Like many people, I have a great fondness for coffee. My parents were something of coffee connoisseurs growing up, so I quickly learned about the differences in coffee roasts, beans, and brewing techniques. I earned my college degrees behind a laptop at coffee shops. Today, I find great pleasure and comfort with a cup of hot coffee.
As Hugh Jackman said, “To me, the smell of fresh-made coffee is one of the greatest inventions.”
Needless to say, my coffee obsession bleeds into my travel adventures (if you hadn’t already figured that out by now). When my travels took me to the Big Island of Hawai’i, it was a given that I would need to try the famous Kona coffee. Luckily, I had a perfect coffee in mind.
I have followed Buddha’s Cup on social media for years. I was charmed by the many colorful pictures and stories they share. Every day, I looked forward to seeing pictures of trees, animals, and roasting. I learned about harvesting and different types of coffee. I lived vicariously through their accounts.
When planning our Hawai’i trip, my mom and I found that Buddha’s Cup was open for tours and tastings, all while maintaining COVID safety parameters. And so, on a beautiful Monday morning, we piled into the car and drove into the hills above Kona-Kailua to visit Buddha’s Cup.
Buddha’s Cup is known for their gourmet coffee. They offer six different brands in their coffee lineup: Buddha’s Cup, Imagine, Kona Kulana Farms, Kona Gold, Manny’s Brew, and BluGro Hawai’i. The company is dedicated to maintaining an eco-friendly farm. All of their coffee is grown, processed, and roasted on site. Each brand has won numerous awards and certificates, including Kona Cupping, Hawaii Coffee Association, the Olympic Awards in Greece, Cream of the Crop, and more.
Buddha’s Cup visitor center sits at the top of a 100 acre lot of land overlooking the ocean. The visitor building itself is as chock full of personality as their social media. From the front, the building would be at home in a national park with its rustic, hand-painted open sign. The brown siding and white trim contrast the large, bright yellow sign welcoming visitors to Buddha’s Cup. But if you walk around the side, you’ll find an open patio with benches that overlook the farm. The siding here features a colorful Hawaiian landscape, complete with goats, dogs, horses, and, of course, their mascot parrot.
From first stepping foot on the farm, the team was very friendly and helpful. Since they were running a bit behind schedule, they made sure that Mom and I were settled comfortably with a cup of tea as we waited.
Before long, Mom and I were strapped into an ATV and we were off with our guide to see the five farms that make up Buddha’s Cup.
Hands down, this was one of the best tours I have ever taken. Our tour guide was extremely knowledgeable and excited about the botany behind coffee farming.
Along the tour, we were able to see the different farms and learn about local Hawiian ecology. The farms are located at the edge of an ancient Ohia Forest. Ohia Trees are one of the first colonizing plants after a volcanic lava flow. The trees break up the rock, allowing more plants to grow and flourish. The trees live 400-500 years. The trees around the farms were nearing the end of their life cycle, but the ecosystem they cultivated will live on for generations to come.
Our tour guide took the time to point out a rare flower. Located just outside the visitor’s center, the Blue Jade vine that is native to the Phillipines. The vine itself is very thick and woody. The flower grows in large bunches of 50 to 100 flowers. It is a favorite flower in leis.
Each of the five farms produces coffee beans with unique tastes. There are two main types of coffee cultivation: full sun and shaded. The oldest farm in the plantation, Kona Kulana, was established in 1987 and purchased by Buddha’s Cup in the mid 2000’s. In the 1970’s, coffee farmers primarily planted their coffee trees in full sun. The idea was that the trees would increase their production. However, they later learned that this had a negative impact on the environment and affected the taste of the coffee. Full-sun coffee plots are clear-cut, thus reducing habitat and isolating the trees from natural pest control. The coffee beans from full-sun coffee trees has a harsher, bitter taste.
The other three farms, Buddha’s Cup, Imagine, and Kona Gold, are shaded. Natural coffee trees grow under the rainforest canopy. Traditional coffee farming imitates the tree’s preference. While shaded, coffee cherries grow slower, allowing for the natural sugars to improve the flavor of the resulting bean. This results is a smoother, sweeter drink.
As the farmers at Buddha’s Cup continued to cultivate their farms, they made an unexpected discovery. The trees that were planted to shade the coffee trees impacted the taste of the coffee bean. As the trees’ roots intertwined underground, the coffee bean would integrate some of the taste from its neighbors. This was first observed in Buddha’s Cup, as the farm is intermingled with macadamia trees. Then they found the same effect with cinnamon trees. Thus, the biodiversity of the farm, coupled with elevation and amount of shade drastically changed the flavor of the resulting coffee.
After our tour, we headed back inside for our coffee tasting. We were seated on a lovely lanai (covered porch) near the windows overlooking the back plot. We were able to try each of the different of the five brands of coffee. It was incredible how differently each of the coffee tasted! The shaded coffee was much smoother than the sun-farmed Kona Kulana. The coffee that was planted with macadamia trees had a richer taste, with nutty undertones. The coffee trees planted with cinnamon trees had a sweeter undertone.
As we tasted each of the coffee brands, we were served chocolate covered macadamia nuts and coffee cherries. I’ve had chocolate covered coffee beans before, but chocolate covered coffee cherries are amazing! The sugars on the cherry give it a sweeter taste and help cut the sharp bitterness associated with coffee beans.
If that wasn’t enough, we were served a sample of Buddha’s Cup’s homemade rum cake and Manny’s mango chutney. Oh. My. Goodness. I pride myself on my culinary skills, but those appetizers were out of this world! My greatest wish is that Manny will publish a cookbook with those recipes.
Our tasting experienced was concluded with a cup of hibiscus tea to help counteract the caffeine from our coffee. The hibiscus tea had a delightful cinnamon flavor. Now I’ve been a fan of hibiscus blended teas for years, ever since I befriended an Egyptian coffee house barista. But my mom is a different story. She normally avoids hibiscus teas and blends, citing that the flavor is too strong. However, this tea was different. She relished the entire cup.
The entire experience was wonderful. Mom and I sat in our corner of the lanai, watching the early afternoon rain outside as we sipped our drinks and enjoyed each other’s company.
I had been looking forward to visiting Buddha’s Cup for years. I was concerned that the experience would not live up to my expectations. I was right. My expectations were blown out of the water! Between chatting with the lovely Buddha’s Cup team to exploring the farms and tasting the coffee tea, Buddha’s Cup was a definitely highlight of the trip. I can’t wait to visit again!