It sounds like the dream Hawaiʻi life: Buying an old farm in Puna on Hawaiʻi Island off an ad on Craiglist to start growing coffee. You wake up to the quiet of a farm, living minutes from the ocean, basking in the Island sunshine. Oh, and you’ve got your own coffee, too.
Part of that is true for Kelleigh Stewart and Brandon Von Damitz, the husband-and-wife duo behind Big Island Coffee Roasters. In 2010, the couple did buy a rundown 3-acre farm—and yes, off Craiglist—in rural Puna in the easternmost district of Hawaiʻi Island, known more for its lava landscape and ʻōhiʻa lehua forests than coffee. This property, though, was already a coffee farm, with a barn, warehouse, house, fruit orchard and 1,500 coffee trees, which weren’t in the best shape.
Still, it wasn’t a simple transition to Hawaiʻi farm life.
The couple, who had moved to Hawaiʻi from Portland, Oregon, arrived at the start of the coffee harvest season with no experience in growing the crop, operating a business or managing a farm. They spent two years learning everything they could about growing, processing and roasting coffee. They tasted the differences between coffee processes, cultivars, regions and roast profiles with a singular goal: to make the best coffee they could from this land.
In three years, Stewart and Von Damitz have manage to build an internationally recognized coffee company that’s integrated to encompass everything from farming to roasting, garnering critical acclaim and awards along the way. Stewart is also one of Hawaiʻi’s few Arabica Q Graders, akin to being a wine sommelier.
But now they’re facing another challenge: COVID-19. The fast-spreading virus has forced the closure of many restaurants, retailers and small businesses across the state, and that has hurt wholesalers like Big Island Coffee Roasters, too.
“[It has] essentially flat-lined our wholesale orders and several of our customers have been unable to pay their open bills, so we’ve been providing extensions,” Stewart says. “The good news is that the direct orders online have made up for the drop and have enabled us to keep—and even hire—new team members.”
The upside? With fewer wholesale orders to fill, the company has the bandwidth now to send coffee to direct customers—you and me—faster.
Through its website—or the online store House of Mana Up—you can buy any of its Hawaiʻi-grown and -roasted coffees or, for the true connoisseur, join its Wild Hawaiian Coffees Club, where you can get locally grown coffee—roasted to order—delivered to your doorstep every month. In the next month’s box, the company is featuring the “Tiny Giant Collection,” with a bag of the world’s smallest coffee bean, Mokka, and the world’s largest, Maragogipe (elephant bean).
Big Island Coffee Roasters also crafts something called Espresso Bites. These unique bars—which looked deceptively like chocolate but isn’t—is a creamy mix of the equivalent of three espresso shots, organic cocoa butter, organic cane sugar, sea salt, vanilla bean and non-GMO sunflower lecithin. It’s a powerful mid-day pick-me-up.
The company is also running a huge giveaway right now called #AlohaAtHome, where you can enter to win 30 coffees in 30 days.
“It’s a way of sharing the aloha spirit with coffee lovers while they’re all cooped up at home,” Stewart says. “It’s a great opportunity for coffee lovers to experience slow, fresh coffee and the aloha spirit of community and generosity.”
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