Nov 09, 2016
Coffee: Rooted in the Islands
Across the world, Hawaii is revered for many things: our natural beauty, aloha spirit, perfect climate, and of course our world-class coffee.
As one of the world's most widely traded commodities (green, unroasted coffee beans are said to be the second-most traded commodity in the world, behind oil) coffee not only drives us through our workday, but also drives the world's economy forward. And while the vast majority of coffee plantations can be found in developing countries, for more than 100 years Hawaii has been at the forefront of producing some of the most delicious coffee in the world.
The history of coffee in the Islands traces its roots back to the early 1800s when a man name Don Francisco de Paula Marin, a horticulturalist who served Kamehameha I as his personal physician, interpreter, and accountant, planted the first coffee plant on O‘ahu on January 13, 1813. We know the exact date as de Paula Marin noted the event in his journal. While this moment is unique for its history, unfortunately these first plants didn't survive.
Fast-forward just over a decade and the second coming of coffee in Hawaii can be tied to the tragic death of a king. It's the 1820s and the beloved Kamehameha II and his queen have tragically passed after contracting measles while traveling to London with another Hawaiian delegate named Chief Boki. Following the death of his king and queen, Chief Boki was left with the heavy responsibility of bringing their bodies back to their beloved kingdom. En route from London back to Hawaii, traveling aboard the H.M.S. Blonde, Chief Boki purchased a handful of small coffee cuttings in Brazil and brought them back to the Islands as a tribute to his fallen king.
By 1828, Chief Boki's prized cuttings were given to one of his advisors, a man named Reverend Samuel Ruggles who lived on the Big Island in the land we presently know as Captain Cook. The Reverend planted the cuttings there, adjacent to Mauna Kea, and sewed the first seeds for what would become a thriving industry in the Islands. In the coming century, coffee would become one of the state's most prized agricultural assets, behind sugar, creating countless jobs in the state and adding to a diverse agricultural economy.
While Kona coffee gets much of the recognition, the truth is that all of the islands are producing world-class beans today, each with its own distinct flavor palate. For coffee connoisseurs like Pamela Boyer, who along with her partner Annie Suite, spearhead the annual Coffee Festival at Ward Village, coffee not only represents a delicious delicacy, but also offers an opportunity for the state's economy to thrive into the coming decades.
Many times, when people think about Hawaiian coffee, they conjure up Kona coffee, which is great, but there's so much more. We're going to be showcasing all of the different flavors that are unique to each of the islands. We have coffee and growers from Maui and Ka'u who are producing some truly distinct flavors. We'll have coffee from Kauai as well, giving guests an opportunity to really taste the difference and learn more about how local coffee growers are not only producing some amazing products, but how they're also strengthening Hawaii's agricultural economy in the process.
For nearly two centuries, coffee has been a part of what defines Hawaii. As we peer over the horizon and into the future, from all accounts, coffee will continue to be a driving force in the state, creating new jobs and adding a bit of buzz to our economy. As a proven crop and valuable commodity, coffee just might be the plant that defines Hawaii well into the next decade.
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