Just another rainbow at Blair Estate coffee farm.

Aloha and welcome to the winter 2015 edition of the LBD Coffee newsletter. We are very pleased—and relieved—to report that after the most active Pacific hurricane season in recorded history, our beautiful Islands are unscathed: nothing but a couple of near misses and abundant rain. When we have storms in the North Pacific, though, our cooling trade winds get cut off, and so Hawai‘i experienced, like much of the country, the hottest summer on record. Still, through the hot, wet, dangerous summer of 2015—combined with an equally stormy session in the Hawai‘i State Legislature—LBD Coffee is holding steady and even forging ahead with many of our plans for growth and diversification. Our continued success in the face of adversity is due in large part to the skill and dedication of our talented staff as well as to the support from our loyal customers and our growing base of new customers. Our heartfelt thanks to all of you. And to Mother Nature, for sparing us a serious spanking.

New Wrapper on the Stick

On the tobacco front, Kauai Cigar Company is still growing the traditional robust Habana 2000 and experimenting with the strain of Cuban criollo we call Number 38. We’ve also planted out one of our farms with a variety new to us. Corojo 99 was once the considered the prime—if not the only—tobacco used for wrapper in Cuba from the 1940s until the late 1990s, when pests and diseases like blue mold made the blight-resistant Connecticut Shade variety a more economical choice for wrapper leaf. Because conditions in Hawai‘i disfavor blights like blue mold, we’re hoping to bring back this thin, supple, flavorful tobacco. Our yield so far is modest, but we expect the cigars produced with the Corojo 99 to be a leap forward among our already exceptional premium cigars. Don’t hold your breath—it’ll be a minimum of two and half years before they’re on the shelves at ABC Stores, Safeway, Foodland and many other locations across the Islands—but we’re hoping they’ll be worth the wait. Our current lineup of Kauai Cigar Company cigars is available in stores and online at kauaicigar.com

Joseph Wanczyk topping tobacco, and Joseph and Kaupena Kaauwai riding the tobacco planter.

From Preemie to Primo

Things started out looking dodgy for coffee this year, as the cherries began ripening as early as June; they normally ripen mid to late summer, around August. Our weird winter weather may have contributed to the premature ripening; it’s hard to know. After harvesting those early cherries, we tested the beans by floating them in water; those that float are duds. Those that sink are the keepers. Only about half sank, so we were in essence losing 50 percent of the harvest. Morale around the farm was low, but we kept our fingers crossed for late summer. It must have worked, because as August approached everything changed: 95 percent of the beans sank like rocks, and the by the end of the season we’ll have a full supply of the rich organic Arabica typica that has earned Blair Estate its place among Hawai‘i’s finest coffee producers. This superb coffee, as well as our fresh-roasted 100 percent Kona coffee, are available online at coffeetimes.com.

The Land of Chocolate

Professional pastry chef, and Kauai Cigar lover, Pierrick Boyer visits Blair Estate from Australia, and dazzles the family with his mastery of chocolate making.

Cacao Planting at Blair Estate river farm

For the past decade, Hawai‘i has made slow—but very impressive—inroads into cacao cultivation. Now some of the finest artisanal chocolates in the world are produced from Hawaii-grown cacao, and Blair Estate is soon to be part of it. On one of our five company operated farms we’ve planted a small cacao grove. So far we have one hundred trees in the ground—Trinitario and two varieties Criollo. It’s a long-term process; it takes a minimum of eight years for cacao to go from nursery to bean; if all goes well, we’ll be seeing pods in the next five years or so. In addition to the cacao, we’re also experimenting with growing sugar cane.

Bean’s Bees

Nancie Bean and Trevyn Pless extracting honey at Blair Estate

Nancie Bean started out harvesting and curing tobacco. Then she went down to Esteli, Nicaragua and learned to roll cigars from master torcedores. Then she moved on to learn the intricacies of coffee-roasting. So when apiarist Chester Danbury offered to set up Blair Estate with hives and to train our staff in beekeeping, Nancy stepped up. Since last year she’s been beekeeping on her own, and her six hives located on the farm have produced some four hundred pounds of honey so far, currently available through coffeetimes.com. The honey’s created some excitement among connoisseurs; honey made from the pollen of coffee blossoms is fairly unusual in the beekeeping world and is said to have an interesting flavor profile. So far we’ve been fortunate: Nancy reports no issues with Colony Collapse Disorder or varroa mites, which have devastated bee populations both on the Mainland and elsewhere in Hawai‘i. Eventually Nancy will split the hives and take the bees to each of our five plots located throughout Kaua‘i.

Legislative Update

Through our political action group, the Hawaii Cigar Association, we have been pressing forward with federal and state initiatives. Last year was disappointing–and debilitating–at the state level, when the Hawai‘i State Legislature not only imposed a ban on selling cigars from self-service displays but also killed a bill that would have capped state taxes on premium large cigars at $.50. The self-service display ban is meant to protect youth from accessing flavored tobacco and e-cigarettes, but premium large cigars, which pose little threat to underage smokers, got caught in the dragnet. Now cigar enthusiasts cannot simply pick up an individual cigar or a wooden gift box of cigars and examine it; they must get assistance from store personnel. This is a huge blow to our visibility in places like ABC Stores, which sell only boxes of cigars. Kauai Cigar Company experienced an immediate impact from the display ban, with a nearly 40 percent loss in sales in the six months after it took effect. Not only is the ban ineffective in its admirable goal of preventing kids from accessing large cigars—which was a non-issue from the start—it’s harming a thriving and responsible Island business. We’re pressing on, though, even in the face of this piece of evidence for why CNBC recently rated Hawai‘i as the worst state in the country in which to do business.

We also continued our ongoing (three years now) fight for tax cap legislation and nearly won: The bill had already passed the state Senate and enjoyed widespread support in the House, but it died in a House committee because of political horse trading in the final hours of the 2015 legislative session. A tax cap on large cigars would have brought fairness and parity to the Hawai‘i state tax code; as it stands, large cigars made here in Hawai‘i are taxed at a much higher rate than smaller tobacco products and imported large cigars. This upcoming legislative session, HCA intends to support reintroducing tax cap legislation, and we will be working with our growing number of allies in the Legislature to ensure that it passes this time. We have confidence that it will, but given the way we’ve seen things work at the state level, nothing’s a guarantee. For more information or to follow the status of the legislation, visit the Hawaii Cigar Association web site (www.hawaiicigarassociation.org)

Left to right: Les Drent, Reynaldo Betanco, Victor Calvo, and Hilario Mendoza at Senator Mazie Hirono’s Taste of Hawaii event in Washington DC.

At the federal level, we’ve been working with the Cigar Rights of America and with US Senator Mazie Hirono, who has been a staunch ally and an original co-sponsor of S441, a bill that would exempt premium cigars from FDA regulation. We are deeply grateful for Sen. Hirono’s support; responsive lawmakers like her give us hope that our mostly broken Congress can still pass just and sensible legislation. Also, a mahalo to Congressman Mark Takai for his co-sponsorship of HR662, a companion bill to S441. Check the Cigar Rights of America web site, www.cigarrights.org, for the latest information or to lend your support to the effort.

Les Drent and Reynaldo Betanco with Senator Mazie Hirono.

Even with the setbacks and legal quagmires, the news hasn’t been all bad for the Kauai Cigar Company. We’re now available in five new Safeway stores, including the new Kaua‘i anchor location in Lihu‘e. We’re also in new Foodland locations, the new ABC Island Gourmet Market on Maui and another eight small, single-owner stores across the state. As a countermeasure, we’ve introduced lockable humidors in many shops. This combined with our new accounts, has made up a lot of ground from the 40 percent hit we took following the self-service display ban. We’re not back to the startling line yet, but with the dedicated, creative (and persistent) team at Blair Estate, we’re confident that we’ll get there—and beyond.

New Faces on the Farm:

Kaupena Kaauwai

Crew manager, tractor operator and jack-of-all-farm-trades Kaupena Kaauwai was born and raised here on Kauai. The father of two boys, 18 and 15, and two girls, 12 and 11, Kaupena started working on the farm about a year and half ago, and through his knowledge and dedication has climbed the ladder. A Kauai boy from the start he graduated from Kapaa High School, attended the University of Hawaii at Hilo and returned to earn his Associate’s degree from Kaua‘i Community College. His hobbies include coaching baseball and girls softball, hunting and fishing.

Guillermo Calvo

Guillermo Martin Calvo had been working with his brother, Victor Calvo, who owns the factory in Esteli where our cigars are rolled. From 2009 to 2014, Guillermo split his time between Nicaragua, where he worked in the factory, and Miami, where he imported cigars to the United States. Guillermo visited the farm in 2014 and decided to stay (who wouldn’t)? When he’s not managing the farm, rolling cigars and promoting the brand, you’ll find him on the dance floor—salsa is a passion of his—or enjoying a cigar with a nice glass of rum.

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