3 Question Interview with Kona Earth's owner Gary Strawn
Want to learn more about Kona Earth Farm?
I recently interviewed its owner Gary Strawn.
He's passionate about the coffee he grows on his farm on the Hawaiian island of Kona.
Me: How did you get into growing coffee?
Gary: Ever since junior high I knew I wanted to make computer games. I got a job as a game programmer right out of college. It was a great job when I was younger but eventually I got tired of being stuck in an office all day long. I walked into work one day and said "I quit." They said they needed it in writing so I grabbed a post-it note and wrote "I quit."
I didn't know what I was going to do next, all I knew is that it would be outdoors. I was introduced to the idea of growing Kona coffee while on vacation. At first I dismissed the idea as crazy because farming is a lot of hard work for very little money. The idea wouldn't go away though and somehow I ended up here anyways. Of course the great weather and nice beaches may have had something to do with it too.
Me: How does the coffee system work in Kona?
Gary: In Kona the average coffee "farm" is less than five acres. Basically, anybody with a coffee tree in their backyard can call themselves a farmer. Kona Earth farm is 13 acres which is larger than most but still small enough that my wife, kids and I can manage it all ourselves. We're called an Estate farm which means we grow and process all of our own coffee. Having complete control over our coffee allows us to keep the quality up to our own high standards. No Kona blends here.
Having such a huge variety of farms in Kona means there is also a huge variety in quality. State certification is required for unroasted green beans but no such quality controls exist for roasted coffee. Most Estate farms produce excellent coffee but there are some that sell not-so-excellent coffee. Which is what makes a place like ROASTe so great because they have already found the best of the best for you.
Me: What kind of things are you experimenting with in your coffees?
Gary: The vast majority of Kona Earth coffee is sold as a very clean, washed coffee because that produces the delicate profile most people expect of Kona coffee. We've won enough awards that I am reluctant to change anything. Producing a very consistent, high quality coffee is my primary goal. I do like to experiment though. There are so many ways to produce coffee, it would be a shame to not try different things.
Last year I experimented with a small batch of Pulped Naturals (also called Honeys). It is a different processing technique that is difficult to accomplish well in Kona. It is easy for the coffee to over-ferment or mildew which would ruin the entire batch. Luckily, I hit the weather just right and our Pulped Naturals turned out great. The bad news is that we just recently sold the last of it. The good news is that we plan to make more this spring. If this year's batch turns out as well as last year's, there will most certainly be some available here on ROASTe.
Thanks Gary for the interview!
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