We can't have a visit to the Big Island without a repeat of our last trip's tour through the Kona coffee belt. My heartrate still hasn't quite recovered from two and a half years ago, but I figure it's still up to the task. We're not planning it as thoroughly as we did last time -- though we do have an appointment at Ueshima Coffee Company to roast our own coffee again -- so we figure we'll just drive down the coffee belt road and stop when we see something that catches our eye.
Our first stop just so happens to be the first place we see, a relatively new company called Hula Daddy that wasn't here last time. They've got a relatively small plot of land, and a nifty restored clock tower from the 1800s as part of their plantation and store. We have a sample of their freshly brewed coffee as our hostess shows us the awesome view from the balcony... acres of coffee trees down the mountainside, with Kailua-Kona at the bottom, and the ocean (with cruise ship) stretching off to the horizon. We manage to pull our eyes away from that particular view to see another one almost as great: a group of workers below us sorting out the ripe coffee cherries by hand. We make our way down there and take a closer look, as well as getting a look at their coffee roaster, a cute little number by Renegade Roasters; shiny and new and very small compared to the large roasters at Mountain Thunder (and downright miniscule compared to the monster roaster at Kona Joe.) I buy an espresso mug, Lucie gets a T-shirt with their "Who's your Hula Daddy?" logo, and we pick up some coffee (peaberry, whole bean, city roast.) We wave to the webcams for anyone watching online, then continue on our way.
Speaking of segues, June takes us to our next stop, the row of little mini roasters. She goes through her roasting speech about how to listen for the beans cracking, the different colors the beans turn and the name for each, and the different grades of coffee based on bean size and quantity of defects. Before long, our own beans crack, then darken, then brown to a perfect city roast; we let them cool and package them up unto our custom-label bags, then head back mauka (uphill) back to the open-air gift shop. We buy additional coffee, some chocolate-covered coffee beans, have some free samples of both, and I enjoy a small dish of Kona coffee ice cream to help with keeping cool (if jittery.) We pack our purchases into the miniscule trunk of our car, and wave goodbye as we continue down the road.
Our next two stops are repeats of our last trip; the Ferrari store in Holualoa where we sample some coffee and buy some for gifts, followed by the Blue Sky plantation where we have coffee, some chocolate-covered coffee beans, and I sample then buy a jar of their lilikoi and Hawaiian chile jam, a delicious concoction that starts off densely sweet and ends with a spicy hot and sugary finish -- very tasty combination indeed.
We take a quick break in the town of Captain Cook at the Captain Cook Baking Company, where we share a mini-loaf of banana-pineapple-coconut bread, and Lucie scores some chocolate-covered coffee bean scones for later. Honestly, their plain banana bread isn't as good as Lucie's, but their banana-pineapple-coconut loaf is mighty tasty indeed. We get some sodas to drink (yeah, like because I haven't had enough caffeine yet, right?) then we continue on our way down past the Kealakekua Bay turnoff to the Royal Kona plantation. We get there about the same time as a tour bus, so we join a bit of a crowd as we get coffee-themed gifts (including a coffee bean lei that Lucie finds for me), check out the small coffee museum they have downstairs, take a picture of both the coffee bean beaded curtain they have on the windows as well as the cool carved tree they have towering in the back of the property.
Our final coffee stop for the day is a ramshackle and condemned-looking building with the sign "Bong Brothers (& Sistah!) Coffee." We assume it's a Chinese-run place named after the proprietors, but we're waaaaay off base. Judging by both the smell and the look of the interior of this place, it's very definitely named after a particular item of smoking paraphernalia. Feeling both creeped out and dirty for having come in here, we make a quick purchase of coffee to keep up appearances and get the heck out. While I certainly looked like I belonged there with my groovy purple tie dye ensemble, it's not exactly a place I'd want to visit again, ever.
It's getting late -- and I'm afraid to have any more caffeine because I've had so much today I'm expecting my heart to burst out of my chest like it was a baby alien -- so we head back up Mamalahoa to our hotel. We unpack our purchases, then head down to the bar for our drinks at sunset. A mai tai and a piña colada bring a refreshingly cool and sweet end to the day. We enjoy tonight's view of the ocean -- the wind's higher than usual today so the waves are large and frothy as they crash against the rocks -- and head back upstairs.
Lucie goes to sleep; I continue buzzing and twitching for several hours after that, but eventually fall asleep as well.
Coffee consumption: lots!