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Origin Spotlight: Maunawili, Hawai'i

Posted by Lori Bailey on

It's been an exciting month so far for us at Olympia Coffee! Not only are we launching our brand-new SMS coffee drops, but we're kicking them off with some seriously crave-worthy coffees from an outstanding farm in Hawai'i.

This morning, we released a couple of exciting super-micro lots (are nano lots a thing?) from Maunawili, an innovative research farm on the island of Oahu. And– because we believe coffee would be nothing without the people and the passion that produce it— we'd love to give you even more of a taste of the phenomenal work being done in Hawaiian coffee.

Maunawili landscape

Maunawili rests on 80 lush, tropical acres on the eastern coast of Oahu. It's where our friend Juli Burden manages and processes the farm's yields, working to develop creative new ways to get the most out of Hawaii's coffees. It is an incredibly unique micro-region in coffee growing— and it's also a place that's near and dear to the hearts of a few of our folks here at Olympia Coffee.

For Patrick Oiye, a member of Olympia Coffee's Wholesale Sales & Customer Support team, "Coffee from Maunawili is more than just coffee." Having spent some time working on the farm, he has developed a keen respect for the importance of this farm to Hawai'i's coffee industry. "It presents a model for how local coffee producers can build agroforestry systems that integrate more native Hawaiian flora into their farms while at the same time increasing the quality of coffee in the cup."

Maunawili was an influential part of his own coffee journey, he reflects: "We hosted volunteer days throughout the year to maintain the orchards and harvest coffee cherry. By providing an opportunity for people to understand what goes into producing specialty coffee, we can then go to on to share our experiences to promote the value of coffee not just from Hawaii, but all around the world." Being a part of facilitating the partnership between Maunawili and Olympia Coffee, then, is like a dream come true.

Maunawili Bourbon coffee plant

Cutting edge coffee, unlikely location

Those familiar with Hawai'i might be wondering what a standout coffee farm is doing on the island of Oahu. To be fair, Oahu isn't exactly known for its coffee scene. Dwarfed by regions such as Kona, Puna, Ka'u and Maui— and with only around 175 acres of land available for production— it hardly seems poised to become a coffee-growing powerhouse. Maunawili, though, is no ordinary coffee farm. It makes the most of its location by doubling as a research lab, where the Hawaii Agricultural Research Center (HARC) centers its agroforestry research. In addition to forestry, vegetable crops, tropical fruits, HARC also investigates new varietals of coffee, testing breeding and production methods in the continual search for better and better Hawaiian coffees.

Apart from the challenge of limited space, Maunawili has to reckon with another big hurdle: topography. Typically, coffee enthusiasts go doe-eyed for higher-elevation coffees, where the cooler climes promote slower plant maturation and the development of more complex sugars in the coffee cherry, imbuing the bean with richer and deeper flavors. Also, water drainage tends to be better higher-up (due to the highly sophisticated phenomenon known as gravity). All to say that, at 500 feet above sea level, Maunawili hardly boasts the kind of elevation that might tempt the discerning coffee drinker.

Their solution? Well, they have several, and one comes from the geography of the Maunawili region itself. Surrounded by the Olomana and Koolau mountain ranges, the farm rests in a shaded valley where cloud cover generated by the mountains allows the coffee plants to gather condensation. Essentially, this low-elevation basin mimics the characteristics of a higher elevation. In addition to the gift of geography, HARC is also finding ways to get creative with irrigation and harvesting methods that encourage the kind of growth that yields specialty-grade coffee.

Working on the farm at Maunawili

The proof is in the process

Nothing screams coffee geekery like waxing on about processing methods. But the intrigue goes far beyond mere bragging rights. Process is key, and it can have a significant impact a coffee's particular flavor characteristics.

At Maunawili, Juli and team have developed their own unique, secret yeast application method that yields flavors particular to the strain of yeast. So while we won't spill the beans on that method (sorry— low hanging fruit, there), we can nerd out for a second about two different processes showcased in our lots from Maunawili: aerobic (or "sparkling," as Juli likes to refer to it) and anaerobic.

The big difference? Rewinding back to middle school science class, "aerobic" refers to a process that's exposed to or requiring oxygen, while "anaerobic" refers to one that's deprived of oxygen. In coffee, the method of fermentation that a coffee undergoes can be either aerobic or anaerobic.

Aerobic fermentation occurs in open air. If you've baked bread with yeast, perhaps you know the difficulty of striking the right balance between proofing a dough too long or not long enough, or even played with ways of controlling a bread's fermentation time to encourage the development of more flavor. Or maybe you've had a pét-nat wine, which continues to ferment after bottling, giving it its distinctive sparkle. It's that "sparkle" that Juli is going for with her sparkling coffees. Not that the coffees themselves are "sparkling"— this isn't La Croix we're drinking. The sparkle is all about the air generated and released by the yeast while it's snacking on coffee cherry sugars during fermentation.

Anaerobic fermentation, on the other hand, deprives a coffee of oxygen as it ferments. This is a way of controlling the length of the fermentation process; it's like forcing the yeast to sip rather than gulp the coffee cherry sugars, enabling the coffee cherries to sit and stew in their own sweet juices for longer. As a result, anaerobic coffees tend to have a distinct flavor profile, and one that often intensely highlights the coffee's fruitiness.

Picking Maunawili Bourbon coffee cherries

Alright! Who wants to drink some coffee?

For these Maunawili coffees (such as this stunning Bourbon 72 Hour Sparkling Natural and this Bourbon 96 Hour Anaerobic Natural) we highly recommend a pourover method to get the most of their deeply fruity, intensely sweet, and brightly tropical flavors. The ratio we recommend is 16:1— so that's 16 grams of hot water, preferably in the ballpark of 200°F, for every 1 ounce of coffee. For more on our brewing recommendations, pop on over to our brew guide.

And if you want to make sure you get in on upcoming drops? Sign up for First Crack, our SMS insider-scoop group, for plenty of coffee and fun to come!


Photo credit: Juli Burden, Maunawili Research Farm
Patrick Oiye, Olympia Coffee Roasting
Hawaii Agricultural Research Center
Barista Magazine

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