Monday, August 18, 2008

Rusty's Hawaiian Ka'u Coffee

The view from Rusty's Coffee Plantation. Elevation 2000 feet.

Darn it.

Sometimes flying by the seat of your pants bites you in the ass.

The plan was simple enough: fly to Kona, grab a rental car, drive to Na'alehu, pick up some sweetbread, visit Rusty's Hawaiian Ka'u Coffee, drive back to Captain Cook, visit Pele Plantations and then fly out on the last flight back to Honolulu.

It was a simple plan based on ignorance.

Had I really thought it through and used a map, I would have realized that Lorie Obra's farm in Ka'u was actually closer to Hilo than Kona. So, instead of a two hour plus drive from Kona, it could have been an hour and twenty minute drive from HIlo. We'd get there earlier, shoot the segment, haul ass over to Captain Cook, shoot another segment, cut across the Big Island using the illegal Saddle Road and be back in HIlo for the last flight back to Honolulu (it's always cheaper to return the rental to the same place you picked it up from).

But no. I just relied on my old memory that Ka'u is next to Kona so it couldn't be that far.


Farmer, Processor, Roaster Lorie Obra surveys the land.

My error resulted in our missing our window of opportunity to shoot at Pele Plantations. Originally, I had wanted to do a basic comparison of Kona and Ka'u coffees, but now that would have to wait.

All wasn't lost though. On the way to Ka'u, we ended up shooting additional segments for the show featuring lava and other unique and interesting factoids about visiting The Big Island - not to mention shooting a short segment at Kona Mountain Coffee's retail location just off Ka'ahumanu Highway near the airport.

I had been introduced to the owner of Rusty's Hawaiian Ka'u Coffee, Lorie Obra, by old friend Miguel Meza of Paradise Coffee Roasters. Over the past year, Miguel has been telling me about his ventures into this developing growing region of Hawaii and his efforts to find quality conscious growers willing to experiment with different techniques.

I won't talk about those techniques here since that's what this episode of Barista del Mundo is about. You'll just have to wait for the show to air or visit Lorie yourself. But what I will tell you is that I found their experiments to be wildly fascinating and daringly exciting.

Originally, Rusty and Lorie Obra were from New Jersey via The Philippines. At the turn of the century, the Obra's decided that they wanted to retire from their scientific and medical backgrounds and take advantage of the offer in Hawaii to rent old sugar plantation land as coffee farms. With that in mind, they moved to Ka'u and made it happen.

So committed to this project that Rusty dug the holes and planted each Guatemala variety coffee tree by hand on the upper part of the farm - some six hundred trees. If anything, these Filipinos are committed.

A planting of Guatemala variety coffee trees on the upper part of the plantation.

Unfortunately, two years ago Rusty fell ill and became a victim of cancer. However, instead of selling off the farm, Lorie took over the reigns of the operation and now runs the farm almost single-handedly.

When it comes to television personalities, it's hard to come by someone as animated, comfortable, relaxed and funny on camera as Lorie. She tells her stories, shows us how she processes the coffees and serves us freshly brewed coffee and bibingka without any self-consciousness about the camera. In an email following our visit, Lorie would ask if she really did say "Oh Shit" on the video.

We spent several hours with Lorie and her dogs and had a great time. Her and Rusty's story flowed effortlessly as we climbed either the rafters in her drying room or the hillside of the plantation. It was a wonderful time and I'm really looking forward to airing this episode.

Rusty's Hawaiian 100% Ka'u Coffee
PO Box 845
Pahala, HI 96777
866-928-8916 toll free

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