There are very few places where one can sip a cup of coffee from its point of true origin, mere steps from where it has been grown, roasted, and brewed. Oʻo Farm is such a place, and you can do so in true style! If you love coffee, are interested in its culture and origin, and can imagine yourself sipping a gourmet latte or expresso in a fragrant, eucalyptus and camphor lined coffee roasterie with sweeping views over the ocean and West Maui mountains, this is the tour for you!
Oʻo Farm is unique as a culinary farm, a thriving and organic place where all produce is exclusively supplied to the chefs of PacificʻO restaurant in Lahaina. Our new coffee tour will take you on a journey from seed to cup, accompanied by a gourmet farm to table, wood fired breakfast. Sipping coffee becomes a story as you explore the process of growing, harvesting, roasting, brewing and tasting gourmet coffee in one of the more unique growing regions on Earth.
The experience of drinking coffee affords us a moment of pause, a time of reflection before starting the day. What better place to reflect than on the slopes of Haleakala in the misting forests of Waipoli! Today, there is a crispness in the air at Oʻo Farm, smoke billows out of the outdoor brick oven and rays of light shine through the trees. Although we are in Hawaii, the ambience beckons a cool, winter day marked with warmth and fragrances of home cooked meals.
Our guide Ancil, begins by introducing us to a coffee tree up close.
A harvest is in action and we see the care and personal nature involved in the process.Coffee guru Sheri Johns reminds us that “the best coffee is hand picked”, and here at Oʻo Farm we can see why!
We have an opportunity to taste the coffee cherry, which is both sweet and bitter rolled into one complex taste.
Coffee is closely related to gardenia and we stop to smell the flowers, which are fragrant and delicate. We continue with a leisurely stroll through the citrus orchard of mandarin orange, lemon, lime, tangerine tangelo, pomello, kaffir lime, vareigeted lemon, kumquat, and sour orange. Oʻo farm is a visual, culinary, and olfactory display of sensory and agricultural abundance!
The moderate, uphill climb works up a appetite before we sit to dine on a gourmet, wood fired breakfast, served on rustic and charming wooden tables shaded by grape vines, and overlooking the West Maui mountains and ocean below.
Breakfast includes a farm fresh frittata, with eggs gathered this morning and still warm from our own hens. The eggs, toped with finely shaved green onion, tiny zucchini, and pools of fine olive oil, are so soft and fluffy they virtually melt in your mouth! The eggs are accompanied by Oʻo Farm rainbow chard, sautéed with elephant garlic and fennel seed, and presented with colorful, edible flowers. We also enjoy homemade focaccia bread, paired with a sweet marmalade of Oʻo Farm tangarines, Kanapali pineapple, and all spice, a farm grown seasoning you might only expect from Grandmaʻs pumpkin pie.
The majority of ingredients are grown onsite and all are carefully selected by Chef JJ to create a memorable culinary experience. He suggests that we make a point of pairing the single origin Oʻo Farm grown Red Catuai coffee with the marmalade, since the sweetness counteracts the bitterness and creates a delightful interplay of flavors.
We also enjoy a tisane tea made from the dehydrated coffee cherries, which combines a complexity of flavor all in one gulp. The sensation seems somewhere between coffee and tea imbued with flowers, and one guest describes it as reminding her of rosehips. The coffee is served from a French press, creating a delightful aroma, the usual bitter aftertaste replaced with a lingering sweetness. I am enthralled by the complexity and subtlety of flavors, the sweeping views, and smoke billowing from the wood fire oven and wafting through the autumn colored grape leaves above us.
After breakfast we make our way through a stone fruit orchard of peach, plum, nectarine, apples, and pears. Ancestry and legend weave into the present, as our guide shares with us Hawaiian cultural stories about the Ohia Lehua tree on our way to the nursery to learn more about how coffee is grown. Coffee trees can only thrive within what is known as the “coffee belt”, a narrow window of latitude within roughly 23 degrees of the equator, and where weather is cool but not freezing. This establishes Hawaii the only U.S. state in which coffee trees can thrive. Here on the slopes of Haleakala, we are in the highest and coolest coffee growing region of the State, which allows for a longer ripening period and a superior fruit.
Oʻo Farm started growing coffee 7 years ago and it was three years ago that the Farm began roasting its own coffee, for it takes a full 3 years before the first fruit! Today we have a 1 acre plantation of producing trees. In complete control of quality from seed to cup, the Farm made a commitment to grow and roast 100% unblended Maui coffee.
Just as Oʻo Farm provides fresh, naturally grown produce from the farm to the table, the same applies to our coffee. We work with a commercial roaster, which roasts less than 100lbs at a time. Freshness is crucial for once roasted, coffee begins to degrade and go stale. Oʻo Farm coffee is lightly roasted, to preserve the acidity and fruit flavors. As Sheri Johns also points out, “the longer you roast coffee, the more it tastes like the roaster and the less like the coffee bean”.
Our palettes still eager for more unique and intimate coffee experiences, we make our way to the lounge for a Hario pour over type extraction of 3 different coffees, polished off with a cup of choice from the expresso bar.The Coffee lounge offers sweeping views and was constructed by the owner and staff with locally salvaged wood including camphor and eucalyptus. Inside sits a classic French design roaster, 20 years old and equipped with a cast iron drum, which allows a more even heat distribution and roast.
We learn that the secret to a good cup is the temperature of the water. Preparations are down to a delicate science and never has a cup of coffee tasted so good!
It is a complex, yet simple sensory puzzle to describe the flavors. The mokka has a caramel flavor with a distinct nuttiness, and as for the others…come see for yourself! You will not be disappointed, for as one visitor announced, “this is perfect, just perfect!”
A coffee grower that actually produces and roasts the beans is something very special. Here at Oʻo Farm we have naturally volcanic soil and both cloud and tree canopy shade. As leaf litter drops and starts the food chain, the soil develops as naturally richer and more fertile. We learn that a sense of place can be “roasted out”, and the trick is to preserve and express that sense of place. The unique microclimate of Waipoli allows for a fruit that is slow to ripen, and of a superior flavor and quality.
Our guide suggests that we, “remember the notes” of the coffee to compare with different types of extraction processes, and indeed the experience is reminiscent of the delicacy of music. As one visitor eloquently notes, “there are two things that make an amazing cup of coffee even more special: the people and the place. Ancil radiates a subliminally infectious passion for coffee that leaves you captivated and ready to start your own coffee farm…an experience matched only by the breathtaking view of Maui from the new, hand built coffee bar as you sip the finest cup of coffee you’ve ever had. I can’t wait to be back!”
Ever wondered what the number two commodity is in our country after oil? Yes, thatʻs right, itʻs coffee! After experiencing the coffee tour at Oʻo Farm I have a whole new appreciation for the origins of a globally favored beverage. Next time you enjoy a cup of freshly brewed coffee, remember the journey from seed to cup and your experience will be that much sweeter!
Text and images by Joia Holman
Tours take place on Tuesdays and Wednesdays from 8:30am – 10:30am. Please call 808.667.4341 for reservations.