Kona Coffee is grown on the western slopes 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 most 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.
When we think of "Kona" coffee, it's easy to only remember that burned cup of astringent stuff served at the majority of tourist traps on the island. But this coffee from Kowali Farms is Kona coffee of a different sort altogether. The dry fragrance has a big honey-wheat fragrance, with a touch of sweet dry spices. Hot water brings on heavy caramelizing sugar scent in the steam, one that gains momentum, along with a smell of Assam tea when breaking through the crust. The coffee has a nice citrus-like brightness to it (especially at City - not overly bright either), a hard attribute to achieve in the lower elevation coffees. It's a great drinking cup at City+, flavors of cane sugar, and a honey/nut flavor - an expression of Typica varietal that holds tight through the finish - and a subtle apple juice note. I found this real "sweet spot" at City+, which is what this review is based off of, but in the past we've pulled great espresso shots at Full City/Full City+ (price is the only reason we haven't tagged this coffee as "good for espresso"). Mild island coffees like this, moderate in acidity and so well-balanced, are a great choice for un-blended espresso experiments. This lot is a blend of the large-sized 18 and 19+ screen size beans.