A friend of this Web site, Andrew Hetzel, called it the best article about Kona coffee ever written. That’s a pretty tall order. But this piece, which came out a couple days ago, makes a compelling argument: Hana Hou: The Magazine of Hawaiian Airlines – Adventures in Coffeeland. It’s at least good enough to make you forget that it was published in a in-flight airline magazine (Hawaiian Airlines).
What makes this article a lot better than the others of its kind is that it looks beyond the usual marketing spin for both the good and the bad, it draws out some essential observations about the market opportunities and challenges for Kona coffee growers, and it goes into sufficient depth on some of its subjects. The author even dogs on Island Lava Java — where we cut them a little slack for some improvements on our last visit.
Another friend of this Web site, Shawn Steiman, is cited in the article and offers one of its many good quotes: “One lesson I’ve learned is that what coffee geeks consider the best coffees aren’t all that cherished by non-coffee geeks.” For another great quote from the article:
For all its urban faddishness, coffee is still a Third World crop, picked mostly by subsistence laborers in Latin America, East Africa and Southeast Asia. Hawai‘i, meanwhile, is the costliest state in one of the world’s costliest nations, a tough place for an agrarian enterprise these days, as the sugar and pineapple industries can attest. With wages for Big Island pickers many times greater than those of their counterparts in developing nations, Kona coffee will always be overpriced; or perhaps the rest of the world’s coffee will always be underpriced.
Of the coffee industry insiders we’ve long known, Kona coffees have earned a reputation for both quality and for being overpriced. But there are real-world reasons behind that. It’s a good lesson for the many conscientious types who gripe about coffee companies needing to pay living wages and offering health care to their employees — but who are often the first to rebel against the coffee prices necessary to pay for all of that.
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