According to research done by the National Coffee Association, approximately 112 million Americans were "every day coffee drinkers" in 2006. Each year another 3-5% of the population joins in as an every day drinker racking up $18 Billion a year spent on coffee by Americans. The average coffee drinker has 3 cups a day, which means about 336 million cups of coffee are consumed every day in America. That number grows exponentially when you look at worldwide consumption. Coffee is the second most popular drink after water at a staggering 1.4 billion cups of coffee consumed every day around the world. Over 100 million people depend on coffee as a source of income.
I recently had a chance to visit one of the world's best coffee producing regions. Kona, on the big island of Hawai'i is 22 square miles of ideal coffee-growing "terroir". That's a wine term meaning the combination of weather, soil, climate, slope and all other elements that give a place its "placeness". It's what makes a place unique. Terroirs are like snow flakes, no two are the same. Kona coffee fetches upwards of $20-30 a pound compared to the $6-$10 a pound you pay at the grocery store. Kona coffee is known for rich, bold flavors without high levels of acid or bitterness.
Greenwell Coffee Farms is the oldest family-owned coffee producer in Kona. Henry Nicholas Greenwell arrived in Kona from England in 1850. He lived with his wife and 10 children where we built a successful coffee export business. Over time, Greenwell became well known in Europe and America for having reliable quality Kona coffee.
Today, Greenwell Farms is run by fourth generation family members who still farm 35 acres of prime coffee growing land at about 1,500 feet elevation. During my visit I learned there are a number of similarities between growing coffee and wine grapes. For example, wine grapes and coffee trees both do well in volcanic soil, both do well in altitudes of 600-1,200 feet in elevation, both need some sun exposure (but not too much), both get pruned down to the stump after harvest and both go through flowering before they produce fruit. Coffee trees are technically fruit trees, and the coffee fruit it called cherries.
Watching the harvesting and processing of the coffee beans was a unique experience. The end result was a coffee every bit as good as advertised. Greenwell's 100% Kona coffee's were rich yet smooth without any of the bitter acid reflux. Kona coffee is famous for being low in acid. Because Kona coffee is so popular, yet expensive, you might find coffee's that say 10% Kona on the package. They do this to keep the price down, yet get the name on the label.
Sadly, many of the growers barely make any money even though they're selling their coffee at $20 a pound. The reason it's so expensive is all the labor that goes into producing some of the world's best coffee. From picking, to drying, to sorting and roasting—every step of the way requires doing it by hand. Machines aren't used for anything during the process. Because of that, the Kona coffee can't be made by automating any step of the process. Greenwell employs 50 people in the production facility, which is a significant number considering they farm 35 acres.