As the season slips into winter here on Kaua’i, I’m reminded that change is the only constant. Although it has been a difficult year for Kona coffee, it’s been a time of expansion and growth for Kaua’i Cigars and for our team here at the farm.
Kona Coffee Update
The Kona coffee industry is no stranger to struggle and hard work, but last year was exceptionally difficult for multiple reasons. “It’s been the perfect storm,” says Steve Hicks, chief financial officer of Greenwell Farms. Along with persistent drought, the coffee berry borer beetle (CBB) has been devastating crops for two years now. Due to budget cuts and furloughs at the state Department of Agriculture (DOA), only one inspector was available for hundreds of farms, which stalled coffee certification, sales and shipping. Greenwell Farms has been in operation since 1850, and it is one of the only remaining coffee mills in Kona still certifying graded Kona coffee.
Remedies for combatting the coffee berry borer beetle (CBB) include traps and farmers like Misha Sperka at Old Hawaiian Coffee making a fungus called beauveria bassiana that targets CBB infestations.
To address the backlog and delays in certification, the state legislature passed House Bill 280 in July. Although well intentioned, the bill made certification of Kona coffee voluntary. The new law requires that no Hawai’i-grown coffee beans may be shipped outside the area of their geographic origin unless they have DOA-approved documentation of their origin. But it also removes the requirement that all Hawai’i-grown green coffee beans will be inspected and certified by the DOA, unless otherwise specified by rules of the department.
While the law’s intention was to help farmers and roasters move their coffee instead of having to wait weeks for an inspector, it also created an opportunity for counterfeiters to process illegitimate Kona coffee. With CBB damaging 30 to 40 percent of the crop, legitimate farms have raised their prices nearly 50 percent at the roasted end, while some companies that purchase defective and uncertified green coffee are roasting and selling below cost. These companies are motivated by money instead of integrity, and Kona coffee’s reputation is now fighting an uphill battle as a result.
“These companies are not only cheating consumers but also damaging the reputation of one of Hawai’i’s premier crops,” says Les Drent, publisher of Coffee Times and roaster of certified 100 percent Kona coffee since 1993. “It’s unfair, unethical and illegal to have to compete against bogus Kona coffee sold by mass distributors. Because the DOA’s Quality Assurance Division has failed to enforce the law, these businesses have skirted HB280. Coffee Times magazine spearheaded a successful effort in the mid-1990s to prosecute Michael Norton of Kona Kai Farms for a similar Kona coffee counterfeiting scheme, which he ran from a warehouse in Oakland, California. Now, some seventeen years later, here we are again dealing with opportunists exploiting reduced regulation, lack of enforcement and a crop under siege by a pest. We dislike raising prices on our customers, but we will always sell inspected, certified and graded 100 percent Kona coffee.”
Those who do purchase Kona coffee directly from a reputable source can be assured that the money they spend will support legitimate producers and sustain them in their fight against the coffee borer beetle. The DOA in collaboration with the University of Hawai’i and Greenwell Farms is developing a beetle pheromone trap and an insecticide with Beauveria bassiana, a naturally occurring fungus. Students at Konawaena High School are making some of these traps from recycled materials.
While this aggressive approach should be applauded, the law must also be enforced. Compounding the problem is the seemingly apathetic response from the DOA and state and county prosecutors regarding this scandal. We will be publishing a detailed article on this matter soon and distributing it widely. Please be patient as our independent investigation continues.
As a special holiday season treat for our loyal Kona coffee customers, we were able to hunt down and secure a limited amount of 100% certified Kona Peaberry. Buy now while supplies last!
Kaua’i Cigar Company News
On a more positive note, Kaua’i-grown cigars are making their way all across the Hawaiian Islands. Martin & MacArthur now carries the Makaleha cigars in all ten of its stores in the state, and nine Times Supermarkets locations are selling the Hawaiian Vintage and Island Prince lines, a great locally grown product for residents and visitors. Adding to the roll of new retailers is Roberta Oaks on O’ahu, which is also selling the Island Prince cigars. While Roberta Oaks is a locally made women’s fashion boutique, the owner decided to offer something special for her customers.
We are happy to announce the release of our limited edition versions of the Hawaiian Vintage Series, Makaleha and Island Prince. These cigars, available in Momona size only, are made in Hawai’i, with tobacco grown in Hawai’i. Our newest torcedora (master cigar roller), Nancie Bean, will be rolling these cigars both at the farm in Kapa’a and at upcoming events on Kaua’i, O’ahu, Maui and the Big Island. To learn more about upcoming events and to purchase cigars, visit www.kauaicigar.com
Speaking of events, mark February 8-10, 2013 on your calendars for the first annual Cigar Festival, on O’ahu. The Hawaii Cigar Association’s stellar event features a gala dinner at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel on Sunday, February 10. The night will include a silent auction benefiting members of the military injured in combat. Special guests include top names in cigar manufacturing such as Pepin Garcia from MY FATHER, Robert Levin from ASHTON, Pete Johnson from TATUAJE, Rocky Patel from ROCKY PATEL CIGARS and Les Drent, farmer and owner of the KAUAI CIGAR COMPANY. A special tribute to the cigar industry in Hawai’i past, present and future will shed light on the rich history of cigars in the Islands. To purchase tickets or for more information, visit www.hawaiicigarassociation.org/festival2013
Kaua’i Cigar Company leads the push for a tax cap
Kaua’i Cigar Company is working with the state to fight the 50 percent tax on tobacco, which is crippling small businesses and local farmers growing tobacco for premium cigars. At issue is the fact that premium cigars are being lumped in with other tobacco products, like the flavored brands aimed at youth. We’re working to create a separation between these two very different categories of tobacco product. Kaua’i Cigar grows, manufactures and wholesales premium tobacco in Hawai’i, and we are being punished with exorbitant taxes on our product because we fall under the “tobacco product” umbrella. We are working to reduce these taxes so we can offer a better price to our customers. For more information on this issue or to sign the petition, visit www.hawaiicigarassociation.org.
New faces on the farm
Nancie Bean is now our torcedora for Kaua’i Cigar Company. Nancie began over a year ago as a stringer on the weekends and soon delved deeper into harvesting and the larger cigar industry. In July she traveled to Nicaragua and immersed herself among experts for eight weeks to learn the cigar-making process and the art of rolling. She held her first cigar-rolling event at Koloa Rum Company in September and will be at the festival in February as well as other future events.
Elaine Dalistan has joined the team as our event coordinator and O’ahu sales representative. She was born in the Philippines and grew up on the North shore of O’ahu. Elaine has long been a cigar enthusiast and recently started a business called Cigar Bar Hawaii, a mobile cigar bar that provides cigars for private events such as weddings, golf tournaments, lu’au and more. She also has a background hosting cigar events on O’ahu. In her spare time she likes spending time with her son, painting and of course enjoying a fine cigar.