A cheery visitor center awaits guests at Kauai Coffee Company. // © 2016 Kauai Coffee Company
Feature image (above): Kauai Coffee Company is the largest coffee grower in the U.S. // © 2016 Kauai Coffee Company
With more 4 million coffee trees growing on 3,100 acres of lush land, Kauai Coffee Company is the largest coffee grower in the U.S. And thanks to an abundance of fresh rain, sunshine and volcanic soil that is rich in minerals, the island of Kauai is the perfect environment for growing dozens of varieties of delicious beans.
During my recent trip to Kauai, I spent an entire morning at the coffee farm, which is on the island’s southwest side, approximately 17 miles from Lihue Airport. Just a few miles from Poipu, the Kauai Coffee Company Visitor Center is conveniently located off Highway 50 (the main road that wraps around the island) and is en route to other attractions such as Waimea Canyon and Kokee State Park.
The origins of Kauai Coffee Company date back to the early 1800s, when it was McBryde Sugar Company. In 1987, the sugarcane land was converted to grow coffee beans, and despite a minor setback in 1992, when Hurricane Iniki damaged the crops, by 1996, Kauai Coffee Company managed to harvest more coffee than the entire Kona region on Hawaii Island. Nowadays, the estate uses five different varieties of arabica beans to grow 100 percent Kauai coffee.
There is also a small museum located past the coffee tasting area, where the company keeps additional artifacts — such as historical photos and other mementos — providing guests with a blast from the past.
Environmentally Friendly Practices
Kauai Coffee Company is committed to following sustainable farming practices that are good for the environment. It’s the largest drip-irrigation coffee estate in the world. This system of irrigation directly applies water and fertilizer to the tree roots, so no spraying or dusting occurs on the farm. Water is only used once in processing and is easily cleaned using a filter system before being reapplied to the fields.
To mitigate runoff and soil erosion, the company plants hedgerows, contoured plantings and diversions that protect the native forests and plants. Through its cultivation practices, herbicide use been cut by 75 percent, and the estate is free of genetically modified organisms (GMOs).
From June to Aug. 31, Kauai Coffee Company is open daily from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., offering guided group tours at 10 a.m., noon, 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. (Starting Sept. 1 through the end of May, the establishment closes at 5 p.m.) Visitors also can explore the estate grounds on their own. There is no charge for the tours, which last approximately 30 minutes. There is also a video presentation that plays continually in the coffee tasting area, where visitors can relax on the lanai and learn about the coffee farm’s rich history and traditions while sampling different types of coffee.
Because of my arrival time at the estate, I opted to do a self-guided tour, which was easy and fun. I walked down a winding path that led through the coffee orchard. Various signs identified the five different coffee varietals and explained the entire coffee process, from initial harvesting to final roasting. There are also bees on the property that make coffee blossom honey, which is available for purchase in the gift shop.
Kauai vs. Kona Coffee
When I asked an employee about the difference between coffee from Kauai and Kona, she explained to me that Kauai coffee tends to be less acidic, making it more flavorful and easier to digest. Unlike Hawaii Island — where there are more than 600 independent coffee farms within the borders of North and South Kona — Kauai Coffee Company is the only coffee farm on Kauai, resulting in a more consistent flavor.
Sampling the Flavors
At the Kauai Coffee Company Visitor Center, guests can try the entire line of Hawaiian estate-grown coffees. At the tasting area, located between the gift shop and the museum, I sampled a variety of flavors, such as chocolate macadamia nut and coconut caramel coffee. Other snacks include iced coffee, coffee ice cream in a cone or, better yet, ice cream served between two macadamia nut cookies.
The gift shop, located at the entrance, sells all of the different coffees the estate makes, Kauai Coffee Company-themed merchandise and apparel and other unique treats, such as coffee butter and chocolate-covered coffee beans. It definitely ended my visit on a sweet note.