In a red-painted colonial village center, Parker Square, next to the Waimea General Store, this café offers coffee and lunch items with an exceedingly laid-back, friendly staff. They have a few outdoor café tables for two in front and several indoor tables. And like any good coffee place on the Big Island, they offer French press specials of some of the island’s finest Kona and other coffees — plus some rather amazing coconut macaroons.

The Waimea Coffee Company gets their coffee from local estates who roast — or from Hilo Coffee Mill on the east side of the island (who themselves aggregate from local estates). But for their espresso, they offered a Hawaiian-only blend from nearby boutique roaster, Cass Coffee of Hilo.

This is typical of the coffee conundrum the Big Island represents: it grows some excellent (and highly priced) coffees, but much of it isn’t suitable for making a decent espresso. Island coffees often do not shine under the darker roasts that typically round out the body and the rest of the flavor profile of a solid espresso. But the stuff can be excellent in a French press or, in particular, as vacuum brewed (i.e., vac pot) coffee.

Entrance to the Waimea Coffee Company The Waimea Coffee Company menu

Using a two-group La Cimbali M30 Classic, the barista steps through some deliberately good tamping and thorough flushing with hot water. They pull espresso shots with a pale, even, slightly textured crema of a modest thickness. (The barista will drink the other half of a double shot if you order a single.)

The result is what you’d expect from an espresso made exclusively with Hawaiian beans: very bright and little body, heavy on the high notes, but no bass. Flavorwise, it is pungent with a flavor of some tobacco and a not unpleasant touch of ash. Served in classic brown Nuova Point generic knock-off cups.

Chatting it up with the local, friendly barista, we apparently learned of a local Hawaiian who travels the Big Island “tasting espresso like a sommelier”. We obviously need to hook up with this guy, but never encountered him in our travels.

Read the review of Waimea Coffee Company.

Inside the Waimea Coffee Company, with La Cimbali in the corner The Waimea Coffee Company espresso