From Morimoto to The White House, these Beans Prevail

By Shawn Steiman | Photography By Hopper Stone

WHEN GLOBAL RESTAURATEUR CHEF Morimoto Masaharu decided to sow culinary roots here in Hawai’i, there was never any question as to whether or not he would serve the best available fare for his discerning clientele. And, even though most would associate tea as the beverage of choice for his crafty version of nouveaux Japanese fare, he is in fact quite keen on coffee. Consider that Hawai’i is the only U.S. state that grows coffee, pair that with a chef who insists on forging relationships with his farmers and suppliers, and the opportunity to launch a relationship with the most well-suited coffee farmer was on.

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“It was only natural that we would want to get the best possible Hawaiian coffee,” says Chef Morimoto, who met with several coffee distributors and producers before discovering Kona Rainforest Coffee, a small farm in the southern end of the Kona coffee belt, on Hawai’i’s Big Island. After meeting owners Robert and Dawn Barnes, touring the farm and tasting the coffee, Morimoto was impressed-both with taste and the Barnes’ commitment to quality. Morimoto immediately recognized that the distinct layering of flavors in their Rainforest blend would pair well with his rather unique desserts.

Kona Rainforest coffee has received other notably significant buyers. In 2006, following a Washington Times article questioning the government’s support American businesses (under President G.W. Bush), White House officials explored several Hawai’i-grown coffees and chose Kona Rainforest to be served at select events. To this day, the White House maintains a standing order of coffee from Kona Rainforest.

No small feat, one might note, considering there is no shortage of competition: there are 830 coffee farms in Hawai’i and some 700 in Kona alone. So one can’t help but wonder what makes Kona Rainforest coffee so special.

Unfortunately, scientists don’t know exactly what causes coffee to taste the way it does-there’s simply no definitive explanation. In certain circles, it is said that the passion of the farmers plays a significant role as it guides them to strive for perfection. In my experience, history of the land, the techniques of cultivation and care in handling product are certainly factors that translate to what’s in the cup.

Originally planted in 1999, the Barneses purchased the farm in 2006. They immediately converted it to an organic operation while they launched headlong into learning everything they could about coffee farming. The end result was their becoming meticulous and fanatical about the maintenance of their trees as well as processing. (By meeting the strict requirements of organic farming, they maintain healthy, productive coffee trees.) They enact concise parameters concerning which coffee cherries can be removed from the trees; only choice, ripe coffee fruits are permitted to be harvested. Once picked, the fruits are processed and dried under their watchful eyes to ensure no mistakes lead to defective tastes. Then, they store the coffee in a climate-controlled room, shielding it from the elements. Finally, only when needed, they lovingly roast the coffee to their clientele’s (Morimoto, others) specifications and immediately ship it.

Pampering the coffee has produced a bean that satisfies not only Chef Morimoto, but also anyone who has sampled the Rainforest blend. Brewed and served in press pots at the Iron Chef’s restaurant, every meal ends with the satisfaction and satiation expected from a concentrated effort at the hands of capable, dedicated farmers.