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Origin Spotlight: Monarch Coffee, Kona District, Hawai'i

Posted by Lori Bailey on

Mark Twain once famously said: "Kona coffee has a richer flavor than any other, be it grown where it may and call it by what name you please."

So maybe Twain's quote isn't that famous— but Kona coffee most certainly is. Stretched out over a 20-mile agricultural belt, the Kona growing region is nearly inextricable from any conversation about the Hawaiian coffee scene. The reputation of its coffee precedes every bag of beans: delicate in profile, yet with a profoundly rich flavor and aroma. Not unlike, say, a fine wine.

And, on the slopes of Hualālai, one farm is going to extra lengths to make sure the Kona coffee they produce is not only remarkably delicious, but also ethical, sustainable, and produced in ways that push the technological envelope on coffee growing and production.

Monarch Coffee farm

Meet Monarch Coffee, located just north of the rural community of Holualoa and run by the Stille family. This farm is the passion project of Greg and Suzy Stille, who— when imagining how they wanted to spend their retirement— could think of no better way than to make some of the finest coffee in the world. And where better to pursue that than a place they had spent 32 years falling in love with: the island of Hawai'i.

We've released a number of gorgeous coffees from this standout farm, all made bespoke for Olympia Coffee and featuring highly advanced processing methods. And now, for a very limited time, we're showcasing our last Hawaiian micro lot of the year: the Monarch Kona Gesha Anaerobic Natural. It's the only lot of its kind in the world, so when it's gone, it's gone for good. But first! Let's get into what makes these coffees— and this farm— so incredibly exciting.

Monarch Coffee Kona Gesha

Small seeds, grand aspirations

Founded in 2014, Monarch hit the ground running with its unique Gesha varietal— the first ever to be responsibly introduced to Hawai'i. Originally hailing as an heirloom varietal from the Gori Gesha forest in Ethiopia, Geshas have risen in recent years to near synonymity with utmost quality: boasting unprecedented fruit-forward flavor and a distinct jasmine scent. Yet, for all of Gesha's exciting attributes, the Stilles remained concerned about introducing anything that might be detrimental to local Hawaiian varietals. As a result, they worked with the Department of Agriculture for years to ensure the safe transport, quarantine, and cultivation of their Gesha seeds. The project thrived, and two lots from their very first harvest crop claimed first and third place at the State of Hawaii Cupping Competition.

And, this year, Monarch hit another big milestone— with their first-ever harvest of their Pacamara varietal. Native to El Salvador, Pacamara is a cross between the Pacas and Maragogype varietals, and it's known for producing extraordinarily exotic, tropical fruit flavors coupled with an umami richness. These Kona-grown specimens yield deliciously juicy, dark red fruit notes that have quickly made this year's Pacamara harvest one of Monarch’s favorites.

Monarch Coffee set out to produce not just the best coffee in Kona, but some of the best in the world. Ambitious, perhaps, but their passion for excellent coffee has been matched by their commitment. In 2020, they brought on their current farm manager, Alex Brooks, whose experience in coffee processing has taken him from the Portland coffee scene to consulting projects all over the globe. With their high level of coffee education and gold-standard mastery of advanced processing methods, Monarch has truly become one of— if not the most— technologically advanced coffee farms in existence.

At a Hawai'i Coffee Association Conference breakfast in 2019, Greg Stille just so happened to sit next to Olympia Coffee's CEO and green coffee buyer, Oliver Stormshak. As one does at a coffee conference, they swapped stories and agreed to share samples. And so began our relationship with Monarch: one of shared standards of surpassing quality, commitment to ethical and sustainable production, and mutual admiration and respect.

Monarch Coffee Natural Carbonic Maceration

Let's talk process!

Carbonic Maceration

Picture ripe Monarch Estate Kona Gesha cherries: picked and added, whole and skin-on, to a stainless steel tank. Add yeast in order to control fermentation with precision, then close the tank and pressurize it with CO2. What happens next is pure science: variable pressure is created in the tank, forming different sugars and pectins that aid in the coffee's fermentation. The weight of gravity macerates the bottom-most fruit, while the cherries toward the top remain whole, fermenting more slowly and almost entirely within their skins. The cherries are then removed and dried in a controlled, refrigerated environment. The result of this technique? The fruitiest flavor possible— pushing the coffee's juiciness to its limit without completely turning it to alcohol. Though does it carry a distinct, desirably wine-y flavor? Yes, absolutely it does.

Something else that's really special about this coffee? Monarch is the only farm in Hawai'i to utilize the Carbonic Maceration process. Which means that their carbonically macerated lots are about as rare as it gets.

Honey Maceration

In this case, pulped, unwashed coffee cherries are added to a stainless tank along with yeast to help control the fermentation. These are then pressurized with CO2, and it's off to work for the yeast, sugars, pectins, and the good ol' force of gravity. Then, to finish things off, the fermented beans are dried in a controlled room with the sticky, honey-like cherry mucilage still on the bean. This "honey" drying process lets even more fruitiness into the bean, lending a remarkably sweet flavor.

Monarch Coffee farm

Okay, so can I drink it?

Please, please do! Find our Monarch Kona Gesha Anaerobic Natural exclusively on our web store. Note, though, that quantities are highly limited. So act fast, lest— like the delicate and ephemeral wings of a Monarch butterfly— your chance to try this coffee flies off for good.

Edited December 8, 2023.


Abby Munoz and Loni Judisch, Monarch Coffee (photos, interview content)

"The Rise of Gesha: Getting to Know the Famed Coffee Variety," Barista Magazine

Oliver Stormshak, CEO of Olympia Coffee (interview content)

Mark Twain, 1866; quoted in Hawaii Magazine.

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