KONA COFFEE CULTURAL FESTIVAL:
A Labor of Love
A Festival Takes Shape
Today, Kona is well known as a quality specialty coffee, but continued awareness of this product is what will ensure that Kona has a bright future. Norman Sakata is one man who is focused on making this goal a reality. Sakata, chairman of the Kona Coffee Cultural Festival, sees its function as “getting the word out” about Kona coffee. “Our primary purpose is product promotion. We attract buyers, coffee-related business people and many others, and we strive to expose Kona coffee to a broader market. Secondarily, we hope to attract visitors [to the island] to try Kona and, of course, fall in love with it.”
Sakata’s involvement with Kona coffee is in his blood. His grandfather came to Maui on a three-year labor contract executed in 1918. After he fulfilled his contract in Maui on a sugar plantation he came to work on another sugar plantation in Kona, but, like many of the Japanese contract laborers, heard of Kona coffee as an opportunity to live a better life as an independent coffee farmer.
Sakata grew up as a third-generation coffee farmer, the fourth child of a family of ten. He worked in the fields throughout his youth to help his parents feed his family. Eventually they had to cut the farm in half and destroy the coffee and farm vegetables, which, at the time, were slightly more profitable.
Sakata says he has “no regrets” about his life in the coffee fields. “It was hard work but it was good work. Through the struggle I learned to appreciate things, and gained many values,” says Sakata. He translated what he learned from these lessons into a lifelong dedication to his community. His first involvement was with the Boy Scouts, from whom this past July he was honored with a 50-year Veteran’s award. As part of the organization over the years, Sakata touched the lives of hundreds of children. One boy was Ellison Onizuka, the N.A.S.A space program’s first astronaut from Hawaii and the first of Asian descent. Tragically, he was a victim of the Challenger disaster in 1986. Proud to have grown up in the coffee fields of Kona, before he died he had successfully campaigned for Kona coffee to be the official coffee of the space program.
Sakata has been involved in many other ways in the community, one being the founder of the Lion’s Club Eye Bank. Growing up in Kona, Sakata watched his grandmother who was blind for much of her life, deftly pick coffee in the fields, and is committed to help others see again. Throughout his life he has been part of many other local organizations, and he continues to view these experiences as something indispensable. “Being part of the community instilled things in me, things you cannot ever take away from me,” he says with a tremor in his voice.
Sakata, now 76 years old, has been involved in the festival for 30 years. He began as head of the parade, the cornerstone event of the festival, and immediately took charge with his vision of how the festival could develop into something great. “Up until that point, the attraction was only to draw in tourism,” he says. Sakata hoped to keep the tourists, but to keep the focus on promoting Kona coffee. When he came on board, the governor of Hawaii had already been slated to be the parade marshal that year. “I volunteered to be the one to tell him that this year for the first time a 99-year-old farmer would be the marshal.” From that year on, he made sure the pioneer farmers began to get involved. Future parade marshals included a 98-year-old farmer, an 87-year-old woman farmer, and a 65-year-old coffee picker who was still picking to that day. A huge float filled with “coffee pioneers” like these began to ride through the parade each year up to the present.
“These are the people that keep the industry going,” Sakata says with conviction. “There is no festival without an industry and no industry without pioneer farmers who struggled during the lean years so that when the good years came around, coffee was here.”
Sakata is so proud of the farmers and the fine coffee they produce. Perhaps he summed it best when beaming, “Every coffee cherry is picked by human hands so every cup comes to you with love.”
The Kona Coffee Cultural Festival Today
From then on, the festival grew exponentially, to so much more than just a parade. This past year, the 32nd festival, held from November 1-10, was a raging success, integrating the community, the coffee and the landscape into a fun and educational event for everyone. With the theme “World’s Best,” it kicked off with a colorful lantern parade through the streets of downtown Kona, along the water, with residents and visitors cheering down the street. Many community groups including the boys and girls scouts, and local school groups were featured. That night the festival featured a cultural program with performances by local residents celebrating the many cultures that coexist in the Kona region, such as a dancer from Thailand, men hula dancers, and an amazing children’s group of Taiko drummers.
The next day the Coffee & Art Stroll was held in the upcountry town Holualoa Village, where local farmers, many of whom are also visual artists, freely gave tastes off their coffee and their art. Farmers included the UCC Hawaii, Crocker Estate Coffee, Holualoa Kona Coffee Company, Kona Blue Sky Coffee, Heavenly Hawaiian and the Other Farm. Coffee-related and other art and antiques were for sale.
Other fun events included a Golf Tournament, a Mile Race, a Lei Contest, and a Concert in the Park. The 32nd Miss Kona Coffee Scholarship Pageant, the largest scholarship competition in the U.S. was held at the ballroom of the Hilton Waikoloa Village. This year the winner, who goes on to vie for title of Miss Hawaii, was Jaynell Cantor, a talented pianist.
Highly anticipated in the coffee industry was the annual Gevalia Kona Coffee Cupping Competition, sponsored by Gevalia Kaffe of Sweden, which was held for the 16th year in a row. Each year, an international panel of judges cup coffee from farms around Kona, each hopeful of attaining the status of “Best Kona Coffee.” Over 60 Kona coffee farmers entered their farm’s coffee into this year’s cupping competition. The blind taste competition was held at the Ohana Keauhou Beach Resort, a beautiful ten-acre oceanfront resort on the Kona Coast.
The guest judge of honor was international master cupper Willy Pettersson of Gevalia Kaffe. Manabu Fujita of UCC Ueshima Coffee Company, the largest coffee roaster in Japan, served on the judge’s panel with John King of Harold King and Co. and Michael Therrien, an international coffee expert.
Each farm submitted a 50-pound sample from which five pounds were actually entered into the cupping competition. To be eligible, the coffee submitted must have been harvested in Kona. The judges looked for high marks in these six categories: fragrance, aroma, taste, nose, aftertaste and body. Samples were roasted in the hotel’s lobby on a Fresh Roast, a fully automated, ventless roaster, by Roger Allington, president. The judges met with Allington beforehand to fix the desired roasting profile. “Roasting for the cupping competition required a very light roast, one which typically would not be used commercially, but gives the judges what they need to be able to differentiate the coffees from the various estates,” he says.
|Enjoying a taste of Kona at the Coffee & Art Stroll.
Fifteen finalists were chosen to make it to the final round on the second day. After much anticipation, the winner was revealed that morning: Marin and Cathy Artuckovich of Koa Coffee Plantation had won first place. The five-year-old, family-run Kona coffee farm is located in Captain Cook at 2,400 foot elevation. Cupping judge John King described the winning coffee as “a typical medium mellow bodied Kona coffee with a delicate acidity.” Second place went to Sugai Kona Coffee and third place to Wood Captain Cook Estate.
Another original event was the Coffee Label & Website Competition, also held at the Ohana Keauhou Beach Resort. Each year Kona Coffee Farmers are invited to display their 100% Kona coffee labels and web sites. The criteria included promotion of Kona Coffee, graphics, visual appeal: and for the web sites quick access to information, and a secure order form that is easy to process. First place label winners were the Kona Historical Society and First place web site winners were Bwana Bob’s Kona Coffee.
Other events included the Doutor Kona Coffee Picking Contest, which took place on the beautiful Mauka Meadows farm owned by Doutor Coffee Company. Contestants were divided into their experience and age level and were allowed to pick coffee cherries for five minutes. Amateurs and professionals, kids and “pioneers” competed to be the fastest coffee pickers in the time allotted. Judges weighed the cherries, subtracting for leaves, twigs, and unripe cherries, mellow music from a live Hawaiian band as the background score. Everyone left sunburned and laughing.
|Norman Sakata, chairman of the Kona Coffee Festival, at the coffee picking contest.
Coffee can be a wonderful ingredient in recipes, and to get the word out about this fact, every year an event involving Kona coffee as an ingredient is held at the festival. After being featured last year on the cable television channel the Food Network, this year the festival held the KTA Super Stores Kona Coffee Recipe Contest. Recipes were required to contain 100% Kona coffee. After the judges scrutinized presentation and taste of the mouthwatering entries, winners were announced, and then anyone with a festival button could sample the delicacies, of which the chefs were required to bring lots of extra. What is the key of using coffee in a savory recipe? Stanley Kimura, who won the entrée category with his Sautéed Duck Breast with Kona Coffee & Raspberry Sauce says, “The coffee needs to be in balance and harmony with the other ingredients.”
The First Pacific Rim Symposium
A new addition to the festival this year was the Pacific Rim Symposium. Expert discussions of Kona coffee history, cultivation, processing and marketing were held for two days. The first day featured informative speakers at the Ohana Keahou Hotel on topics including the history, growing, roasting, processing, marketing of and research on Kona coffee. Speakers included Sheree Chase, director of Kona Coffee Historical Society; Skip Bittenbender and Virginia Easton-Smith, Extension Specialists at CHTAR; Jon Kunitake, of Kunitake Farms, a coffee processor; Valerie O’Brien, marketing director; Bob Yap of UCC Hawaii; and John King from Harold King Coffee Company.
On the second day of the symposium, attendees toured the Kona Historical Society’s Uchida Farms, a working historical farm, and to Greenwell Farms, to meet owner Tom Greenwell, manager - and great-grandson of Henry Nicholas Greenwell - to learn about processing methods. Attendees included Kona coffee farmers and roasters, employees of companies that sell Kona coffee, and roasters from the mainland curious about Kona or interested in possibly farming the coffee. Charles Moss, a retired Boeing employee recently bought his farm, Ainina Hokukai. “I’m new at this and I’m here to learn and meet people,” he says. Kim Makuwa is a local Macadamia nut farmer looking to find a more profitable crop with a long shelf life. Krista and Pete Miller of Caravan Coffee are small-batch roasters from Newberg, Oregon, who buy Kona coffee from Greenwell farms, and wanted to learn about the coffee they sell at its origin. “We have over the last couple of years chosen to offer Greenwell Farms Kona Peaberry... it’s one of our customers’ favorite coffees,” Pete remarks. “Going to the symposium was helpful in that we were able to meet some of the farming community and better understand the process and the culture of Kona coffee. With this information, we’re better able to connect our coffee customers to the Kona origin.... I would highly recommend roasters to go to the symposium and the festival to better understand this beautiful coffee.”
The festival came to a close with a concert in the park presented by the Kona Association for the Performing Arts and The Kona Symphony Orchestra, ending yet another successful year. Many returned to homes near and far with a new appreciation for Kona and its coffee. Next year’s festival promises to be another marvelous event, and Norman Sakata says he doesn’t see his supervision of the festival ending any time soon. “As much as I always say ‘this is my last year,’ it makes me feel so good to see it grow. Everyone volunteers - no one gets paid. It brings the community together while it also brings people here from around the world.”
For more information about the next exciting Kona Coffee Cultural Festival, visit www.konacoffeefest.com.