffee as if it were a wine. “We believe coffee is like wine,” reads the back of the package. “We even grow it like the best vineyards.” As a pioneer in the industry, Kona Joe is one of the first coffee growers to put their coffee bushes on trellises. That is, the bushes are spread out along wires, allowing each plant to receive optimal sunlight. This produces, theoretically at least, more sugars in the beans and therefore more flavors in the coffee.

While Kona Joe is certainly good coffee, I am not sure if it is all that different from other Kona coffees on the market. The medium roast that I bought is mild, nutty, and slightly acidic, with a rich sweet aroma and long smooth finish. The beans are pale and not oily at all--excellent. An 8 ounce package costs $16, which amounts to $32 per pound. That, admittedly, is very expensive for everyday drinking.

Some people think Kona coffee is overrated. The consensus among them is that the flavors are too mild. For me, this is actually the best quality about it. A mild coffee allows you to savor its complex and penetrating flavors, without your tastebuds being overwhelmed by the extra oils, bitterness, and even astringency that come as result of longer roasting. Yeah, I know there is a tendency to believe a darker coffee to be the tastier, but for Kona coffee I prefer medium roast.

To serve Kona coffee, I like adding low fat (not skim) milk. The fat not only neutralizes the acidity, but also enlivens many of the coffee’s subtle characteristics. However, full milk and half-and-half are both too rich for Kona's delicate flavors. And I don’t add sugar, because it also covers up those precious qualities that make Kona coffee such an enjoyment in the morning.

While I generally maintain a "To Each Their Own" attitude toward how people take their coffee, I believe there are optimal ways of serving it. Just as white wines should be chilled and red wines go with steaks, Kona Joe may be right after all: Treat your coffee like you would treat your wine. For mild flavored Kona, buy a medium roast, and don’t instinctively add cream and sugar into every cup.

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