What is Agritourism? Agritourism (noun):The act of visiting a working farm or any agricultural, horticultural or agri-business operation for the purpose of enjoyment, education or active involvement in the activities of the farm or operation.
Agritourism is an awesome activity and it’s abundant in Hawaii, from fruit producers to vineyards. This section will focus on artisanal farmers: folks who grow products from their own land and then craft specialty products from them. This section will cover my favorite artisanal farmers from the trip. The first farm is a coffee plantation that grows and roasts its own coffee. Second, a Hawaiian bee honey farm that maintains its own apiary and creates specialty honey blends. I will be covering one of Hawaii’s only vineyards and wineries in a later post about things to eat while at Volcano National Park.
Mountain Thunder Coffee
Nestled in the hills above the cloud line, just above Kona, is a fantastic discovery: Mountain Thunder Coffee. I am recommending this coffee plantation for a couple reasons. First, they are tourist friendly with tours and a visitors’ center. Mountain thunder is also award winning and featured on such television shows as “Dirty Jobs” and The Food Network’s “Unwrapped.” Finally, the coffee is really good!
The drive up to Mountain Thunder Coffee Plantation is fairly easy, and it’s fun. Allow yourself a 30 minute drive from downtown Kona to Mountain Thunder. A gently-winding road will take you up the mountain rainforest, past the cloud-line to the plantation. Up in the mountains the air is cooler and the landscape is ripe with dense tropical foliage. The plantation is ready for visitors with an outdoor visitors’ center and a modest gift shop. Guests are greeted by feral cats and ducks, which roam around the area. Cats and ducks? Yes, you read that correctly, and I will explain why in a few minutes.
Owner Trent Bateman explained that the climate of his plantation is untraditional for growing coffee. Before opening, many coffee experts told him that his property was unsuitable for a commercial coffee plantation. But Trent didn’t take that for an answer, and he grew his first coffee plant in his yard and then roasted his first batch of coffee on a pan in his kitchen.
Mountain Thunder offers over eight types of coffee, each with their own flavor profiles and personalities. Their differences in flavor can be partially attributed to the quality of the bean and its roasting style. Higher quality beans will give you a richer, nuttier and complex flavor. I personally sampled all their coffee from French to Viennese Roasts, and Extra Fancy to Prime. The estate-grown coffee was rich, bold and had a slightly high acidity; the flavor had nutty and cocoa subtleties. The coffee was fresh and easy to enjoy, making it easy to drink four cups before we left.
The Process of making the perfect cup of coffee
During the tour, we were able to see all of the conditions that make an amazing cup of coffee. Mountain Thunder is a Organic Coffee farm, so the coffee is free of chemicals. The process of making an organic coffee all starts with their plantation composted organic fertilizer. This is where our friends, the ducks and cats, come into play. The plantation is home to a couple hundred animals from cats, ducks, geese, goats, sheep and donkeys. You may have guessed the purpose of these animals on an organic farm: poop. Yes folks, working on an organic farm means that you must let the animals fertilize the soil. Watch out for the big goose; he thinks he is a dog and begs for food. Mountain Thunder collects the animal waste, coffee cherry flesh, seaweed and other organic materials and composts it all to create a natural fertilizer. How about all the feral cats? Vector control. I didn’t see any rodents around, so I assume they are doing their job.
Between the organic fertilizer, lots of rain, and sunshine, the coffee trees produce coffee cherries. If you are unfamiliar with coffee berries, this is the fruit that the coffee tree produces. Like any fruit, there are seeds inside. The seeds inside the berry are the coffee beans. I tasted the flesh of one of the coffee cherries and it was slightly tart and made me want to pucker.
The coffee cherries are picked when they reach a bright red and process through wet mill to strip the seeds of the cherry flesh covering. The cleaned seeds are then spread out over drying decks to extract as much moisture as possible.
Next the beans are taken to the dry mill, where they are milled and stripped of an outer parchment and then sorted by size, density and color. This sorting helps separate the more expensive, prime and peabody beans from the cheaper beans found at nearby tourist traps. The next step is the roasting of the beans.
Part of Trent’s secret to great coffee is his coffee roasting technique. Trent learned to roast coffee from master coffee roaster Martin Diedrich. If you are from the west coast of the United States, you might recognize the name “Diedrich” from their retail coffee brand. Trent and Diedrich grew up in Orange County, California together. Later in life, Diedrich taught Trent both the science and art of roasting the perfect cup of coffee. In fact, Trent has two industrial-size Diedrich’s coffee roasters, which he uses to skillfully roast his coffee beans. Finally, the roasted coffee beans are bagged in a nitrogen sealed bag.
Mountain thunder produces more than just coffee! The plantation’s teas were as impressive as their coffees. Their Ko’oko’olau tea, made from the Ko’oko’olau plant, is plucked on its way from white to green, so it tastes like green tea with a lighter finish. Their estate-grown Mamaki tea is said to be used as both a drink and a medicine by the local population. Finally, they also offer a coffee cherry tea, which uses the skin of the coffee cherry. The flavor is sweet and slightly tart and has many medicinal qualities, as it is high in antioxidants. This is a great tea for anyone with a cough. Aside from their coffee and tea, they also produced chocolates, skin care lotion made from the natural plants on the plantation, and macadamia nuts.
There are several coffee plantations that are open for public tours in Kona, all with great coffee and customer service. Although I fell in love with Mountain Thunder and plan on visiting again during my next visit. Special thanks to Trent for the tour!
73-1944 hao street
Aside: A very abbreviated and mostly accurate history of Kona coffee
The strain of coffee found on Kona is “Kona Typica – coffea Arabica,” which can be traced back to the discovery of coffee in the highlands of Ethiopia, made by a goat herder who noticed that the berries made his goat hyper. Over time, the coffee berries were institutionalized in Ethiopia and then traded to the Arab merchants. Coffee became a major focus of the Arabian Peninsula economy and the plants became protected by the military elite.
To the luck of modern coffee drinkers, a French trader stole some seedlings and planted them in the personal greenhouse of the King of France. The coffee seedlings were planted all over the New World by European explorers and colonists.
The Royal Court of Hawaii just happened to stop in Rio De Janeiro on the way back home from a trip to London. Urban legend tells that during their stay in Europe, they became addicted to coffee and tea and become intensely grumpy on the way back to Hawaii due to caffeine withdrawals. To the luck of the Hawaiian Royal Court, they found that coffee was being produced in Rio. They took graftings and planted them all over Hawaii. After many years of failing to grow coffee, an Englishman named Samuel Ruggeles brought the coffee to Kona’s Kealakeua bay on the Kona coast. His success in growing coffee made the crop viable. After many years, the original stolen seedling helped drive the local economy of Kona and made coffee drinkers of the world smile.
Big Island Bees
Located just south of Captain Cooks, on the road to Kealakekua Bay, you will find the Big Island Bees visitors’ center. As most of you know, bees are critical to healthy agricultural ecosystems. One the greatest by-products of these super pollinators is their honey. I interviewed the owners, Garnett and Whendi Puettm about their operation and it was easy to see their passion for the bee keeping and honey business. Garnett Puett is a fourth generation bee keeper and the business literally runs through his blood; he sustains hundreds of stings a month.Whendi works the retail product section of the business and is responsible for making these awesome jars of honey look great. She is now running the tasting room, which literally just opened to the public. From what I could see, the visitors’ center was looking sharp with a cool décor based on an apiary. Visitors are able to sample their honey and purchase it straight from the source. Some of their apiaries are located right on the property.In 1971, their family started keeping bees in Hawaii and have expanded their operation to one of the most respected honey producers in Hawaii.
“In 1971, our family started keeping bees in Hawaii. While maintaining our artisanal standards, the apiaries have grown from just a few hives in the early ’70s, to 3,800 hives and 190,000,000 bees today. Our mission is simple: Provide the finest single-floral, artisanal honey anywhere.”
I didn’t get the opportunity to sample their honey while I was there, so I cannot describe the honey or attest to its quality. I can attest that their honey has received many positive reviews from locals, and from food writer Joan Nangkoom, who suggested we visit Big Island Bees. If you are in the area, I do recommend you stop by their visitors’ center. The owners of the apiary and Big Island Bees have been in the bee keeping and honey business for generations.
I was able to view their processing and packaging centers to see just how much honey moves through this operation. They sold honey in different formats, from gift boxes to restaurant quantity bales. We were chatting about farm-to-table practices with the co-owner, Whendi Puett, who indicated that they supply their local honey to many different restaurants on the Island. What I like about this operation is that we are seeing the full cycle of the ecosystem being brought to the local chefs and providing the diners a truly local and vibrant meal.
82-5780 Napoopoo Rd # 100
Captain Cook, HI 96704
Museum and Tasting Room
Times: Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday from 10:00 am to 4:00 pm
To get here, take Napoopoo Road off Highway 11, immediately south of mile marker 111. Keep bearing right on Napoopoo Road, following signs to Kealakekua Bay. Turn right at Big Island Bees sign immediately past Hawaiian Host Macadamia Factory and Kealakekua Estates. Follow winding lane 2/10 mile and turn right at our gate, where you will find a parking lot in the front.
Other Agritourism Places of Interest
Hamakua Mushroom Farms - Although this place isn’t open to the public, this mushroom farm is producing mushrooms for chefs all over the Hawaiian Islands and are appearing in stores. It is a state-of-the-art 16,000 square foot production facility to produce Kea Hon-Shimeji, Shitake, Oyster, and Nameko mushrooms. I tasted their mushrooms several times during my visit at various restaurants. http://www.fungaljungle.com/
Hawaiian Vanilla Company – A dedicated vanilla plantation that is visitor-friendly with tastings, plantation tours, teas, and lunches with vanilla being the center of the experience. There are many options here for touring a vanilla farm and eating vanilla products. If you are on the Hammakua, this is a must try. One interesting fact is that Hawaii is the only place in the United States that produces vanilla and cocoa. Why not experience both of these at The Hawaiian Vanilla Company. 43-2007 Paauilo Mauka Road Paauilo, HI 96776
(808) 776-1771 www.hawaiianvanilla.com/
Natural Energy Laboratory – Originally started as an experiment for alternative energy, but sucked up frigid water from the bottom of the ocean. To make the property viable, they have leased land and rights to the deep ocean water to shellfish fisheries including Big Island Abalone, King Ocean Farm, Kona Cold Lobsters, and Royal Hawaiian Sea Farms. This location isn’t related to food, but a cool tour you should go on is the Ocean Rider Sea Horse Farm. You get to actually hold sea horses! You will also receive an education on sustainable seafood, which I love! -970 Makako Bay Drive
Kailua-Kona, Hawaii 808-327-9585 http://www.nelha.org/tenants/commercial.html
Kahua Ranch – This is a working ranch that is friendly to tourist traffic. In fact, tourists are welcome to the ranch for walking tours, ATV tours and a nightly Paniolo (cowboy) show, complete with a ranch-style meal. This is the cowboy version of a Luau and definitely worth the visit. Aside from the tourist friendly attractions, this is a real working ranch that raises grass-fed beef. Not getting a tour of this ranch is one of my bigger regrets of the trip. Kohala Mountain Road Waimea, HI 96743 (808) 882-4646 www.kahuaranch.com/
My Final Thoughts about Artisinal Farms
Link to the other Hawaii Gastromic Journey Posts
- Hawaii Gastromic Journey Part 2 – Hole in the Walls, Mom & Pop’s
- Hawaii Gastromic Journey Part 3 – Big Island, Hawaii Farmer’s Markets and CoOps
- Hawaii Gastromic Journey Part 4 - Wine, Honey and Coffee, Hawaii’s Artisanal Farmers
- Hawaii Gastromic Journey Part 5 - Sketchy, But Awesome! Carts, Shacks, Dives
- Hawaii Gastromic Journey Part 7 – While Visiting Volcano Park, Awesome Things to Eat
- Hawaii Gastromic Journey Part 6 – Fine Dining (coming Nov, 2012)
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