Big Island panel wants to define coffee term
Any "Kona Coffee" blend would have to be 75 percent local
KAILUA-KONA » The Big Island County Council wants any coffee labeled as "Kona Coffee" to have at least 75 percent Kona coffee.
The Council passed a resolution last week, by an 8-0 vote, asking the state Legislature to require coffee sellers to use more Kona coffee in their blends. Councilman Stacy Higa, who represents Hilo, abstained because he wanted to hear from more farmers before voting.
Current law requires that a company include at least 10 percent Kona coffee in their product to earn the right to call it a "Kona coffee blend."
Critics say the 10 percent mixture does not taste as good as blends with more Kona coffee. This hurts the value of the Kona coffee brand, they say.
"Farming coffee in Kona is only viable because of its high reputation and correspondingly high price," said Ken Sheppard, former education chairman of the Kona Coffee Council. "The flood of cheap blends using the Kona name will cause Kona to be considered a commodity coffee instead of a specialty coffee, and the price will drop."
Only a handful of the 40 people who testified before the Council opposed the resolution.
Two processors said they were worried cherry farmers -- usually longtime residents who grow coffee on family land and sell the unprocessed "cherry" to augment their incomes -- would be hardest hit by increased blending requirements. The processors said they feared the new rules would depress cherry prices.
Hilo Councilman J Yoshimoto, who said he supported the increased minimum in principle, asked if empirical data had been used to arrive at the 75 percent figure.
South Kona Councilwoman Brenda Ford, who introduced the measure, said it would be less confusing to use a standard from another luxury product, California wine.
Wines with a California label must source 75 percent of their grapes from California.
Hawaii coffee sales hit a record high $37.3 million in the 2005-2006 season, with Big Island growers accounting for most of the transactions.
That is up 88 percent from the prior season. It also beats the $28.2 million record set in the 1997-98 season, according to the National Agricultural Statistics Service.