Kona Coffee is grown only in the district of Kona on the west side of the Big Island of Hawaii. While coffee is also grown on other islands (Kauai, Maui, Oahu), it does not generally receive the same care and attention in the process as true small-farm Kona coffees. Kowali (which means Morning Glory in Hawaiian) is a moderate-sized Kona farm with the right kind of altitude to produce exceptional coffee. Skip and Rita Cowell are the owners of this 12 acre farm, up an old-time coffee road winding along the steep hillsides of Honaunau in Southern Kona. It has been consistently acclaimed one of the top 10 coffees in Kona and placed in the Kona Coffee Competition. "The funny thing about that," Rita told me a long time back, "is that I didn't enter the competition!" Only later did she go on to enter it and won first prize in the category for "larger" farms ... which is all relative. By all measures, Kowali is very small. The coffee is grown on carefully tended land, using no pesticides and 100% hand picked. It has been recognized by the Kona Soil and Water Conservation District for continuing conservation practices. Skip is an expert in this area and lectures on Soil Conservation at mainland conferences. In terms of cup character, the coffee reflects the Kona heritage, the higher altitude than the farms down in the flatter areas, and the cultivar (this is 100% Kona Typica, which was brought from Guatemala in 1892).
This cup is a classic Kona in all respects, with a big, sweet flavor that somehow matches the immense blue-green appearance of the coffee seeds. Dry fragrance seems especially perfumed this year, quiet floral accents, peppermint tea, and a honey biscuit cookie smell. Hot water brings out lots of caramel, vanilla, and light brown sugar in the wet aromatics, along with an enticing note of lemon balm. The body is light but has a nice silky quality. And it has the brightness that is lacking in so many low-grown Hawaiian coffees, my notes from our original cupping define it as lemon like, with accompanying Meyer lemon note. And actually, as the coffee cools there's a wide array of citrus accents, adding a sort of 'refreshing' aspect to the cup. A wildflower note crowns City/City+ roasts, inciting olfactory retronasal response. Elegant sweetness prevails, with white grape, cane sugar, and honey that lasts through to the finish. This review is based on City to City+ roasts (the latter being where we found the 'sweet spot' to be), but we've pulled great espresso shots at Full City/Full City+ in the past. Mild island coffees like this, moderate in acidity and so well-balanced, are a great choice for un-blended espresso experiments.