After a reflective evening and an excellent first night's sleep at the Waikoloa Beach Marriott Resort & Spa, I woke up ready to hit the road. I spent the morning at the South Kona Green Market, a small farmer's market in the Kona area.
I poked around and picked up a small breakfast consisting of a scone and the most delicious lilikoi juice ever, then I headed to Greenwell Farms for a tour.
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A few months ago I wrote about my coffee story. Drinking coffee from an early age, it is an integral part of my daily life. But only recently have I really begun to understand what goes into a really good cup of coffee.
Of course, working in San Francisco, I am exposed to phenomenal coffee all over the city, but I really started to think about it more deeply with the opening of Coffee Cultures in the Financial District. Then during my recent AFAR Experiences trip to Seattle, I got to hear about the importance of buying high-quality green coffee from the experts at Caffé Vita.
But it was only after an amazing afternoon at Greenwell Farms did the story come full circle for me. I had the unique pleasure of spending several hours with Tom Greenwell full-time coffee farmer, part-time mad food scientist, and all-around nice guy. I enjoyed my time immensely and highly recommend you visit the farm if you find yourself on the big island.
Tom is the fourth generation of Greenwells that have been growing coffee in the Kona Mountain region. They are one of the oldest and most respected Kona coffee farms on the Big Island of Hawaii. The first Greenwell arrived and began buying land to produce coffee in 1850. The coffee industry in Hawaii has gone through many phases with many cultural influences, but the Greenwell farm has been a mainstay on the island from the beginning.
Henry Nicholas Greenwell was an entrepreneur and understood the concept of marketing your product and building awareness and demand. His coffee was awarded a certificate of excellence for best coffee at the World’s Fair in Vienna in 1873 and it was presented at the first World’s Fair in America which took place in Philadelphia in 1876. As you can see, they have been perfecting this for a while.
Coffee is the reason why Tom gets up in the morning, literally and figuratively, but he is insatiably curious about growing and experimenting in general. Farming was not his original life’s passion, but he definitely embraced it. He has built a farm with a unique variety of foods.
So while it is first and foremost a coffee farm, there are six different varieties of avocados, ones that had this California girl drooling as well as tons of citrus trees too. The more you talk to Tom and the deeper you walk on the farm, the more surprises you’ll find. Like peppercorns from Micronesia.
I have never seen peppercorns in their natural state or tasted it right from the vine. I immediately had visions of recipes in my head inspired by the unique taste of pepper…
Some of the experimenting comes from the fact that Tom is the only coffee farm in the world that has hired its own full-time biologist. Together they are exploring new varietals of coffee and other pursuits. He is also using every part of the coffee bean including the skins that go into a product called Kona Red which I tasted and loved.
Greenwell Farms believes in educating as part of its ethos and they train farmers who sell their beans wholesale on producing quality beans, they train farmers producing in other parts of the islands, sharing their best practices. Tom wants to share his knowledge while gaining new insights that can allow the entire Hawaiian coffee industry to grow for generations to come.
The coffee farm is a foodie’s dream. Along with oranges and other fruits, avocados, and peppercorns, there are vanilla and cacao beans as well. They have 5 acres of macadamia nut trees also. I spotted chickens. There are wild pigs. Nature has provided everything you need in one spot. It is such a stupid thing to say, but it wasn’t until I was standing on this farm that I ever thought about what having a farm could really bring.
A farm is an ecosystem on its own, it is self-sustaining, a little microcosm. But for most, it is much more than that, because farms nourish the world. Whether it is through the food they produce, the ingredients they harvest that goes into something on your plate, or the cup of magical elixir that wakes you up in the morning, farmers are contributing to the community. It is a theme I would see over and over during my week in Hawaii.
The Greenwells have been providing a community in more ways than one. It turns out there aren’t a lot of places for kids to be kids. So while Tom’s children were growing up, if the baseball team had a place to practice, Greenwell Farms supplied it. If there was a need for motocross trails, Greenwell Farms created some on their property. Tom’s only rule…”no funny business.” Meaning a safe drug-and-alcohol-free zone for kids to just be kids.
Greenwell Farms sells their coffee to some big names, but for direct to the consumer, it’s only sold in Hawaii but is available on their website. They roast their coffee three times a week and go roast to your house in three days. Their coffee club is very popular and a great way to always have some on hand. I tasted several of their offerings and there wasn’t one I didn’t like. So much so that I couldn’t imagine not drinking them black, no need for cream and sugar, so smooth and tasty you don’t need it.
Tours run daily [for FREE] from 8-5 by a fabulous (and super friendly) team of folks, knowledgeable and passionate about the farm. If you visit their Yelp reviews you will see time and time again mentions of how warm and friendly the staff here are, with no pressure sales tactics.
If you are extra lucky you may see Tom out and about on the farm with Buster and Lola, Greenwell Farm mascots, and constant companions. Buster even decided to take a nap on my foot!
Tip: Mid-day on Thursdays at the Kona Historical Society's (Tom’s great grandfather’s house) they use the stone oven to make Portuguese sweet bread. You can help roll dough into balls to put into pans. [Coming from a Portuguese family the next time I visit, I will make sure it is on a Thursday!]
I absolutely love this video montage of the farm, check out all the various parts and pieces that go in this magical place:
Visit the Greenwell Farms website to learn more.
How about you? Have you visited a coffee farm before?
More of my Hawaii Big Island stories:
- [mis]Adventures in Loco Moco in Hilo
- [mis]Adventures in Kona
- [mis]Adventures in Hilo Redux
- Hilo Hawaiian Hotel
- Hawaii – Hilo Grown Tour
- Hawaii – AgriTourism
- Hawaii – Volcano Winery
- Hawaii: Hamakua Mushrooms
- Hawaii for Foodies: Waikoloa Beach Marriott Resort
- Da Poke Shack
My visit to Hawaii was courtesy of the Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau, my visit (as all are visits to Greenwell Farms) was free. As always, all opinions are my own.
You can also view more of my trip to the Big Island in my Big Island of Hawaii for Foodies Wanderlist on AFAR.
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