My friends from Kona’s Sunshower Farms have a limited crop (only 250lbs!) of their natural process coffee from this year and they’ve kindly sent me some to review for you. As I was drinking this coffee, I felt like I was tasting the western slopes of Hawaii in every sip (in, you know, a good way!). Slurp!
SUNSHOWER FARMS NATURAL PROCESS 100% KONA – DUSK ROAST
Corrections Corner 12/4/17: I’ve edited my post already, but it was up for a couple hours with some mistakes. For the record… 1) Sunshower does not supplement their coffee with coffees from other farmers in the area. That’s Carta, another Hawaiian grower I’ve reviewed. All of Sunshower’s coffees are their own coffee grown on their own farm! 2) Sunshower sent me four bags of coffee to check out, this natural and their three barrel-conditioned coffees. I mistakenly assumed that the barrel-conditioned coffees were this same natural, but they are using their washed coffee for their barrel-conditioned series, which makes sense since there was only 250lbs of natural produced this year and there isn’t much to go around.
What do you do when you’re tired of Chicago’s weather and burned out on your law and finance careers? If you’re Kate and Doug Hickey, you sell everything, move to Hawaii, and buy a 8-acre farm in Holualoa in the Kona coffee belt! The adventurous couple moved in 2013 and had their first harvest of coffee in 2015. They grow coffee around 732masl, which is low by most standards, but Kate has told me that the latitude of where Hawaii sits has somewhat of a magnifying effect on the altitude, giving their coffees more complexity than one might think. In addition to growing coffee, the Hickey’s run a homebrew store, grow microgreens for the farmers markets and restaurants on the island, raise goats, and rent out the farm with it’s gorgeous west-facing slope for weddings and other events. Sounds pretty idyllic, but in talking to Kate several times, it’s real, hard work!
This morning’s selection is 100% Kona-grown coffee, all from their own farm. Natural processing of coffee is a time and labor-intensive process involving lots of handwork in sorting, turning the coffee on their beds, etc. Sunshower only produced 250lbs of natural this year, so get on it while you can! I have a little word on pricing at the end of the article, but keep in mind USA-grown coffee is inherently expensive because of USA labor laws. It isn’t grown in a place where someone makes in a year what the average American makes in 2-4 weeks, so that translates to some sticker shock on Hawaiian coffees. Because most of us don’t drink Kona on the daily, as a result, that makes this natural crop even more special and a GREAT gift idea for the coffee aficionado (or yourself, let’s be honest!) on your list!
Natural processing is when the coffee cherries (about the size of actual cherries you buy at the grocery store) are picked, sorted by hand, and then dried with the fruit intact, like big raisins. The fruit breaks down and the seeds inside, which we call coffee “beans,” absorbs a lot of the chemicals from this breaking down process. Natural coffees are fruity, often berry-forward, sweet, have a lot of body and can have some hints of funky fermentation, which I really like. Sunshower says their natural has “strong notes of blueberry and red wine.”
I am using my standard pourover setup of a 1:16 ratio of 28g of coffee to 450g of Third Wave Water in a notNeutral Gino dripper with Kalita 185 filter. My handground grinder is set to three and this medium (“Dusk” is what Sunshower calls it) roast was a cinch to grind by hand.
The aroma of this cup has some berries and some ferment, for me, promising two of the things I love about natural coffees! For my palate, naturals really fall into two main categories: African, which tend to be super sweet and fruity and Central American, which tend to be a little more fermented, complex and a bit more “adult” than the often candy-like Ethiopian naturals. This is a gross generalization, but that sums them up without getting too engrossed in the details. This natural from Sunshower falls somewhere in between the two. First of all, this is a coffee that benefits greatly from opening up a little, so let it sit and cool for a bit before you start drinking. I get some nice berry jam notes from this coffee… raspberry, blackberry with its hints of florals, and a bit of blueberry, even, which I so rarely taste in naturals anymore. This berry note dominates the coffee and is really nice. In the mid sip I get some ferment notes that do give this coffee a wine-like vibe, and those carry into the finish and aftertaste, too. The finish is sweet but I do get some dryness on my tongue between sips, again leaning this coffee more toward the Central American side of the spectrum for me when it comes to natural coffees. In the background I pick up some hints of roast notes from the medium “Dusk” roast level that Sunshower uses for this coffee. At first those roasty notes read as “earthy,” or even “soil” and I felt like I was tasting the literal ground that this coffee grew in, which I rather enjoyed! These roast notes are pretty mellow and this is a nice roast level for this coffee. I also enjoy how the roast enhances and adds something to the coffee. There is a little acidity to the cup, coming through really as a component of the berry jam sweetness, that gives it some lift.
This coffee is a definite winner for me. I am already a big Sunshower fan because they are doing something quite unique for Hawaiian coffee and that’s letting the coffee really speak for itself. Usually Hawaiian roasters tend to go into the dark roasts and I’m not sure if that’s to mask their coffee, to appeal to a mass tourist market who is buying a lot of their coffee, or what, but Sunshower’s lighter roasts are unique and allowed me to really taste Hawaiian coffee for the first time. For me, this natural is an even more primal extension of that, and I feel like I’m tasting part of Hawaii with every sip. It’s a good, balanced, easy drinking coffee and I’m a fan!
A word about pricing: I know there is some sticker shock that comes with this coffee, so I want to explain that on behalf of the good folks at Sunshower. Hawaii is part of the United States and, as a result, coffee farms follow USA standards for wages, insurance and other benefits, taxes and withholding, etc. If you’ve ever owned a business and paid people in the US you know all the stuff I’m talking about. Much of the world’s coffee is grown in places where their annual wages are closer to what many Americans make in a month. Sunshower Farms has full-time employees that are not laid off with the season, they have benefits and make a decent wage, and as such, that translates to the prices you see here. That’s the one major hurdle for Hawaiian, USA-grown coffee!