Kona RainForest Farm – Growing some of the Best Coffee on the Planet

Robert and Dawn Barnes
How do you get to be one of the best coffee farms in one of the best coffee growing areas on the planet? After all, there are more than 600 coffee farms in the Kona coffee growing region or “coffee belt,” which ranges from about 800 to 3,000 feet in elevation. For Kona RainForest Farms (KRF), it’s a story that’s part good luck, part hard work and part passion. Our farm was planted back in 1999, so it is a relative newcomer to this area that saw its first coffee trees about 175 years ago. Fortunately, it produced a superior coffee bean right from the first harvest thanks to the perfect combination of volcanic soil, sunshine, rainfall and temperature (around 80⁰ in the daytime and 60⁰ at night), and location at the 2000-foot elevation on the flanks of Mauna Loa – all of which meant ideal growing conditions for great coffee.

It wasn’t until the farm was purchased in 2006 by current owners Robert and Dawn Barnes that it really began to live up to its potential. The Barnes realized that if they took on the exacting work of carefully growing (organically), harvesting, milling and roasting their coffee beans, they could enhance what nature had given them, and produce the stellar coffee that is Kona RainForest Farms today. And while the skill and hard work required to do this well were crucial, equally important was a passion for doing it well – really loving what you do so you are not satisfied until it is the best.

Growing Organically and Operating Sustainably

One of the first decisions the Barnes made to ensure quality and great taste was to grow KRF coffee organically. Growing organic coffee – and less than 2% of all Kona coffee is grown this way – takes more work because you can’t use conventional growing techniques that typically rely on agrochemical pesticides and manufactured fertilizers. KRF instead makes its own mulch from leftover coffee pulp and uses a variety of natural methods for pest and weed control and fertilizer. Application and use takes more time and effort, but it means a completely natural product. KRF coffee is certified organic by the United States Department of Agriculture through the International Certification Services. ICS inspects all aspects of the farm’s operation on a regular basis. Along with growing coffee organically, the farm also operates sustainably – with electric power from the sun, a backup generator and water from rainwater caught in catchment tanks.

Growing, processing and roasting KRF 100% Kona coffee

Unlike most agricultural products, getting coffee from the field to the aromatic product ready to brew into the flavorful beverage takes multiple steps, all of which are critical to a superior end result. KRF Farms handles all the steps in this traditional process right on our own farm, so we can ensure complete quality control from planting to the final roasted product.

Coffee PlantsCurrently, 15 acres of our 41-acre farm are planted in coffee trees – we have about 9,000 trees in all! However, only 3600 trees are mature producing trees, the rest are younger plantings that will not become mature trees for a couple more years. Coffee is a seasonal crop, so these trees will begin flowering flower in the early spring and will flower sporadicly over the next several months usually following a heavy rain. Each flowering covers our farm with jasmine-fragrant white blossoms which are poetically referred to as “Kona snow.” This spectacle lasts only a few days before the blossoms fall off to reveal tiny green berries. Over the next seven months, these berries will ripen into a bright red fruit called “cherries.” During this time we carefully tend the trees, making sure they have adequate water, natural fertilizer and mulch to ensure a good harvest. When these first red cherries appear, the picking begins, which is a labor-intensive process, multiple flowerings mean there are ripe, partially ripe and green berries on the same tree. All our picking is done by hand and we pick only the ripest red cherries and let the remaining berries continue to ripen for picking later. We pick every two to three weeks during the harvest season, since there are always cherries becoming ripe.

Once we have harvested the coffee cherries, we start the processing. The first step here is pulping, or removing the soft outer fruit to reveal two coffee beans. These beans are then rinsed to remove a sticky covering mucilage, then transferred to a special flat deck where they will dry in the sun and open air – we rake them several times a day to ensure even drying – for about one to two weeks depending on the weather. Once dry, the beans are called “parchment coffee,” which refers to the papery layer still surrounding the coffee seed. This parchment is removed in a special huller before the next step in the process – sorting the dry beans. Sorting is done by using a variety of screens with different size holes, in order to take out beans which are too small or broken. Ensuring that all the beans are a uniform size is crucial to creating an even, quality roast, which is the final step in coffee processing.

Kona RainForestCoffee doesn’t really become coffee until it is roasted. Roasting coffee is a very precise craft that can greatly affect the final taste of the coffee. We roast our Certified Organic 100% Kona coffee in small batches to an ideal temperature – one which we believe brings out the perfect balance of body and flavor. While we carefully and lovingly watch over all the steps in growing and processing our coffee, we give special care to roasting so that the coffee beans’ full flavor potential is realized. Whenever you order coffee directly from us you can be assured that after roasting the beans one day, we always air ship them the next day, so that you are guaranteed unsurpassed freshness and flavor upon receiving your coffee.