Our Maui drinks tour continues. After we tried good distilled downers at Hali’imaile (read here) and Ocean Vodka (read here), today we wake to caffeinated uppers at a coffee plantation. I could give up wine (probably). But coffee was my first true love (aka addiction). Now in Maui, we have a chance to tiptoe through the coffee bean tulips.
O’o Farms offers a “Seed to Cup” farm tour and breakfast for $58. So with baby in toe, we drive up valley into deep, steep, Maui Upcountry. Situated 3,500 feet above sea level, O’o hides in the cool, damp, cloud line. Nights drop to 35 degrees fahrenheit: ideal for coffee. At first, it looks like an abandoned hut village in Vietnam:
But here, eight employees farm a wee eight acres biodynamically. In 2000, surfer/restauranteurs, Louis Coulombe and Stephan Bel-Robert bought O’o to supply their fancy hotel restaurant empire in Lahaina, including Pacific’O, The Feast at Lele, and Aina Gourmet Market. The 1.5 acres vegetable farm looks adorably like home, with a better view:
We walk into their orchards of strange Chinese fruit and hybrid lemons:
Then, finally, the coffee bushes emerge in chunky rows, like muppets, rolling down the hill.
The plants bloom and fruit year round, peaking production in summer. O’o’s eight employees harvest twice a week. Five major varieties of bean grow here.
Red Cautai is the most grown, named for its red berries. We eat a few. They feel gummy, taste mildly sweet, like a red apple raspberry juice, with a light peppery note.
Yellow Cattura berries look plumper and, well, yellow when ripe. They taste more like white-melon and pear.
Typica coffee bushes are the tallest with big red fruits, which taste like bell pepper and red cherry. O’o also grows Mokka, and Bourbon varieties. Fun fact: their bee hive increases coffee production by 17%!
After pretending to harvest, and getting an odd numbing sensation in our palates, we head to the roasting facility.
Beans then ferment and shed skin in buckets for days. Floaters get tossed. Next a fancy machine removes those tasty, fruity surroundings in 15 minutes (by hand it takes two hours) .
The clean beans then go into dry racks in what looks like an old incubator. Once dried they get sorted on mesh racks.
Ugly or cracked beans get tossed into compost, while the rest get immortalized in the roaster. Inside their fire engine red roaster, they wait for the first and second crack of the beans (like popcorn), watch color, and keep the drum rotating. At first this place smelled of lemongrass, becoming blanched almond, and finally dark toffee. Once ready, beans get released to cool down:
No crying babies were harmed in the filming of this video, promise!
So, how does all this hard work taste?
We try French press versions of the main varieties.
Red Cautui: The color is ruby-cored, amber-edge and hazy. Aromas smell of toffee, toasted nuts, dried cherries. The palate has pretty bright acidity, medium tannins, extra caffein, and a leanness about it. Flavors taste bright, peachy, vinous, even red wine-like. Very good (4 of 5) especially as an espresso!
Yellow Cattura: smells of dried fig, tobacco leaf, black tea and potpourri. It feels soft, round, with low acidity, moderate tannin, average caffeine. Flavors retain a dried fig fruit leather of medium length. It is very good (4 of 5).
Mokka: has a dark lemon edged color, smells and tastes of black cherry liquor, cocoa powder, tobacco, stout-like. It is dry and intense, with medium plus acidity, extra tannin, and oodles of caffeine. It is outstanding (5 of 5), but a bit much as a daily drinker.
Already itching like heroin addicts on caffein, we get more coffee with a custom breakfast. We sit at a long table, beneath vines, with three other couples.
Farm Chef Daniel Eskelsen walks us through his coffee pairings with seasonal produce.
Today, gluten free crepes made with their own eggs, potatoes, and sweet potatoes garnished with fresh greens emerges, paired with Yellow Cattura coffee in drip form:
Homemade, wood oven baked honey biscuits made with coffee fruit fill baskets. Arugula, roasted plantains, and some sort of magic hummus form the next course of delights.
I think there was more. But by now caffeine is re-etching my brain like ants in a sand castle. Everything spins and twitches. Foolishly, I remember ordering a cappuccino of Red Cautui and then jittering my way back to the car.
Once my head centers itself, I ponder this quaint farm O’o. Maui imports most of its food. Can each hotel have a wee farm run by hipsters to support it? Will it, like the distilleries, provide a model to save Maui’s agriculture? Well, under O’o’s Aina label, you start by paying $26.50 for 16 ounces of beans. You can buy 16 oz of Folgers Coffee for $10, $13 for Starbucks. However, O’o makes primo, biodynamic, small lot stuff. It does taste amazing and you know exactly where it comes from. But are we willing to pay double or triple for our coffee? Can this be coffee’s Champagne to our daily wine? I hope so.
Next post, we go to balance our buzz with wine, yes wine, grown and made at Maui Winery. Finally, wine!