Festival extols joys of Kau coffee


POSTED: Sunday, April 12, 2009

New Jersey was home for Lorie Obra and her late husband Rusty for 28 years, but they knew when they retired—he as a chemist, she as a medical technologist—they would settle on the Big Island where Rusty's family lived.





        » Place: Pahala, 20 miles south of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, Big Island

» Dates: April 24 to 26


» Times and admission: Vary (see schedule)


» Call: (808) 929-9550


» E-mail: .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)


» Web site: www.kaucoffeefestival.com


» Notes: To enter the recipe contest, submit your name, phone number, e-mail address and recipe by April 20 to Kau Coffee Festival Recipe Contest, c/o Gloria Camba, P.O. Box 744, Pahala, HI 96777. There's no limit on number of entries, and participants will receive one free 6-ounce bag of Kau coffee per entry to create their recipes. Dishes must be brought to the Pahala Community Center by 10 a.m. on April 25. Call Camba at (808) 928-8558 for more information.


Composers can enter the songwriting contest on the festival's Web site. E-mail MP3s, links to video clips, lyrics and scores to .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) or mail a CD or written scores to Kau Coffee Festival Music Contest, c/o Pahala Plantation Cottages, P.O. Box 940, Pahala, Hawaii 96777. Deadline is April 22. Call Julia Neal at (808) 928-9811 for more information.






April 24
        Miss Kau Coffee Pageant: In the Pahala High School Gymnasium, 7 to 8:30 p.m. Costs $7 for adults, $3.50 for 6 through 12. Free for 5 and younger.


April 25
        Kau Coffee Hoolaulea: In the Pahala Community Center, 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Costs $10 for farm tours.


April 26
        Kau Coffee College: Cupping, growing, processing and marketing workshops, in the Pahala Community Center, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Free for farmers; $25 for others 18 and older.




“;We planned to work at least part time, but we didn't know what we would be doing,”; Obra recalled. “;One day, our friend Leo Noberte took us to look at his coffee farm in Pahala. It was November 1998, the peak of harvesting season, and his trees were loaded with ripe red cherries.

“;They looked so beautiful, and Rusty and I looked at each other without saying a word. In that instant, we both knew that growing coffee was what we wanted to do.”;

Rusty started planting coffee the following year on 12 acres near Pahala. Worried that the Guinea grass would choke the seedlings, he returned seven times to check them before he and Obra moved to Pahala in October 2000.

The couple founded Rusty's Hawaiian 100% Kau Coffee without any knowledge about growing and processing coffee. Committed to their new venture, they attended seminars, got tips from other farmers, read every book on the subject they could find and learned by doing. They built and equipped a backyard processing facility, and organized neighboring farmers into the Kau Coffee Growers Cooperative to increase their products' marketing potential.

“;Rusty hoped Kau coffee would be as famous as Kona coffee one day,”; Obra said. “;He died three years ago before that happened, but I'm committed to fulfilling his dream. I worked alongside my husband for six years, so I know all the ins and outs of running the farm, including processing, roasting and marketing my coffee. It's hard work, but I love it because when I'm doing it, I feel like Rusty is still with me.”;

OBRA IS president of the 31-member KCGC and co-chair of the inaugural Kau Coffee Festival, set for April 24 to 26 in Pahala. According to her, the idea for the festival had been percolating for several years. Then in 2007, two Kau farmers, William Tabios and Marlon Biason, placed sixth and ninth, respectively, in the Specialty Coffee Association of America's prestigious Roasters Guild Cupping Pavilion Competition, which draws entries from around the world.

“;When William and Marlon won, we knew our coffee was on a par with the best in the world,”; Obra said. “;It was time to capitalize on that recognition and promote ourselves by launching the Kau Coffee Festival.”;

The festival's main event is a hoolaulea (celebration) featuring entertainment; coffee tastings; farm tours; cupping and processing demonstrations; local food favorites such as shave ice, pancit (Filipino noodles) and kalua pork plates; and arts, crafts and games for the children.

A Kau coffee recipe contest will feature alcohol-free dishes in three categories: entrees, pastries and breads, and candies and cold desserts. Entries will be judged on flavor, appearance and originality.

“;Of course, Kau coffee must be one of the ingredients, but the judges will also be giving points for other ingredients that were grown in Kau,”; Obra said. “;All entries will be included in a Kau Coffee Festival Cookbook.”;

IN ADDITION, a songwriting contest will pay tribute to Kau coffee, the farmers that grow it and/or the traditional place names of Kau, including where coffee has been grown or is being grown. Multiple Grammy Award winner Daniel Ho was in Kau two weeks ago to lead a music workshop for fledgling composers.

A display on the history of coffee in Kau will be among the hoolaulea's educational exhibits. When C. Brewer and Co. closed its Kau plantation in 1996, displaced workers were offered five acres of former cane land to plant coffee. Some took that offer, struggling for the first few years to acquire the knowledge and skills necessary to succeed. Today, there are about 50 farms in Kau, ranging from five to 25 acres. Most are family owned and operated.

“;Kau's volcanic soil and dry, sunny climate give our coffee chocolate, cherry and coconut flavors with hints of orchid and citrus flowers,”; Obra said. “;Our coffee is hand-picked, sun-dried and processed in small batches, so it's naturally rich, smooth and aromatic.”;

Hawaii is the only state that produces coffee, and Obra feels the Kau Coffee Festival will give well-deserved recognition to Kau and its fine boutique estate brews.

“;Visitors will be able to try a variety of our coffees, meet the farmers, and enjoy the magnificent scenery and rural charm of Kau,”; she said. “;It'll take them off the beaten path for a fun, interesting taste of the 'real' Hawaii.”;


Cheryl Chee Tsutsumi is a Honolulu-based freelance writer whose travel features for the Star-Bulletin have won multiple Society of American Travel Writers awards.