Shawn Steiman, coffee author, scientist and consultant from Hawaii, writes in his recent blog: "In Hawai‘i, the blending of Kona coffee with imported coffee is a regular controversy...If Kona coffee blends were made illegal, the market would not only be flooded with Kona coffee but this coffee would all be sold at typical Kona prices.  With such an increase in supply, could the market bear so much coffee at the higher-than-blended prices?"

Good question!

Eyal / ROASTe.com

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Joachim,

Don't you think that all the cherry farmers would try to sell their coffee somewhere? It is likely that they'll sell to mills that buy and resell as 100%. The glut of coffee could drop cherry prices, permitting these mills to sell Kona coffee cheaper.

If you are correct, which, I admit, is possible, then the alternative is just as unpleasant. All those folks who are expecting income from those cherry sales are suddenly going to be short a lot of cash. That's a lot of troubled Kona residents.

My blog clearly stated we have no idea what would happen. We're all just speculating. Personally, I'd like nothing more than for Hawaii to only be selling organoleptically fantastic 100% Hawaiian coffee.

Again, if you're curious as to how I feel about blending, read my other blog post. :-)
How will the future look if more protection is given? It's not speculating, but observation and strategic planning.

The Napa Wine law of having at lest 75% of real Napa grapes in their wine causes an effect. Todays article in the NY Times describes it in vivid details how it is NOT all a bed of roses.

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/02/17/dining/17napa.html?em

The writing should be mandatory MUST READ for everybody, who wants that legal change as a Kona coffee farmer. I couldn't have described it better.

Now regarding to the 'glut' of Kona coffee rotting on the trees, when no processor buys it: That indeed would happen when new legislation happens over night. As if! I talked about a phase-out plan which is not a novelty but the proven way-to-go in geographical appellation protection. Heck, make it a phase-out over 10 years or so; few of the current farmers will still be in business by then and even the CEO processors will be retired. But do something!

Shaun, you MUST be aware that many of the cherry farmers didn't get paid by some processors this season. And it is not the first time, even that the state law demands that it happens within 30 days. I don't want to name them here in this forum, but there were public meetings by county council members in that regard.

The cherry farmers who pin their livelihood on the 4 or so buying processors are a thing of the past and doomed to failure. Right now the processors had put them into debt anyways. Again. Docile as they are, they got a few bags of fertilizer and remember the threatening letters from 2 years past some processors wrote to them. I rather having some Kona cherry rotting on trees, than letting the farmers rot and not pay them for their work. It's a medieval agricultural dependency here in Kona, with underlying racial and cultural connotations. Mixed with corporate greed and clashing ideals of the aging '68 generation, hobby farmers and organic farming radicals.

That's what makes farming here very, very interesting, causes of a lot of laughter, juicy stories and occasionally a scandal. Like the Kona Kai processor, who paid big legal fees to leave the name 'KONA' unprotected, and got busted by the feds for using not only his 100% forged Kona coffee for tax fraud, but also for shipping containers full of marijuana to the mainland from here. The processors, who were comfortably in bed with Michael Norton, Kona Kai then, still fighting the same fight. But the current economy is hard on them and their their orders are down, brokers take their green only on commission, buyers bills unpaid, investors unhappy and now the political pressure is adding up too. Big Kona farms and processors traditionally go bust. We small farmers have to look out for ourselves and can endure hardship, because we live on the land and it always helps to feed our families.

So let's get some protection please. Slowly, but steady.
Great NYTimes article, Joachim. Thanks! I agree, it is very applicable to coffee farming in Hawaii

Your points are all valid. There's going to be pain, no matter what. The question then becomes- is the solution to legislate what people can and can not do?

I'm so idealistic that I'd like everyone be well educated and allowed to make the decisions they want to make. This goes for the cherry farmers engaging in poor business decisions and consumers buying blended coffees or coffees that I'd personally not want to drink. I believe in empowerment, not some sense that I know the right path for other people. Thus, I don't like most rules and laws that restrict free will.

It is unethical, in my opinion, to use "Kona" on a bag that contains only 10% of Kona product. Still, it is the right of a company to do that. To not limit their right and not mislead the consumer, I think the legislation should empower the consumer by forcing a transfer of complete and accurate information. This goes for the bottles of fruit juice, too. :-)

As you pointed out, some folks don't understand what "10% Kona blend" means. Should we really be taking their choice away of purchasing that because they like the pricing and/or quality?

I'm a big proponent of education -obviously, I spent 30 years in school! It is a slow and difficult route, as you know. However, it is the route that seems most fair and empowering to all.
It's not the consumers choice to have a 10% Kona Blend or not, Shawn. Foremost the consumer has the right to know and understand what's in any bag, box or can. The Hawaii government has the obligation to enable that right and they are currently not doing what federal labeling law demands. Once that's done, then the consumer has a choice to buy a 90% Nicaraguan + 10% Kona Coffee Blend.

And that's how it would look like in writing on the bag. Same low price point as now, same shelf space offered, same aroma profile and a great cupping quality as the blenders claim.

Piggybacking on a 10% ingredient name, and omitting the 90% other ingredients in any product label is shoddy marketing and business. Heck, they don't even say if there's other coffee in the bag! Maybe its Chicory? Maybe its the cheapest, moldiest stuff one can find in Panamanian docks? As long as they don't declare it's such and such coffee at 90%, one can easily call it anything under the blue sky.

Nobody likes new laws, I agree, but it would not be an additional one, but an adjustment to the existing laws.

But as Kona's coffee is already a well controlled (still faulty) coffee market, I'd like to expand it to all origin coffees and start a new topic in Origin, Growing and Green. We stare at one tree and don't see the whole coffee forest in regards of labeling.
How do consumers not have a choice of what coffee they buy? They can choose your 100% Kona coffee or the 10% Kona blend. If you start selling your coffee on Oahu, some folks will start buying it.

I openly admit I don't know the gritty details about federal labeling laws. My understanding, though, is that packages must list the ingredients contained within, not the origins of those ingredients.

Specialty coffee, because of issues like this, has to find a way to deal with this, particularly since many blenders don't want to list the origins and contents of their blends. Am I not unwilling to agree to a situation where either no origins are named or all must be named.

That being said, I will gladly move to a new discussion you create.
Thanks!
I go so far as to say most blenders don't list specific coffees used. Look at the top espresso blends from the top roasters. Do you see a list of specific coffees, including percentages? Hell no. And I don't expect to.

As far as Kona goes, there's as much 100% Kona low altitude mixed farm garbage sold to tourists as the Kona blends.

Shawn Steiman said:
How do consumers not have a choice of what coffee they buy? They can choose your 100% Kona coffee or the 10% Kona blend. If you start selling your coffee on Oahu, some folks will start buying it.

I openly admit I don't know the gritty details about federal labeling laws. My understanding, though, is that packages must list the ingredients contained within, not the origins of those ingredients.

Specialty coffee, because of issues like this, has to find a way to deal with this, particularly since many blenders don't want to list the origins and contents of their blends. Am I not unwilling to agree to a situation where either no origins are named or all must be named.

That being said, I will gladly move to a new discussion you create.
Thanks!
miKe mcKoffee aka Mike McGinness said:
I go so far as to say most blenders don't list specific coffees used. Look at the top espresso blends from the top roasters. Do you see a list of specific coffees, including percentages? Hell no. And I don't expect to.

Yeahbut... you don't see them trying to cash in on the origin of the coffees used, either. Those blends are marketed on their proven record. It's a bit of a different breed, there.
If you want to call it a certain coffee from a certain origin, then the consumer should be protected by being assured that it is at least a modest portion of what it is that they think that they are paying for. It's not a labeling issue, it's a truth in advertising issue. If I say it's Hairbender, then it is. If I call in an African blend, and it's sixty percent Colombian, thirty-five percent Vietnamese Robusta, and five percent Zimbabwian shake, are you gonna be pissed off when you've gone to the store looking for an African bland and get this? Will you feel ripped off? D'ya think that hard working Ethiopians and Kenyans, and yes, even Nigerians will feel ripped off? Ya wanna know why?
'Cause someone will have ripped y'all off, that's why! ; >
And that's why anyone wanting to put 'KONA' in big letters across their bag should have to tell you how much of it is really Kona.
Yeah but, when it comes to Kona Blends sold in Hawaii it's already fairly well covered. Granted, the 10% minimum wasn't what most growers wanted but it was the best law they could get passed. And it was better than nothing which was before.

Department of Agriculture, State of Hawaii
GUIDELINES FOR HAWAII-GROWN COFFEE LABELING In addition to all other labeling requirements, all roasted or instant coffee that is produced in whole or in part from Hawaii-grown coffee beans for retail or institutional sales shall meet the labeling and advertising requirements of §486-120.6, HRS, as amended. The following is a guideline for these requirements. WORDING OF THE IDENTITY STATEMENT
1. 100% Hawaii-grown coffee from a single geographic origin within the State of Hawaii: The
identity statement shall consist of the geographic origin (of the green coffee beans) followed by the
word “coffee”. The term “100%” may be used immediately preceding the geographic origin. The
following examples are based upon the geographic regions defined in rules adopted under chapter
147. (In addition, if a geographic origin is used in labeling or advertising roasted or instant coffee, the
green coffee beans used in that roasted or instant coffee must meet the grade standard requirements
of rules adopted under chapter 147.)
Examples: HAMAKUA COFFEE or 100% HAMAKUA COFFEE
KA’U COFFEE or 100% KA’U COFFEE
KAUAI COFFEE or 100% KAUAI COFFEE
KONA COFFEE or 100% KONA COFFEE
MAUI COFFEE or 100% MAUI COFFEE
MOLOKAI COFFEE or 100% MOLOKAI COFFEE
OAHU COFFEE or 100% OAHU COFFEE
HAWAII COFFEE or 100% HAWAII COFFEE
2. 100% Hawaii-grown coffee with the State of Hawaii designated as the geographic origin: If the
geographic origin is the State of Hawaii, the identity statement shall be as follows:
Examples: HAWAII COFFEE or 100% HAWAII COFFEE
HAWAIIAN COFFEE or 100% HAWAIIAN COFFEE
3. 100% Hawaii-grown coffee consisting of coffee from several geographic origins in the State of
Hawaii: The identity statement shall consist of the percent coffee by weight of one of the Hawaiigrown
coffees used, followed by the geographic origin of that Hawaii-grown coffee, and the terms
“coffee” and “all Hawaiian” as follows:
Example: 30% KAUAI COFFEE ALL HAWAIIAN
4. Coffee blend of Hawaii-grown coffees with coffee not grown in Hawaii: The identity statement
shall consist of the per cent coffee by weight of one of the Hawaii-grown coffees in the blend, followed
by the geographic origin of that Hawaii-grown coffee, and the term “coffee blend” as follows:
Example: 20% OAHU COFFEE BLEND
TYPE SIZE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE IDENTITY STATEMENT. Provided that the quantity statement is
in compliance with all labeling requirements, the quantity statement on the package determines the type size of
the identity statement.
1. If the net weight is 16 ounces or less: The type size of the letters or characters in the identity
statement shall be at least one and one-half times the type size required for the quantity statement or
three-sixteenth inch in height, whichever is smaller.
2. If the net weight is over 16 ounces: The type size of the letters or characters in the identity statement
shall be at least one and one-half times the type size required for the quantity statement.
3. If upper and lower case letters are used in the identity statement, the lower case letters shall meet
this type size requirement.
05/03
PLACEMENT, PROMINENCE, AND INTERVENING MATERIAL
1. Placement: The identity statement shall be located in a position above the quantity statement on the
principal display panel of the package.
2. Prominence: The identity statement shall be prominent, conspicuous, legible, and of a color that
contrasts with the background.
3. Intervening material prohibited: No intervening material is allowed in the required wording of the
identity statement. Words such as “estate”, “estate-grown”, “organic”, “organically grown”, ”pure”, etc.,
or any other terms denoting a coffee style shall not appear as part of or within the identity statement,
although they may appear elsewhere on the label apart from the identity statement.

Chris said:
miKe mcKoffee aka Mike McGinness said:
I go so far as to say most blenders don't list specific coffees used. Look at the top espresso blends from the top roasters. Do you see a list of specific coffees, including percentages? Hell no. And I don't expect to.

Yeahbut... you don't see them trying to cash in on the origin of the coffees used, either. Those blends are marketed on their proven record. It's a bit of a different breed, there.
If you want to call it a certain coffee from a certain origin, then the consumer should be protected by being assured that it is at least a modest portion of what it is that they think that they are paying for. It's not a labeling issue, it's a truth in advertising issue. If I say it's Hairbender, then it is. If I call in an African blend, and it's sixty percent Colombian, thirty-five percent Vietnamese Robusta, and five percent Zimbabwian shake, are you gonna be pissed off when you've gone to the store looking for an African bland and get this? Will you feel ripped off? D'ya think that hard working Ethiopians and Kenyans, and yes, even Nigerians will feel ripped off? Ya wanna know why?
'Cause someone will have ripped y'all off, that's why! ; >
And that's why anyone wanting to put 'KONA' in big letters across their bag should have to tell you how much of it is really Kona.
Here here!

Joachim Oster said:
May I take my shot at this issue as a Kona coffee farmer? The world's coffee industry has an overall and increasing problem with counterfeit coffees. May that be the fake 'organic' or 'bird friendly ' sticker or the fake origin. I.e. there's much more Antigua coffee sold out of the famous Guatemalan growing region than there is actually being produced there. 100 % Colombian is often smuggled in, cheaper grown Ecuadorian or Peruvian coffee. Jamaican Blue Mountain Coffee is encountering HUGE issues with coffee fraud (I was honored when they had asked my humble opinion on their new website of the Jamaican Coffee Board, and that they installed the 'Counterfeiters Gallery'). The price difference btw a commodity and a specialty gourmet product are too tempting for reckless profiteers. And that is also true for Washington State Apples and Idaho Potatoes. Both boards encounter container loads coming from China with their protected brand labels on inferior goods. Not up to standards, maybe contaminated with pollutants, but always, always dirt cheap.

So having this discussion within the USA and Hawaii helps greatly. And not because the Hawaii State legislature often resembles a Third World Nation with all its ills of well-meant nepotism, laisséz faire style, single party doctrine et al. No, protecting brands and appellations is much bigger than Kona coffee. Much bigger than coffee even. A region needs protection to grow its best possible produce and be able to improve, promote and market it. Like Champagne from France, onions from Maui, Gorgonzola from Italy and Bourbon from Kentucky.

That in turn will help the agriculture, the local jobs, the real estate, the tourism and the local community overall. Kona is a coffee growing region comparable to few around the world. There are none of the real bad pesticides, fungicides and herbicides used, most coffees are subjected to. Everything is done by hand. No children are picking and missing school! The climate and soil is superior for coffee. Too bad that it is in the booooring USA and mostly tourists, and few baristas favor it therefore. Too bad that there's a group of rich semi retired gentleman farmers who pisses off the local corporate shenanigans, making a living of duping tourists. Too bad that the oldtimers always keep their mouth shut, if they get paid by the processors or not ( currently many processors are 3 - 6 month behind in their payments!). Too bad that US tourists can visit without passports our English speaking farms, and enjoy in the absence of guerillas, malaria pills, drug lords and biting critters the only coffee farms they most likely will ever see.

But one thing I know for a fact: That I collect really, really irked off customers, who had 10% Kona coffees, thinking that those would be 10 x 10% increments of various farms mixed together, being overall pure Kona. And that looks bad for Hawaii, the Kona coffee farmers, and the USA. As a marketer I know that there's one complaining customer for at least 10 quiet customers who simply leave.

As faulty as the study might be, the overall intent is correct. No market flood will follow--most Kona farmers don't have functioning websites or ever worked with a spread sheet to calculate profit & loss. That's fear mongering again, coming from the processors, and sorry, Shaun, you're just transmitting it because I heard it from them before. What has to happen is that a phase out plan for companies, shops, depending on wrongly labeled 10% Kona Blends, has to be established. Like them declaring on the label where the other 90% come from by 2012. Same type size, same place on the label. Nobody opposes blending!

The great macadamia nut industry in Hawaii is dead: The state had allowed machine harvested, cheap Australian Macnuts be called 'Hawaiian'. Farmers hacked 'em all down and planted coffee. Pineapples, sugar, the same. It's all in the appellation protection or the lack of it.

So what about those complaining Kona coffee farmers? They better clean up their own act too. 'Small' is not automatically good. They have to certify, get their coffee inspected, and be humble when it comes to farming. Small farms cut corners when it comes to quality, often without them even noticing. Many of them who scream the loudest have barely an acre of coffee to manage, and wouldn't be able to supply a single hotel for one luau with their Kona beans. A phase-out period of Kona blends would be for them a phase-in period of learning to organize their production.

The coffee will not be drunk as hot as it is brewed, as my grandma used to say. But the cup is certainly served!
Just as an interesting addendum to this discussion: The first authentic account of the origin of coffee was written in arabic by Abd-al-Kâdir in 1587, about "omdatu s safwati fi hallu 'l kahwati" (Concerning the legitimate and lawful use of the drink commonly known as café).

Or did you know, that at the beginning of the 20th century American chicory and grain producers fought the exclusive use of the term 'coffee' for, well, regular coffee beans only? They argued for years the word 'coffee' for being just a general term for a roasted and brewed beverage from any plant.
Joachim Oster said:
They argued for years the word 'coffee' for being just a general term for a roasted and brewed beverage from any plant.

Anecdotal history suggests that their efforts were defeated by an attorney using the same ploy to define their product as 'tea', and as the judge was inclined to agree, they went away. D'ya know of any truth to that story?
My $.02,... "organoleptically" is possibly the greatest word ever used on BX. I just had to point that out. In this discussion I would award at least a few points for this word usage.

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