“Oh good, they re-paved the road.” That’s what Joan Obra said as her car crossed over a semi-paved road that’s prone to washouts and snakes up a hillside toward farmland.
We eventually reached Rusty’s Hawaiian Coffee farm, situated in the Big Island’s Ka’u District.
The man behind the farm, Rusty Obra, was a chemist, and his wife Lorie was a medical technologist. They retired and cleared sugar cane fields beginning in 1999. He passed away in 2006, but she was still willing and able to grow, process and roast the beans to sustain the family’s coffee operation. Lorie Obra, daughter Joan and her husband Ralph now run Ka’a Farms, with help from longtime coffee pro Miguel Meza, who’s in charge of QC and previously worked for Paradise Roasters in Minnesota.
Cloud’s Rest refers to the way the clouds settle against hillside, which basically eliminates the need for irrigation. Rusty’s Hawaiian Coffee grows six varietals at 2000 foot elevation: bourbon, Guatemala typica, yellow and red Caturra, Catui and old Hawaiian. They hand sort to avoid green coffee cherries, which have grassy flavor, and overripe cherries, which have overly fermented flavor.
The crew walked me through the trees. This was my first visit to a coffee farm, so it was fun to be able to experience the coffee on several different levels. We even got to taste coffee cherries off the branch, including yellow caturra, which was naturally sweet, and red caturra, less sweet and with two seeds instead of a single peaberry. They also had me soak up the aroma of sprouting coffee blossoms, which smelled like jasmine.
We sat at the red shack and enjoyed two coffees from vac pots, including an espresso blend featuring Big Island typica beans, they both washed and naturally processed. Lorie Obra discussed the biggest challenges facing their operation, including the market, labor and the coffee berry borer (CBB), a menacing beetle that first started feasting on Hawaii, in Kona.
Lorie Obra even baked banana bread using fruit from the property, a nice touch for sure.
This was my first coffee farm visit, since most farms hug the distant equator, and it was highly enjoyable. No regrets, though it would have been great to get a chance to visit Rusty’s processing and roasting facility, to get a better sense for their vertical caffeination (er, integration).