I came to Kona, invited to be a judge at the 2005 Cupping Competition. I was a bit frazzled from work, but happy to be away from the computer at least! Here is my idiosyncratic travelogue. Read what you will, skip the rest (this strays far from coffee topics into other things, like my newfound contempt for United Airlines!)

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Getting off the plane and landing on the beach, I could not sympathize more with this fellow creature. Thanks for another lousy flight, United Airlines. Drunks, know-it-alls, kids kicking the seat behind you, newlyweds who can't stop talking. My mp3 player saved me. Seriously, can't blame anyone about being excited about a trip to Hawaii. I mean, Kona is amazing ... you can get off the plane, rent a car, drive to a beach and harass the wildlife in a matter of minutes. http://www.konacupping.com/2005gindex.html
Actually, this green turtle could really care less about me, my camera, and anything else. On the first day I felt the same way. I just wanted to sleep. Recommendation: avoid United, take Aloha. All the annoying people got together and decided to take United Airlines to Kona that day. Locals seem to take Aloha Airlines more.
Anyway, I had a day to recover before the event started. And I was smart this time and rented a real 4wd vehicle. That meant getting down to Mahai'ula was going to be a lot easier than last year when I was stuck with the worlds lowest rental car, the Ford Mustang. If the rental agency had only looked at the undercarriage of the car when I returned it ...
Next morning, bright and early, I am ready for good Kona coffee, for a cuppa Kona, or for a cup of coffee, or anything with caffeine, or just anything brown ... damn I needed coffee! Trent Bateman (R) organized the cupping competition this year. More on the Batemans and their farm (Mountain Thunder) later. To the right is the emcee-singer-magician-coffee guy Sam.
Samples at the Kona Cupping Competition are presented to the judges in parchment, milled green coffee, and roasted whole bean. While it is interesting to see these, to look for cup problems that stem from the stages of production, we judge the coffee by tasting the cup, and only the cup!
An example of the parchment coffee. From this I can see that some amount of the fruity mucilage layer on the cherry was left on the parchment skin layer, and allowed to dry that way. Perhaps this coffee was produced using a demucilager after removing the skin, and the demucilager had the water pressure turned down to allow prevent total "washing" of the coffee. This will affect the cup quality, as it does in Brazil where they have the "pulped naturals" and all the mucilage is left on the parchment layer to dry.
From left to right, John King (fellow judge, from Harold King coffee brokers in Redwood City, CA); Leona, the brand president at Kraft for Gevalia Coffee (who gracefully sponsors the event); and Peter, who also works out of Terrytown NY for Kraft/Gevalia, and worked for Taloca (Kraft's coffee brokerage arm) in Singapore previously. In fact, he is an experienced cupper and has worked for many coffee companies, but was at the event to be the technical guy, preparing each coffee sample and making sure the water was poured just right!
Lisslotte Echoff, who is the "master taster" for Gevalia in Sweden, although she is proudly Danish! Lisslotte has a great nose, and was able to pick out some details in the dry fragrance of the coffee that I would only pick up on during the actual tasting. Hey, sometimes mild fermenty notes smell good until you actually taste the coffee!
Again, John King, aka Jeff Kent of MLB. John kept seeing celebrities at the event, although nobody else seemed to recognize them. He was convinced Penelope Cruz was there, but later, he saw Elvis. John, lay off the coffee for a bit...
From Left to Right, Peter, Shunta Baba from UCC (Ueshima Coffee Company, Japan) who was a fellow judge, and Jim from Gevalia. Jim runs all the numbers after we turn in scorecards, and generally keeps the event rolling along. It went really well this year, a credit to Jim and to the Bateman folks...
Coffee break. There were some beautiful cut branches of coffee cherry as part of the table decor. The event is very educational because many of the visitors have never seen a coffee cherry, parchment, or even green coffee. At Kona, the proximity of the farms and mills to the cupping makes it an easy way to get a total view of the coffee process.
The 2005-2006 queens of the Kona Cultural Festival. At the left is the queen herself, tiara and all, Iwalani Ynigues. She was late to take the pictures because she is still in high school - just 17! And to the right is the 1st Runner Up Tioni Tamsing, who tried out a little coffee tasting with the judges and was real sweet.
And ... uh ... here they are again. They stole the show. What would you rather watch, 4 sucking slurping spitting coffee judges or 2 beauty queens.
The art competition is another neat part of the festival, adjacent to the coffee tasting. It is run by Rita Cowell of Kowali Farms ... more on her farm when we visit it later. Rita has run the art festival for 10 years now...
And in fact, Rita designed the official 2005-2006 artwork for the festival, which was used on the badge (notice everyone wearing the badge but me, I forgot to get one!) This shows old style Kona picking when they used ladders. Now with Kona Typica the pickers use hooks and bend the entire tree over to reach the higher branches.
And first place goes to ... Rancho Aloha Organic, with Lisa and Bruce Corker walking up to take the ribbon. For me this cup was the most "Kona-like" of the top three, with floral aromatics and good brightness to the cup, hints of tea and lemon. The second place coffee might have been my personal #1, Long Mountain, with a subtle Kenya-like winey acidity. Aikane Estate at #3 had a lot of character, a deep sweet citric quality, and great body. It might have been my favorite of all, but there was slight variations in the uniformity of the cups, and I wasn't sure the character was that "Kona" cup that we are looking for. It was the wild card coffee, but no doubt the winner on overall "quantity of cup character."
Bruce and Lisa Corker, again. Located on nearly four acres in Holualoa, Rancho Aloha is certified organic by the Hawaii Organic Farmers Association and has been in operation for four years.
This is the list of the top 15 at the end of the first day ... see the note that 32% of the top 15 were new entrants in the competition and that 25% were organic! Now, don't quote me on this but I believe the list as you see it from top to bottom was the rankings after the 1st day. With another day of rest on the roasting, Long Mountain and Rancho Aloha jumped above the Aikane, which was in 1st. On the second day we re-cupped/re-ranked the top 15, then we took the top 3 and re-cupped/re-ranked them. It was a very thorough examination of the coffees, and gave each a couple shots to get noticed.
On the last day of cupping, my lovely and sometimes sarcastic wife Maria flew in, and after the usual "after-cupping" lunch with the judges, sponsors, and other riff-raff, we headed out for some snorkeling. I don't know what I did wrong right before taking this picture but it was something.
Since we haven't been to the volcano park to see the Kilauea Caldera, we had to go. It's 93 miles to the south of Kailua Kona (there's a reason they call this the Big Island!)