The winter here in the Northwest can be especially depressing sometimes, which is why I rely on coffee to give me the impetus to get out of bed each morning. Lately, we’ve been lucky enough to be brewing the incredibly delicious coffee grown at Waialua Estate on the beautiful north shore of Oahu; where we were even more fortunate to enjoy a tour and tasting bonanza with the incredibly gracious and knowledgeable Derek Lanter, sales manager and all-around man in charge of day to day operations a few months back.
We arrived right after the main harvest, so at that point they were mostly processing the coffee, a multi-step process that takes some time after the crop is picked. The estate produces two types of coffee: washed process, and natural process. Washed process is the most common method, where the ripe red coffee cherries are pulped in water and then fermented, dried, and processed. There at the estate, they mostly focus on a natural process method, where the coffee cherries ripen to a much darker purple color (called raisin), and are fermented, sun-dried and then processed. This natural process imparts a distinct juicy sweetness to the brew that is unique — and dare I say addicting.
Above: bags of green beans waiting to be distributed to coffee roasters worldwide, and in it’s most raw state, ripening on the tree.
We spent a great deal of time in the drying tent, otherwise known as the best smelling place in the world. At Waialua, since they grow both coffee and cacao, they let them dry together, in the same tent. The perfume is thick with earthy cocoa and berry, and made my mouth water the second we walked in. I’m not sure if it’s coincidence or not, but each time I eat the chocolate or have a sip of the coffee, I taste that same scent, and I’m right back there in that tent.
Above: cacao and “raisin” coffee, hanging out together.
After drying, the cherries go into the mill, where the skin and chaff are removed, revealing the green bean interior. The beans are then sorted by size and bagged in those groovy burlap sacks, where they are ready for roasting. The milling and sorting are housed in the Old Waialua Sugar Mill, a remnant of the days when sugar cane was the driving force of the town’s economy. Thanks to the efforts of Dole and their AG diversification program, the land that could’ve fallen prey to wealthy developers is being used for a new and incredibly tasty cash crop. The small estate has enough work to sustain a small team of employees year round — plus some seasonal employees as needed — all helping to support the local economy.
above: a “raisin” revealing it’s inner green bean.
Mini tours of the mill are available daily, where you’ll also find free tastes of some of the Waialua coffee (roasted on site!) along with some pretty groovy souvenirs to boot. If you can’t make it out to Oahu, and you’re just dying to taste this very special coffee, you’re in luck! It’s available via mail order through the north shore’s premier roaster: Coffee Gallery in Hale’iwa. Order a pound of hyper-freshly roasted Waialua Mokaberry (Coffee Gallery’s name for the raisin coffee), and you’ll have a rich, sweet and unforgettable cup of coffee — whether you’re pulling espresso, or just a regular drip. — Megan B.