The Journey of Absolute Palate, LLC
21 Oct 2015: Absolute Palate, LLC, is now overseeing two coffee-growing properties, Honalo Farm and Cynthiana Farm. The coffee fruit from these orchards had been sold off in the past to large processors, where it was combined with coffee fruit from other farms so as to lose its single-origin identity. We are involved in harvesting 2015 ripe cherry from Cynthiana Farm and having it carefully processed by a Kona mill into dry parchment that represents only this Cynthiana Farm product.
Three rounds of picking have been performed thus far. The resulting dry coffee parchment (~11% moisture content) is being stored to age it properly at a constant temperature of ~70 °F and constant humidity of ~70%. The aging of the parchment will be conducted for a minimum of 8 weeks before hulling it and grading the green beans. The roasting of premium, single-estate green beans will be performed with a recently purchased fluid-bed air roaster. We will develop our roasting skills and be taste-testing the brewed coffee, under different roasting and brewing conditions.
The 2015 coffee cherry from Honalo Farm is largely spoken for by the party who maintained the orchard during the majority of the growing season (as we took possession in mid-August). We are going to obtain three picking rounds of 1,000 lb each of ripe cherry from November/December harvests and have it processed by the Kona mill into dried parchment.
The same procedure as above will be applied to this single-estate Honalo Farm coffee, and we will be examining different roasting and brewing conditions for it. We will be in full control of the 2016 growing season at Honalo Farm.
From the 2015 growing year, we will have a limited stock of green coffee to roast and sell. Nevertheless, we are in the process of designing an e-commerce website for coffee sales and marketing, which we expect to be live in March 2016. However, please note that our inventories of the single-estate coffees from 2015 will be very limited. Our first package labels for the two coffee farms are displayed on this webpage.
14 Nov 15: It has been relatively wet autumn. In fact, it has been a wet, wet growing season, all summer into the fall. From 10 Aug to 10 Sep, we measured 20" of rain at Cynthiana Farm in South Kona. Basically, the same weather conditions existed at Honalo Farm. There were massive flash floods down near the shore areas. For instance, the Kuakini Highway became a raging river several times. This is an El Nino year, after all. Folks think this weather should be very favorable for the coffee crop. We'll see when we taste the brewed coffee.
At Honalo Farm, we now have a brand-new, climate-controlled storage room for parchment and green beans; a Coffee Crafters fluid-bed air roaster that was tested two days ago; and a commercial-grade coffee grinder. We are drawing up plans for our Honalo Farm decaffeination facility and a 1,600-sq. ft. sun-drying deck. More harvest rounds from Cynthiana Farm were milled, and 1,000 lb of cherry were harvested from Honalo Farm and milled.
More dried parchment was put into the storage room. In late December, we will be roasting (medium) small batches of aged green beans from different harvest batches, brewing them separately, and conducting taste tests. The point here is to have a consistent, premium product before combining any batches, to ensure the quality of our "Private Reserve" brands.
4 Jan 2016: All of the cherry from Cynthiana Farm, suitable for harvest, has been collected and processed into parchment. The tree pruning process will begin in early January 2016 for Cynthiana Farm. However, the harvest at Honalo Farm is continuing and will probably extend into late January 2016. We tested our new ECO 800 pulper/demucilager on a 130-lb batch of Cynthiana cherry (final harvest) and have the washed parchment drying.
We started to evaluate the taste characteristics of sorted/graded green beans from different batches of parchment that have been aged for at least 8 weeks. The Extra Fancy and Fancy green beans from Cynthiana's first harvest round accounted for 85–88% of the batch. Nice result! This coffee was roasted medium, ground for pour-over, brewed, and tasted. Fabulous stuff !!
23 Feb 16: This has been a busy part of the year and the dry season has been very dry. Since our two farms are not irrigated, some of the trees are showing water stress. The orchard at Cynthiana Farm was stripped of end-of-the-season, useless fruit at the 99% level to control the Coffee Borer Beetle (CBB) for the new growing season.
Each tree was cleaned up of broken branches and branches affected by the twig borer beetle; the trees were pruned in the standard Kona style with some having to be cut down to 2-foot-high stumps for renewal; debris from the major pruning was chipped into mulch, which was used to cover surface areas of the tree rows, along with fallen leaf matter; trees to be replaced were identified for replanting later. The orchard at Honalo Farm is being stripped of end-of-the-season, useless fruit right now, to be followed by tree pruning.
We have been hulling aged parchment, sorting the green beans for quality and size, air-roasting samples to medium (410 °F), and conducting taste tests of brewed coffee. As an example, the Extra Fancy and Fancy green beans from Honalo Farm's first harvest batch accounted for about 80% of the total. This coffee was roasted medium, ground for pour-over, brewed, and tasted.
Nice stuff! It is necessary to follow this procedure to determine the batches and sub-batches that can be combined for our Private Reserve brand from each farm. Our second brand will be designated Select Blend and made available for purchase when sufficient inventory is assembled. The design of the front page of the e-commerce website, Absolutely! Kona Coffee, has advanced, the content is being created, and the operational features are being instituted. We hope to go public with the website at the end of March.
23 Mar 16: Green beans from the second-round harvest batches of each farm were obtained, and samples were roasted medium, ground for pour-over, brewed, and tasted-tested. Green beans from other harvest batches will be handled in a similar way. Our website for e-commerce, Absolutely! Kona Coffee, is near completion. We sprayed a foliar fertilizer at Cynthiana Farm and sprayed Beauveria bassiana, a natural fungus, on the trees to control the CBB there.
Tree pruning is progressing at Honalo Farm. Some rounds of flowering have occurred at both farms, with more to come. We have provided prerelease samples of Cynthiana and Honalo Private Reserve coffee, roasted medium and ground medium-coarse, to several friends and family members, and have been delighted to receive great comments and praise for the products.
2 Apr 16: Our e-commerce website, Absolutely! Kona Coffee, is almost ready to go LIVE. Currently, it is in the "beta-test" stage, to make sure that it works properly for viewers and consumers. We will offer those products for which we have enough sustainable inventory. We performed taste comparisons of freshly brewed Cynthiana Private Reserve at three different roasting levels, Medium, City, and Full City, to see the differences in flavor characteristics for this progression.
To summarize: All three roasts delivered style, balance, and smoothness; Medium roast exhibited elegance and charm with gentle sweetness, pleasant acidity, and some fruity/floral/spicy notes; City roast had a mildly richer body with toasty and nutty flavor notes; Full City had deep richness in body with distinct toasty, nutty, earthy flavors. On both farms there has been massive flowering, perhaps at an epic scale for this part of the growing season.
7 Apr 16: Absolutely! Kona Coffee® (www.absolutelykona.com) (a division of Absolute Palate, LLC) launched, and we are open for business. Our product line includes the following single-estate coffees: Cynthiana Farm Private Reserve, Honalo Farm Private Reserve, Cynthiana Farm 100% Hawaiian, and Honalo Farm 100% Hawaiian. Please check us out and try our superb products.
12 Apr 16: We are developing a Special Selection brand in 2016 to debut after the next harvest. These single-origin coffee beans will be a fine 100% Kona product to interest a wide range of coffee lovers, as a proprietary blend of Medium, City, and Full City roasts, formulated by taste-testing to attain multilayered flavor complexity. It will exhibit taste characteristics relating to a specific terroir, with a flavor spectrum that reflects style, balance, richness, and smoothness. The concept here is analogous to that applied to nonvintage champagne or fine cognac, relative to the development of a house style.
11 June 16: Construction of our decaffeination facility, which involves a complete renovation of part of our commercial building, is nearly completed. In May, we took delivery of a fully automated, supercritical fluid extractor (SFE) from Waters Corporation. The various pieces of equipment will be assembled into a working SFE system and operation-tested in late July.
For the orchard at Honalo Farm, in May and June, we have been doing a lot of heavy pruning according to the Beaumont-Fukunaga method. Thus, trees in every third row were cut down to a 2-foot stump for regeneration.
19 July 16: The decaf facility is ready for setting up the SFE equipment, which will be done shortly with the assistance of representatives from Waters Corporation. We selected a contract laboratory to analyze for caffeine content. Experimental decaffeination studies will be conducted to arrive at suitable conditions of temperature, pressure, and water content to achieve at least 97% removal and excellent flavor characteristics without dark-roasting the coffee beans.
16 Aug 16: Our Waters Corp. SFE equipment was set up and experimental decaffeination studies were performed. We finally received a building permit to construct a coffee parchment drying shed with a concrete floor and a clear polycarbonate plastic roof. Work on that structure has been initiated. We developed a 100% Kona Special Selection product for Cynthiana Farm that involves a proprietary combination of Medium, City, and Full City roasts.
We sought a "house style" for this Special Selection brand, which was established by mixing different ratios of the three roasts of Private Reserve and evaluating the flavor characteristics via a tasting panel. Medium, City, and Full City roasts were tasted by themselves and as mixtures with different ratios of the three, rating each brew through blind tasting.
12 Sep 16: The concrete slab for our coffee parchment drying shed was poured and smoothed; construction work continues. A second, climate-controlled parchment storage room was built to accommodate the 2016 harvest and future harvests. Decaffeination studies are continuing to establish optimal conditions. The first harvest rounds for the 2016 crop were conducted at Cynthiana and Honalo Farms, and processing is ongoing. A coffee MultiPack is being offered at a 10% discount on www.absolutelykona.com.
10 Oct 16: We developed a 100% Kona Special Selection for Honalo Farm involving a proprietary combination of Medium, City, and Full City roasts. We sought a "house style" for this Special Selection brand, by mixing different ratios of the three roasts and evaluating the flavor characteristics with a tasting panel. This coffee, which is strictly single-origin, has an impressive taste that features balance, complexity, and richness. You may be wondering "What's the deal with this Special Selection?". Because we are committed to provide single-origin coffee products, whether they be 100% Kona or 100% Hawaiian, we will never combine coffee from different sources into a blended product. We came up the idea of mixing Private Reserve coffee at different roast levels, to attain a compelling, optimal expression of flavor. This idea was tested out by the process mentioned earlier, blind-tasting and rating the different combinations, as freshly brewed coffee, to identify the cups with the most impressive flavor profiles. As it turns out, the ratios of Medium:City:Full City in the Cynthiana Farm and Honalo Farm Special Selections are distinctly different! This outcome demonstrates the gestalt of flavor experience, with the whole being greater than sum of its parts.
Our coffee parchment drying shed is more than halfway finished. We will soon start building a covered platform to pulp and demucilage freshly picked cherry. The picking of coffee cherry at both farms is proceeding apace; beautiful berries with very low CBB damage. Our decaffeination studies are ongoing, as we seek to pinpoint optimal conditions.
16 Nov 16: The harvesting of our 2016 coffee cherry is in full swing at both farms. The ripe, red fruit is looking bea-u-ti-ful!! The construction of our parchment drying shed at Honalo Farm is nearly finished. Just some final touch-ups are needed. On 5 November, we presented freshly brewed Honalo Farm Special Selection at our booth at the Holualoa Village Coffee & Art Stroll (part of the autumn Kona Coffee Cultural Festival), and our product was well received.
There has been considerable debate about the best way to store coffee. The weight of argument has sided with storage as whole beans in an air-tight container. We determined some time ago, before we owned this coffee business, that storage of ground coffee in a sealed vacuum bag (e.g., Food-Saver bag) in a freezer at –10 to –20 °F was an excellent method. We tasted brewed coffee that had been aged in such storage for 3 years and found that its flavor was little changed (still tasted fresh with good complexity). Recently, we conducted a test in which we brewed our Cynthiana Farm Special Selection from two storage sources: (1) ground coffee that was stored in the freezer in vacuo for 3 months and (2) just-ground, whole beans that were stored in a closed bag in the refrigerator for 1 month. The frozen-ground brew tasted fresh, with no apparent decline in flavor profile, while the whole-bean brew showed a degree of staleness. The latter had a diminished flavor profile particularly as to dimensionality, complexity, and general appeal. So, this comparison confirms our opinion that it is better to store ground coffee in a freezer in vacuo, than to store whole beans in a refrigerator exposed to air (present in the closed bag). Perhaps, roasted whole beans would do much better stored in a refrigerator and sealed in vacuo. Keep in mind that the main enemies of the quality of freshly roasted coffee are air (its oxygen content) and heat, because these factors are involved in degrading the desired flavor molecules.
30 Nov 16: Well, folks, yesterday morning I experienced a PERFECT, 100-point brew from our Cynthiana Farm Private Reserve City roast. It just blew me away! The taste of that coffee was truly "bev-gasmic". Complex and rich, while at the same time elegant, with impeccable balance and a lengthy finish. As a wine lover with lots of tastings under my belt, including some of the world's best examples, I have developed a sharply honed palate. The Great Wines are few and far between; Wine Spectator 95-100 points; amazing to taste. It is on very rare occasions that I have had a 99/100-pointer wine, and the same rarity applies to brewed coffee, be it regular or espresso. As for espresso, only twice in my life I have had a God-shot: palate-blowing and mind- blowing. The rest of espressos have been excellent to middling in taste qualities. Nothing wrong with excellent (90-94 points); very enjoyable, but you don't get mind-blowing amazement. Our premium coffees, when brewed properly, consistently provide an incomparable taste experience. Then, there are those special times when you get a bev-gasmic result. Keep on brewing!
8 Feb 2017: Harvest of cherry at Cynthiana Farm was wrapped up at the beginning of January and the trees were stripped of the residual coffee berries, a process that helps to minimize the Coffee Berry Borer (CBB). Annual tree pruning has been underway over the past few weeks. Still ongoing, but pruning progress is at the 60% level. As the pruning proceeds, the piles of cuttings have been chipped into mulch and applied to the orchard. The harvest at Honalo Farm was completed this week. Some trees were stripped of berries and some were pruned; these steps are in progress. Our solar, coffee parchment drying deck at Honalo Farm is ready to go and the pulper/demucilager is under a canopy for protection from the elements. Thus, for the 2017 harvest we have onsite processing our fresh coffee cherry.
14 Mar 17: Tree pruning was completed at both farms. A heavy, first flowering occurred at Cynthiana Farm around 17 Feb. January and February have been very dry months, more so than in 2016. Some of the trees have shown water stress accompanied by some dropping of leaves. However, this situation is somewhat normal for the dry winter months. The violent, gusty winds for two days from stormy weather at the beginning of March had a much greater effect on the orchards. We had to do clean-up and tree "fixing" on both farms. Considerable stumping was performed at Honalo Farm.
11 Apr 17: After two extraordinarily dry months of January and February, we are pleased to see the usual seasonal rains arrive. We initiated planting of new coffee trees at Honalo Farm to fill in empty spaces in the orchard. A second round of fruit stripping was completed in March at both farms, whereby we removed all large green berries that would have ripened too early in the growing season, before the beginning of the annual harvest (late August/early September). This action, along with the end-of-season stripping of berries and regular applications of BotaniGard, helps combat the Coffee Berry Borer. We endeavor to keep the incidence of CBB-affected beans below 5%.
23 July 17: The 2017 coffee crop on the producing trees is huge at both farms. The trees appear to be very healthy with very low levels of CBB. We taste tested coffee from the 2016 harvest, which is ready to go out the door. The roasts tried were Medium, City, and Full City from each farm. We taste-tested different 3-component blends of 2016 coffee to determine the optimal composition for our Cynthiana Farm and Honalo Farm Special Selection brands. On hulling, grading, and sorting a batch of 2016 Honalo Farm parchment, we were pleased to find that Kona Prime beans comprised about 90% of the batch and that Extra Fancy and Fancy grades accounts for a very large proportion. There were limited amounts of Hawaiian grade.
We are in the process of expanding the product offerings on our online store (www.absolutelykona.com) to include certain exceptional gourmet food products and gift boxes, mainly as a service to our loyal, discerning clientele. We plan to have this set up by the end of September, in time for the holiday season.
14 Aug 17: After conducting numerous experiments with our Waters Corporation SFE equipment, we arrived at optimal conditions for removing almost all of the caffeine to produce 100% Kona decaf coffee that is 99.9% caffeine-free. This decaf coffee presents a distinctive flavor profile (preferably roasted medium-dark). Decaf brands are now established.
29 Oct 17: We expanded the product offerings on our online store (www.absolutelykona.com) to include certain exceptional gourmet food products and gift boxes, under the tab "Order Gourmet Products and Gift Boxes". We hope that our loyal, discerning clientele will take advantage of this service, especially for the holiday season. Our 2017 harvests have been in full swing at both farms and the parchment is being sun-dried. Our 100% Kona decaf coffees will soon be offered for sale on the website, after we amass sufficient inventory.
1 Jan 2018: Happy New Year to all our coffee friends! Since September, we have been harvesting, and harvesting, and harvesting. And we are still harvesting fruit. It almost seems like it's never ending. At Cynthiana Farm, we anticipate one more round of fruit picking, before we strip the trees of unripe/underripe berries and raisins; at Honalo Farm, we anticipate picking until the end of January. We are in the midst of building some Kona decaf coffee inventory, but the process is slow going. After we post this product for sale on Absolutely! Kona Coffee (www.absolutelykona.com), there will only be limited quantities offered at a price of $59/lb or $30 per half-pound. Our decaf coffee, branded as Absolute Decaf, will be at least 99.9% caffeine‑free.
18 Jan 18: We are pleased to announce that our online store now has decaf Kona coffee available for purchase. We have limited inventory of Honalo Farm Absolute Decaf, a single-estate 100% Kona coffee; 8-oz. bags of ground coffee that is roasted medium-dark. You will be rather surprised by its fine aroma and rich flavor.
5 Mar 18: The 2017 growing cycle is finished, the trees have been pruned for 2018, and the cuttings have been chipped into mulch. Major flowerings occurred on both farms in mid and late February.
8 Aug 18: The trees on both farms are loaded with new coffee cherry. As is customary, we removed and destroyed some cherry that ripened prematurely, and removed suckers from the verticals. The east‑side volcano, Kilauea, has been erupting since the third of May, which has caused much air pollution/vog on the Kona Coast. Nevertheless, our coffee trees appear very healthy. Because of the limited sunshine, which coffee trees do not mind as they favor being shaded 60% of the day, we expect the harvesting of ripe fruit to start two to three weeks late in 2018, perhaps not until mid-to-late September. (As of this writing, the lava flow from major Rift 8 has nearly ceased. ) In July we conducted a tasting of the 2017 vintage from both farms and found that year's coffee to be absolutely spectacular. This outcome, besides relating to that growing year, is a reflection of our sound farming practices and orchard improvements since our first growing year. Our tasting panel examined Medium, City, and Full City roasts of 2017 coffee from both farms and reached a conclusion about the optimal combination to serve as our Special Selection brand.
We experimented with roasting coffee beans to an Italian Roast level in a small drum roasting machine. While the coffee is useful for brewing espresso, the objective here is a new product for sale: 100% Kona Espresso Powder for use in cooking. We are considering the sale of this finely-divided powder, particularly to be used in dry rubs for grilled meats. It can also be added to chocolate desserts, such as chocolate cake and brownies, with excellent results, or used to lend special character to various chilis. Anyway, we just tried it out in combination with a spice rub on prime NY strip steaks that were seared on the grill. The results were spectacular!
We terminated selling gourmet products on our website, except for macadamia nuts and macadamia nut brittle. Certain products, such as gourmet teas and flavored sea salt, are still available by special request via email.
30 Oct 18: The 2018 harvest started in mid-September and other harvest rounds have continued. The three months (May-July) of vog from the eruption of Kilauea substantially blotted out the sun, and affected flowering over that period. After picking an early huge crop, there are lesser follow-up crops than would usually be expected. We won't know until next year how the taste of our coffees may have been influenced by this climactic event.
Our 100% Kona Espresso Powder is now for sale on our e-commerce website. It is also being distributed through the Kona Butcher Shop in Kailua-Kona, along with bags of our Kona coffee.
We are all quite familiar with wine & cheese pairings, but what about coffee & cheese pairings? Hah, would you believe that this is an exciting area to explore. Today, Cyndie and I were having our morning coffee with two firm cheeses, Jarlsberg and cave-aged Gruyere, and Oma, a soft washed-rind cheese. The experience turned out to be a sensory delight. Different cheeses influenced the taste of the coffee in intriguing, if not amazing, ways. Try it out for yourself with one of our excellent 100% Kona coffees.
19 Feb 2019: A new year is upon us and the harvesting for both farms is now finished. While the total yield of coffee cherry from Honalo Farm held up, the yield from Cynthiana Farm was cut by about 50%. We attribute this yield reduction to the heavy vog in South Kona that caused flowering to be greatly diminished in May and June. Thus, harvesting at Cynthiana Farm was very limited in November and December, unlike prior growing seasons. The final harvest at Honalo Farm was quite late, occurring in early February. Stripping of unwanted fruit and tree pruning/chipping are complete at both farms. The first major flowerings for this year have taken place. In South Kona this has been the rainiest winter (Jan-Feb) that we have witnessed in the past 3 years (2016-2018). In January, we taste-tested different 3-component blends of 2018 coffee to determine the optimal composition for our Cynthiana Farm and Honalo Farm Special Selection brands. The taste profiles of the 2018 harvests at both farms was excellent.
2 Mar 19: We are in the process of planting more coffee trees at our Cynthiana estate in South Kona. We are adding about 125 new trees, which will bring our total orchard to 1025. Normally, the winter months are known for their dryness. But so far this year, it has been incredibly rainy at Cynthiana Farm, with a rainfall total of 16 inches!! This compares with 5 inches in 2018 and just 0.8 inches in 2017. This is one factor that contributes to the terroir for the vintage, and relates to the specific location. Because of the ample rain, the trees emerged early from their winter slumber. The major flowering in early-to-mid February should lead to a first-round harvest as early as mid-to-late July. We will see.
This morning I had a coffee & cheese pairing for breakfast. We are all quite familiar with wine & cheese pairings, but what about coffee & cheese pairings? This is an exciting area to explore. I had Cynthiana Farm Private Reserve medium roast with the following cheeses: mature Brie, Jarlsberg, farmhouse Cheddar, Manchego, 2-year-aged Gouda, and black truffle-infused goat cheese. The experience was a sensory delight. Different cheeses influenced the taste of the coffee, and vice versa. Try it out for yourself with one of our exceptional 100% Kona coffees.