Meet The Farmers: Hala Tree Coffee
Kona Coffee Leaf Tea
Did you know that the Coffee Bean is the second most traded global commodity just behind crude oil? Here in Hawai’i we have a year round season, making this crop the most labor intensive agricultural commodity in the world. In addition to the hard work, the market is also very competitive, and being on an island in the middle of the pacific limits opportunities. For example, here on the Big Island alone we have around 800 coffee farmers, making this a major part of our agricultural economy.
Our love for this plant and our love for Hawai’i farmers are why we wanted to bring a new solution to the table, allowing this ingredient to thrive while helping our community. To look at the process of creating and launching Hawaiian OLA’s Kona Coffee Leaf Tea, we chatted with one of our family farmers, Jean Orlowski of Hala Tree Coffee.
Hawaiian OLA: Thanks for taking the time this afternoon Jean, mind giving us an overview of Hala Tree Coffee?
Jean: My pleasure! Hala Tree Coffee is a small, family run, certified organic coffee farm on the Big Island of Hawaii. My wife Danielle and I started 5 years ago with just 6 acres, and since, we’ve added 20 more acres. Currently about half of of our land is planted this season, while we continue to prep the rest. 5 years ago we bought an old Japanese farm that had 80-year-old trees on it. We’ve been able to restore that portion of the land while also adding to it. Along side my wife and I, we have 1 full time employee and then some part time work throughout the season.
Hawaiian OLA: That’s amazing, happy to hear its been going so well! What got you into farming and why did you choose Coffee?
Jean: Well, I was working for a futures and option broker for about 20 years, traveling the world living all over from Singapore to Europe. It was great, but I just got burnt out. My wife and I came to the Big Island on Vacation and immediately knew that this was the place for us. Once I had my first cup of Kona Coffee, I knew that’s exactly what we wanted to pursue.
Hawaiian OLA: So how did you go from a dilapidated 80-year-old farm to being organically certified and winning numerous awards for your Coffee?
Jean: Once we fell in love with Kona coffee, we created a clear plan early on, and just put a lot of work into it. Heavy work and hard labor, but being organically certified was very important to us from the start, so we build a process to get us there. We had to wait 3 years to make sure there were no pesticides in the ground and from there we continue to ensure that every step of our process is clean and responsible. For example, the weed management in Hawai’i is difficult, when it rains a lot we get lots of invasive species. So it does take a little bit more work with a few extra steps, but if you have the right process in place it is very achievable and rewarding.
Hawaiian OLA: What does the coffee season look like for you here in Kona?
Jean: It’s a year round process. We prune the trees in the start of the year, then the flowers blossom from February to April depending on the rain. Our cherries then flower and grow for 6 months before they are ready to pick. We pick about every week from September to December, then start that process again.
Hawaiian OLA: What does your process for tree maintenance look like?
Jean: Well, before we were partnering with Hawaiian OLA on the Coffee Leaf Tea, we were just cutting the branches and taking them to the wood chipper to create mulch and compost for our soil on the farm. This year, we implemented a new process as part of our partnership together. We conduct the same pruning of the trees, but instead of pruning the whole farm at once we are now going 1 acre at a time so that we can add in the leaf drying process as well. The same day we cut the branches, we are now removing the leaves by hand and then drying them on our property. The drying takes about a week and then we hand the ingratiate over to you guys.
Hawaiian OLA: Which we love! How has this new process been working out for you guys so far?
Jean: At first I was skeptical because I didn’t want to disrupt the successful formula we had, but luckily we are able to compost and mulch with the rest of the branches, so every part of our organic process is still in tact. Also, we have been making Mamaki Tea on our farm for 3 years now, so drying the Coffee leaves is a familiar process for us. Having the coffee leaf as a new product has tremendously helped us out in being a new source of revenue for us. The coffee bean is still our main product, but using the leaf has become very important to us as well. Utilizing more of this amazing plant has helped us grow our sustainable practices we believe in and seeing the final product through our collaboration has been very satisfying!