Kona Coffee Champions Take B On A Farm Tour

Arianna Farms Crowned Victor of the Kona Bean, Share Secrets

Kona Coffee Champions Take B On A Farm Tour

On a bright, sunny morning in the Outrigger Keauhou, a few dozen people gathered in the oceanfront lanai lounge that looked towards the town of Kailua-Kona. Behind the bar were a handful of individuals draped in red aprons. These experts in the field of coffee tasting had just completed their weeklong task; the narrowing down of 66 entries to 10, and ultimately, choosing the best producer of coffee beans within the Kona Coffee Belt.

After much applause, announcing and tension building, the announcer awarded the first place ribbon in the "Crown Division" to Arianna Farms 'Ono Kona Coffee. Robert, Sharon and their 10-year-old daughter Arianna Wood walked to the stage, and were handed a series of gifts compliments of Gevalia, the host of the Kona Coffee Cupping Competition. They smiled for the flashing cameras of the local press. And returned up the hill to their 40-acre farm in Holualoa to check on a new batch of seedlings that were growing in their makeshift greenhouse.

B on Hawaii took the opportunity to venture up to the Wood's farm (at nearly 2,000 feet in elevation) to chat with the owner and managers of what is now known as Kona's tastiest coffee bean.

Robert, who goes by Bob, immediately informed us that coffee was not something he foresaw when he was planning out his life as a physician at UCSD.

"I had dreams of either going in to genetics, physics or wine making," said Bob Wood. "Aside from having no knowledge of coffee, it wasn't even on the radar."

Yet in 1993, the Wood's came to Kona on their honeymoon. They invested in a timeshare, and began exploring the ocean through various scuba dives. Eventually someone told them about the Kona Coffee Festival. They participated in every aspect they could; from the opening singing of the national anthem (which Sharon sung this year), to the parade of lanterns and the coffee-picking contest (which Arianna won at the ripe age of 3, cleaning house in the keiki division; a few years later, Sharon would take 4th in the professional women's division).

After meeting a number of Kona Coffee Council members, Bob and Sharon invested in a 5.5-acre plot of coffee farmland. Over the course of a few years, the acreage grew, in parcels, to its current 40-acre swath. The trees at Arianna Farms (planted by the Wood's) range in age from 3 to 7 years. In that time period, the couple has delved headfirst in to everything from soil conditioning to terrace farming, native specie reintroduction, pest (including wild boar) control and grafting, to name a few. They even managed to revitalize a crop of 60-plus year old coffee tree stumps, which an expert had told them to destroy.

In the greenhouse made with PVC pipes and strung-up tarps, Bob Wood is explaining to me the reasoning behind grafting two types of coffee trees.

"The tops are all 'kona typical', also known as 'Guatemalan 502'," said Wood, knowing full well if he went any deeper in to the realm of scientific verbiage I may have to ask another question about boars. "But the root stocks are all 'divera'. Divera is the plant most resistant to things like rust, aphids, fungus, nutrient problems and nematoads," -- a pesky, microscopic critter that I promptly learn has been known to force entire coffee farms to uproot and replant.

"The tops will produce 10-15% more coffee than other varieties. They will also produce the biggest, best coffee cherries," adds Wood.

As I look around, I realize there are almost 2,000 starter plants -- each with a small, gray clip holding together the grafted section. Bob informs me that each of these $10 clippings from the Kona "mother tree" is only a few weeks away from being green lighted for planting outdoors.

Heading outside for a muddy trek around the hillside acres of Arianna Farms, the Wood's take turns injecting fun and interesting facts about farming coffee in Holualoa. I learn that the Kona Field System is a 20 by 3 mile rectangle of upcountry land above Kailua-Kona that has, since recorded history, been fertile farming grounds. It's also chock full of archeological sites, both of the cultural and farm nature, many of which are uncovered every year. In the center of Arianna Farms is a lush thicket of jungle that the Wood's are convinced (or have been convinced, by local historians) holds many a historical treasure.

I push on with the Wood's, begging answers to the question, what makes Kona the perfect place – correction, the only place in North America – for coffee growth?

"It's a combination of the elements and environment," Sharon chimes in, eager to share Kona Coffee 101 with me. "The conditions are simply ideal. The soil is rich and high in acidity. The bright morning sunshine, followed by misty afternoons and cool evenings up at elevation are just prime for growing coffee."

Bob walks me over to a row of trees planted 3 years ago, and upgrades me to Kona Coffee at the 300 level.

"You strive for 3 vertical branches from the root of every producing coffee tree trunk," said Wood. "Any more and the cherries won't be as bulbous, which means less flavor. After the cherries are picked, we look for new growth from each major branch. From there, we pick 2 or 3 secondary branches, and clip the rest, as those will produce fruit for the next harvest."

The Wood's produce between 7,000 and 8,000 lbs. of cherry per acre. Of this, 18% is actual green coffee (unroasted coffee beans). The farm averages 660 trees per acre.

Perhaps the most unique aspect of Arianna Farms is the Wood's determination to reforest their land with native species. Shortly after purchasing the property, they met local plant specialist Jill Wagner, who is working to recondition the farm with native plants and trees. Currently, koa, kolea, ohia, ohe makai and a'ali'i saplings are growing on the farm.

The plight is one that harkens back to the Wood's early membership in the Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA), where they learned of bird-friendly coffee and the significance of bird culture throughout the coffee industry. Shortly thereafter, Arianna Farms received a small grant from the Fish & Wildlife Service to create shade-grown coffee, which will persist under a canopy of native forestry. The idea, according to Sharon, is that native birds and plants will return to the area surrounding the native trees.

"It's as simple as this: So much of the world's forests have been depleted," said Sharon. "The least we could do is to forest our own land. And with the trees that originally were here."

To order Arianna Farms 'Ono Kona Coffee, visit their Web site at www.ariannafarms.com.

"The conditions are simply ideal. The soil is rich and high in acidity. The bright morning sunshine, followed by misty afternoons and cool evenings up at elevation are just prime for growing coffee."