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It’s all about coffee! From seed to cup

By BY CINDY SCHUMACHER - | May 14, 2021

Kimo Falconer, Maui-Grown Coffee president, is a fifth-generation Lahaina resident and descendant of Amabel Kahuhu, a Native Hawaiian, and George Freeland, who built the famed Pioneer Hotel.

LAHAINA — Coffee, a daily lift and support to many, especially during the COVID-19 lockdown, has roots on the West Side.

James “Kimo” Falconer, a fifth generation Lahaina resident, grower of 100% Maui Origin Coffee and president of MauiGrown Coffee Incorporated, offers a unique varietal coffee approach.

With innovative processing and growing methods, he supplies a strong coffee demand locally, nationally and internationally.

Falconer is keeping Maui’s agricultural legacy alive. His proven success in running the Maui Origin coffee brand is a mainstay of local business.

After graduating from Cal Poly State University with a degree in agriculture, Falconer managed agricultural research and production for the former Pioneer Mill Sugar Company on the West Side.

He spent decades conducting trials on crops to replace sugar cane and was actively involved in the initial planting of the certified Maui Origin Coffee crop at the Kaanapali Estate in the late 1980s. After the mill closed in 1999, he leased about 80 acres to revive the West Maui coffee-growing operation and harvested his first crop in 2004.

Today, in partnership with Kaanapali Land Management, a 500-acre estate is home to Falconer’s Maui Origin coffee. With over a million coffee trees, he grows several varieties of Arabica coffees to suit a multitude of palettes. The theory of quality from seed to cup best describes the planning and operation of MauiGrown Coffee.

“The coffee industry understands coffee in much the same way as the wine industry understands its product, varieties vs. origins,” said Falconer. “MauiGrown Coffee is selling origin — the magic that is Maui!”

While the pandemic has kept the Kaanapali MauiGrown Coffee Company retail store closed, Falconer hopes to reopen it in the near future. In the meantime, his partners at the store are shipping mail orders daily.

Falconer recently appeared on the 15th season of the “Cooking Hawaiian Style” television show, debuting on July 5th, to talk about the different types and varieties of coffee from Hawaii and all over the world. In addition, he is president of the Coffee Growers Association in Hawaii and has served as a consultant to Mahi Pono’s community farming and outreach efforts by providing expertise and guidance for the company’s coffee operation, including farming, processing, sales and marketing.

“Keeping as much land as possible in agriculture on Maui is vital to me and our community,” Falconer noted.

“It is why consulting with Mahi Pono to help support efforts to increase coffee production on Maui is so important. Over the years, we have worked hard to build awareness of Maui Origin coffee. Our only issue has been the ability to produce enough to meet market demand. Due to factors that reduce yield, we have fallen short every year. I hope we will be able to change this in the future.”

Nevertheless, Maui has numerous coffee farms with more acres being added every year. Many smaller coffee farms operate in addition to Kaanapali, growing on the slopes of Haleakala and out in Hana. At present, MauiGrown Coffee is the largest coffee farming estate.

Back in the 1980s, Pioneer Mill participated in a University of Hawaii College of Tropical Agriculture & Human Resources field trial experimenting with over 23 coffee varietals in different test plots throughout the major Hawaiian Islands. As a result of this trial, four coffee Arabica varietals — Yellow Caturra, Red Catuai, Typica and Mokka — were found to best match the growing conditions of West Maui.

“Our company’s signature coffee, Maui Mokka, a distinct taste that people love, is one of my favorite stories,” Falconer said. “Mokka dates back around 1,000 years to the Middle East, specifically to the Yemen port of Mokha. It is a very tiny bean, a mutant of the original coffee from Ethiopia. It got to Hawaii in 1820, was forgotten about, re-discovered, planted, and harvested to become one of the most extraordinary tastes ever!”

Falconer explained, “We harvest and dry the bean with pulp on it. It is modified in a processing technique to store the dried cherry raisin for about six months prior to running it through the dry mill. This technique, also known as ‘Natural Processed,’ enhances the body; brings out the hearty plum, cherry, and dark chocolate notes; and accentuates the characteristics of this particular and now famous varietal. While the small beans can be challenging to harvest, they have made a strong impression on the coffee world.”

Continuing to grow his brand, Falconer harvests approximately 500,000 pounds of coffee annually. Maui coffees are unique and can taste quite different from Kona coffees due to each region’s climate and soil conditions, use of different coffee varieties and processing techniques.

“Mokka and these other exceptional coffee varietals appeal to a variety of tastes,” said Falconer. “We take great care to ensure the quality of the coffee at every stage, including the roasting process. It is at the roasting process where we enhance a cup’s characteristics. We roast all our coffee to ensure the best quality and consistency.”

The first coffee to arrive in Hawaii came from Brazil in 1813. Guatemalan Typica, now known as Kona Typica, is the variety that made Kona Coffee famous. The coffee plants that formed the beginning of Hawaii’s coffee industry are traced to King Kamehameha II’s 1825 visit to England. Although the king and his wife died from measles on the trip, plans were made to cultivate sugar and coffee in Manoa Valley, which became the seed-bed of the island coffee industry.

Hanalei Valley on Kauai was the first site in the islands where there was a real effort to produce commercial coffee. The first export was some 245 pounds in 1845. Coffee farming was always a difficult business, but it was most successful in Kona.

“Just because coffee grows on trees does not mean that gourmet coffee is easy to make,” Falconer said. “Freshly picked Kaanapali coffee cherries are processed in many stages, using modern technology and decades of experience to turn the colorful cherries into ready-to-roast beans.”

Falconer added, “We have two main genuses of coffee plants: Coffea robusta and Coffea arabica. Most of the world’s coffee, the varieties grown in Kaanapali, and all specialty coffees, are Arabica. Once planted, coffee trees will flower in their third year, assuming a good growing environment. Six months after flowers are pollinated, the trees will produce fruit. Coffee plants remain in production for many years. Some are over 100 years old.”

MauiGrown coffee plants are harvested for their cherries once a year. Starting around September, a machine designed for coffee harvesting shakes the branches to release the fruit “ which is called “Mechanical Harvesting.”

The cherries are wet processed, using water to remove the fruity pulp from the seeds, or beans, resulting in a clean, vibrant taste. The beans are then dried in mechanical dryers to ensure even drying. Green beans are then sorted and bagged in 100-pound burlap sacks, ready for roasting.

Falconer concluded, “The origin of Maui coffee, the distinction between natural and washed beans, and how Maui cup profiles differ from the better-known Kona coffee is most interesting. It’s all about going from seed to a great cup of coffee. At MauiGrown Coffee, we have a passion for growing and producing exceptional coffee. We love what we do and we love sharing it with the world!”