Hawai'i One-3, Day 6: Coffee Run
From there, we drive down Ali'i Drive (Lucie has a few flashbacks to the run when we go uphill) to Keauhou, just a few miles south of Kailua-Kona and the location of this year's coffee festival. We arrive at the Keauhou Shopping Center, but take a quick side trip at the farmer's market that's also taking place here today. We wander through the stalls; I buy a couple bags of coffee from new farms I discover, some extra-spicy macadamia nuts, and a few jars of handmade jams -- chocolate macadamia nut (think Nutella, but with macadamia instead of hazelnuts) and POG (passionfruit-orange-guava, one of Hawaii's favorite drink flavors) -- and when it gets closer to lunchtime we wander over to the coffee festival.
Last time we came to the festival, it was being held at the old Kona airport location, had a parade along Ali'i Drive on the final weekend, and even had a one-mile running event; this year, however, it seems very much downsized... no parade or Miracle Mile (Melissa at the Big Island Running Company says it wasn't financially feasible to close Ali'i Drive only for the run once they couldn't piggyback on the parade), and several of the art exhibits have been moved to other venues like a quilting store (for the coffee quilts) and the nearby Keauhou Resort's convention area (their coffee-themed art exhibit.) They do have several small coffee farms exhibiting their wares, so I stock up on several new bags of medium roast whole bean, we stop for a minute to appreciate the Polynesian dancing, buy a Kona Coffee Cultural Festival tote bag, and have lunch at their food vendors. We look through the options and decide on the local high school volunteers offering mix plates -- Lucie gets the Korean chicken and chicken long rice; I go for the Korean chicken and smoke meat. The chicken long rice is chicken pieces cooked in thick rice noodles, funky glassy appearance and pretty mushy in texture, but good flavor; the smoke meat is essentially a char siu without the barbecue coating, satisfying with a densely smoky hit; the Korean chicken is fried chicken with a slightly sweet note to the crispy coating, perfectly cooked and crunchy, slightly peppery and oily but in a very good way. We also have two huge bottles of water -- it's very muggy and humid today --
Our first stop along this leg of the tour is once again also the first coffee farm (we do tend to visit the farms in the order in which they're encountered; doesn't seem efficient to backtrack on the winding narrow roads just to mix things up), Hula Daddy. We stop by, take a picture of the large clock tower they have nicely decorated for the Christmas season still a month and a half away, take part in a sampling they're doing as we arrive -- it's a dark roast, slightly bitter but pleasingly strong -- and buy a bunch of coffee and coffee related items. From there, we cruise down the road a ways and stop at UCC, or Ueshima Coffee Company, a Japanese-owned farm. They're not very busy at the moment, so when we inquire about taking their Roastmaster tour where we roast our own beans (which we've done at UCC every visit to the Big Island), they say we can do that immediately if so desired, which we do. Our shopmaster is Jeff, who hosted the Roastmaster tour on our last trip; our host this time around is Bertha, who walks us through the roasting process using their bank of tiny cement mixer coffee roasters. Newly roasted coffee in hand (slightly more than medium roast -- they're using non-prime beans for the customers to roast so the bean sizes aren't very uniform and some of them come out a bit darker than I normally prefer) and additional bags of professionally roasted beans, Coffee Pretz, a cup of coffee ice cream (which Jeff gives us for free, along with a cup of nicely strong iced coffee which I gladly accept), and other coffee items added on, we bid goodbye to UCC and continue on down the road just as a large contingent of Japanese tourists pulls up.
Our next stop is Blue Sky, in the town of Holoalua, there's a large crowd here already -- another sign of the recovering economy, there's a tour van filled with Japanese tourists that seems to be pacing us along the drive -- so we just stop by long enough to pick up a couple of bags of coffee (their estate coffee, whole bean, medium roast, which is all we're trying to buy when we buy coffee) before continuing down the road. We make a quick stop at a roadside store for cold bottled water and some cookies, then make our way down through Kealakekua until we reach Kona Joe, home of the downright best-ever espresso smoothie I've ever had. It's slightly changed from our last visit, now called a Kona Joe Coffee Smoothie, and they've added a subtle little cinnamon flavor from what I remember, but this actually only improves the flavor for me, adding some of the sharp sweetness of cassia to the smooth and deep coffee baseline -- I need to stop myself after having two, or I'd end up sitting on their covered patio overlooking the ocean with a frozen coffee beverage in hand all day (which isn't really all that bad an idea, but probably a lot higher in calories than is recommended by any sane dietician.) We mosey through the gift shop, grab a bag or two of their coffee offerings -- not too much, as Kona Joe tends to run a little on the more expensive side and it's not like we're really hurting for Kona coffee at this point so we can be a little choosy -- and head back up the Mamalahoa to our hotel for dinner and drinks and drinks.
We drop off the several armloads of coffee in our hotel room, then head down to Don the Beachcomber's restaurant -- or, more accurately, to Don's Mai Tai Bar located outside on the patio and walkway, and not to the actual restaurant itself. Same menu available, but those wonderful, comfortable, relaxing lounge chairs facing the sunset (which by this time has already gone down, but we're not going to stop our relaxation plans because of that.) Lucie gets the standard burger with sweet potato fries, and I go for the Bleu Hawaiian burger with bleu cheese and sautéed mushrooms -- the sweet potato fries they have here are Lucie's favorite, which is both great (because she can enjoy them while on vacation) and horrible (because she can only enjoy them like every two years or so) -- accompanied with a ginger aioli, they really are spectacular. I also partake (a little more than is wise,
We relax for a bit longer as the ocean crashes onto the rocks in front of us, then head upstairs for the night. While we were sitting in the chairs, there was apparently some remodeling done on the hotel that I didn't notice, as the floor is now a little tilted and blurry-looking for some reason. I hope they fix that by tomorrow.