KAILUA-KONA , HAWAII, January 26, 2014 – Mountain Thunder Cloud Forest Estate coffee won first place in the 27th annual Kona Coffee Cupping Competition, held November 7- 8 at the Sheraton Kona Resort and Spa at Keauhou Bay on the Big Island of Hawaii. The cupping competition is the highlight of 10 days of celebrations at the 43rd Kona Coffee Cultural Festival. The grand prize winning coffee farm gains a pedigree and prestige in the coffee community that sets it apart from its peers for a lifetime.
Trent Bateman’s award winning Mountain Thunder Cloud Forest Estate was judged best over 65 other coffee farms in a double blind tasting spread over two days. It is a sweet victory for a man who has spent decades developing the market for 100% estate grown Kona coffee, and a triumph for his distinctive 10 acres of coffee trees high up Koloko Road in, as it were, the cloud forest.
There are close to 600 coffee farms between Holualoa and Honaunau on the Big Island of Hawaii, most between 2200 and 2800 feet in altitude. Almost two hundred single vineyard estate farmers roast and market their own coffee under their own labels, like boutique wineries, mostly over the internet.
They may produce between 2000 and 10000 pounds of coffee in a season. The best of these is compared with product from other coffee farms like it was a fine bottle of Pinot Noir or Chardonnay. Indeed, Kona has been frequently referred to as the Napa and Sonoma of coffee.
The Kona Coffee Cupping Competition honors the best of these independent artisan farmers as they produce and purvey what is widely acknowledged as some of the finest coffee on the planet.
The Sheraton Kona at Keauhou Bay is a beautiful resort on a stunning rocky outcrop at the very tip of historic Keauhou Bay. The atmosphere in the room was tense and busy as the judges meticulously sniffed and sipped their way through 66 different coffee farms, narrowing the field to 15 distinctive semifinalists.
The judges are looking for fragrance, aroma, florals, intensity, taste, viscosity, body, flavor, acidity, and finish. The final day of competition the field is winnowed down to five finalists, and then the winning farms are selected.
Mountain Thunder Cloud Forest Estate coffee is located at the far north end of Holualoa, in the high hills three miles up Koloko Road at 3200 feet, the highest elevation of any coffee farm in Kona. It is a jungle retreat in the clouds, 10 acres of lush coffee trees spread across a sloping hillside bristling with several large subterranean lava tubes descending from the peaks of Mt. Hualalai above.
Cloud Forest Estate is also completely organic, with herds of geese wandering the field providing both weed and pest control and abundant fertilizer. Touring the farm with Trent’s associate Kyle Cruise is a walk through a jungle forest filled with abundant coffee trees loaded with ripe cherry, while whole gaggles of geese follow him faithfully across the property.
Trent Bateman and his wife Lisa have transformed this hillside into the center of their growing coffee empire. Their simple but elegant house, designed after the seaside Hulihee Palace in old Kona, overlooks the sprawling coffee fields below.
Mountain Thunder’s processing centers, warehouse, retail store and tourist café make clear the vision and scale that Trent sees in the future of 100% Kona Coffee. Cloud Forest Estate, which produces about 10,000 pounds of single vineyard estate grown coffee a year, represents the cuvee of his endeavors, a world class coffee chateau at the very top of its game.
He produces a line of very fine high end skin care products made from coffee as well, and like most Kona coffee farmers, markets his products over the internet. Buses filled with Japanese tourists stop by regularly, and business is brisk. Trent also maintains a full service café outlet in the lovely Mauna Lani Bay Hotel.
The Kona Coffee Cultural Festival is all about making the world aware of the virtues of buying 100% Kona coffee directly from the farmers who grow and produce it.
The cupping competition emphasizes the uniqueness of several hundred farmers growing, picking, processing, drying, roasting and marketing their own artisan coffee product.
A good way to start exploring Kona coffee is to order coffee from current and previous winners and runners up of the cupping competition. Coffee pioneer Terry Fitzgerald’s Da Kine Coffee Bean or Robert and Dawn Barnes Kona Rain Forest Farms are both legendary farms and former winners. Una Greenaway and Leon Rosner’s Kuaiwi Farm has the distinction of winning one year and placing 2nd two other years.
Single vineyard estate grown 100% Kona coffee makes for a perfect gift, unique and useful, delicious and special, reasonably priced, like giving someone a fine bottle of wine. It’s something any coffee drinker would enjoy and appreciate.
On a crisp Kona day the Holualoa Village Coffee and Art Stroll is in full swing. One of the key events in the 10 days of the Kona Coffee Cultural Festival, the sidewalks are filled with farmers selling their single vineyard estate coffee.
Crowds mingle amongst the coffee venders and the quaint art galleries in this lovely town in the hills above Kona. Here is where the tradition began, over 100 years ago, with Japanese coffee farmers and their families laying the roots for an enduring tradition of agricultural excellence.
From that day to this the interwoven fabric of small coffee farmers, from Holualoa and Captain Cook to Kealekekua and Honaunau, has created a thriving artisan culture of acclaimed boutique coffee estate chateaus ready to be discovered, embraced, indulged, and celebrated.
Joel Berliner is a travel writer based in Los Angeles.
All photos by Alison Reynolds
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