Processing Coffee on a 1920’s Kona Coffee Farm
The annual cycle of coffee production can be broken down into four successive stages: Pruning, which occurred mostly in January and February; Care and Maintenance, largely occurring during the spring and summer months; Harvesting, which occurred in September and October; and Drying and Processing, a step usually completed by November. This latter season was so significant to the economic life of the Kona community that schools in the area during the early part of the twentieth century shifted their annual holiday to September through November, in order to allow farmers’ children to be available for work during this crucial annual operation. This underlines the point that coffee was and still is not merely a crop but a whole way of life in Kona.
Care in the picking and processing of the ripe coffee beans has always been critical to success. Only ripe coffee can be harvested; coffee will not “cure” or further ripen after picking. It is essential, therefore, that only fully ripened beans be picked. This operation has always had to be done by hand. After picking, the berries then needed to be processed immediately – ideally within 12 to 24 hours after picking. They were transferred to the pulping machine that removed the softened outer skin and then remained in large wood storage tanks for several hours, allowing for the decomposition of the outer coating of mucilaginous skin. After washing, the resulting “parchment” beans were then spread out on the drying platform for drying. After drying, the coffee was taken to commercial mills for hulling (the removal of the parchment skin) and the “green” beans were stored in sacks for transport. Roasting occurred at a later period, usually in Honolulu or on the Mainland. Virtually no farmers in the 1920’s and 1930’s owned their own milling equipment. In fact, all were dependent on wholesalers for the final processing of their beans – and ultimately their profits.
Be sure to come visit the Kona Coffee Living History Farm to experience first-hand how Kona coffee was processed in the 1920’s and the role it played in Kona’s community history.