Ask any Kauai Coffee staff member what a typical day is like on the coffee farm, and you’re likely to receive a warm smile and gentle laugh in return.
“I don’t know if there is a typical day at Kauai Coffee,” says Chazlyn Aki, Quality Assurance Technician, “but we all work together really well to ensure everything runs smoothly from top to bottom,” she continued.
If you’ve ever reached for a delicious cup of Kauai Coffee and wondered where it comes from or how it gets from the coffee farm to your favorite mug, here is an inside look at the plants, places, and people that make it possible.
From Sugar Plantation to Coffee Farm
Kauai Coffee began as the McBryde Sugar Company in the late 1800s. Within a few years of founding, McBryde Sugar was cultivating sugar cane on nearly all of the land between the Hanapepe River and Koloa town. The rise of global conflicts in the early 20th century was the beginning of the end of the sugar plantation era in Hawaii, and by 1974 many sugar plantations and processing mills had shut down.
Then in 1982, Hurricane Iwa ravaged the island of Kauai and led McBryde to diversify crops and plant coffee and macadamia nuts on the farm. Ten years later, Hurricane Iniki struck Kauai and destroyed much of the island’s infrastructure. Fortunately, the coffee plants weathered the storm better than other crops, and today Kauai Coffee is the largest coffee farm in the United States, with more than 4 million coffee trees planted on 3,100 acres.
What’s Planted on a Coffee Farm?
Most people are familiar with the dark and shiny look of a roasted coffee bean, but might not be able to easily identify a coffee plant. The botanical origin of coffee comes from a genus of plants known as Coffea. Within this genus, there are more than 6,000 species of tropical trees and shrubs and somewhere between 25 and 100 species of coffee. All of the coffee grown on the Kauai Coffee farm is Coffea arabica, which makes up approximately 70% of global coffee production.
Coffee trees are a beautiful plant with large, green, waxy leaves. Coffee trees produce a delicate, self-pollinating flower that lasts only a few hours before it begins to wilt and fall off the branches. After flowering, coffee cherries grow along the branches of the trees until ripe and ready for harvest.
Environmental Conditions for Coffee Farming
Temperature, altitude, and soil are some of the most important environmental conditions to consider and account for on a coffee farm. Coffee grows best in climates with nutrient-rich soil, warm temperatures, and frequent rain. Often referred to as the ‘bean belt,’ coffee farms are primarily located between 25 degrees north and 30 degrees south. On Kauai, mother nature provides us with volcanic soil, tropical sunshine, mild temperatures, and abundant mountain rain, which is the perfect combination for delicious island-grown coffee.
Water for Coffee
A happy and healthy coffee tree requires adequate water resources to produce a high yield and high-quality coffee fruit. At many small to medium-sized coffee farms worldwide, growers rely on rainfall as the only source of water. Rainfall is critical, but Kauai Coffee is also the largest drip irrigation coffee estate in the world, with over 2,500 miles of drip tubing. The efficient drip irrigation system applies water and fertilizers directly to the tree roots, so fertilizer does not have to be sprayed or dusted on the coffee farm.
“It’s a lot more work to operate sustainably, and it takes more planning and more people, but we are figuring it out, and it is exciting,” says Jon Ching, Orchard Manager. “It’s growing coffee in a way that is better for everyone. We’re establishing cover crops and exploring the use of new tools to manage weeds and water,” he continued.
Managing more than 2,500 miles of drip irrigation is no easy task, but the orchard staff at Kauai Coffee are always up for the challenge.
“It’s not hard to manage unless we have a water shortage,” says Jesus Lagura, Sr. Orchard Worker. “Then it’s a different story. We have to make sure that we have more than enough for the trees,” he continued.
Cover Crops and Compost
With 3,100 acres of coffee production, Kauai Coffee has instituted an orchard sustainability program that will create healthier soil, reduce synthetic fertilizer and herbicide use, reduce irrigation requirements, and produce even better coffee cup profiles. The two main components of the sustainability program are the use of cover crops and a massive composting program. Learn more about the conversion to cover crop operations and the composting program here.
Tree Growth and Maturity
From the time a coffee seedling is planted, it can take up to 4 years to mature and produce fruit. Coffee naturally loses productivity as it ages, but regular pruning and adequate spacing between plants can improve the tree’s lifespan and productivity. Mature coffee trees that are well cared for can produce coffee for 50-60 years, but up to 100 years is not impossible.
From Coffee Farm to Your Cup
Kauai Coffee is an authentic Hawaiian coffee estate and the largest vertically integrated coffee grower in the USA. 100% Kauai Coffee is grown, roasted, and packaged on Kauai, which allows for quality control from seed to cup.
Learn more about how Kauai Coffee is harvested, roasted, and processed and shop online to have 100% Kauai Coffee and Estate Reserve Coffees delivered to your door. Feeling a little low on aloha? Try the Subscribe and Save experience to receive a custom delivery of Kauai Coffee at intervals that fit your schedule and budget.