Piliani Kope Farm, House Blend
Piliani Kope Farm, House Blend

If you are a coffee lover, you no doubt have heard of Kona coffee, grown on the Big Island of Hawaii. Well, Maui is giving the Big Island a run for its cup o’ Kona. Maui has more than 50 coffee farms and over 500 acres in production. And, as I learned on my last trip, Maui’s coffee is like homegrown aloha in a cup.

To get a taste of both a small coffee estate and a commercial scale farm, Hua and I joined the “West Maui Coffee Tour” offered by Maui Country Farm Tours run by the lovely husband and wife team, Marilyn and Ricky Lopes.

Maui Country Farm Tours
Marilyn and Ricky Lopes, Maui Country Farm Tours

We met Marilyn and Ricky by the old Banyan Tree in Lahaina (a true sight to behold — think magical tree in Avatar), and then we were off on our caffeinated adventure.

Piliani Kope Farm
Greg and Susy Stille, Piliani Kope Farm

First up was Piliani Kope Farm where we met owners Greg and Susy Stille. When Greg and Susy retired, they decided to buy a 2-acre piece of land near the historic Launiupoko Gulch. As soon as we arrived, I could see why they decided to settle here. The property is perched 600 feet above sea level flanked by gorgeous ocean views on one side, and majestic mountains and canyons on the other.

Piliani Kope coffee orchard
Overlooking the Piliani Kope coffee orchard

The story goes, while on a hike of the surrounding area, Greg and Susy discovered old coffee trees bearing an heirloom variety coffee bean called Kanaka Kope. They picked the ripe cherries, pulped them, dried them, and milled them by hand, and began home-roasting them. And so began the adventures of Piliani Kope

coffee cherry
Kanaka Kope coffee beans (when they ripen and turn red, they’re called “cherries”)

As Greg told us about their story and a bit about the process of coffee farming/roasting, we sampled some of their City Roast. It was the perfect thing to start our morning (City Roast and some of the tasty cookies Marilyn brought!). Now, I typically like my coffee with a little cream and sugar, so I was bracing myself for some bitterness and preparing to gulp down the black coffee Greg handed to me, but what a surprise! A house blend of Yellow Caturra, Red Catuai, and heirloom Kanaka Kope (all grown on Maui), the City Roast was just wonderful by itself. I loved it. Lightly roasted (did you know, light roasts have more caffeine than dark roasts?), it was balanced and bright, with a hint of toast and spice.

Coffee beans
Coffee beans at different stages of production

Sufficiently buzzing on coffee and oatmeal raisin cookies, we then took a tour of the organic permaculture-designed grounds.

Piliani Kope Farm
Piliani Kope Farm

The farm is small, but it is designed with care and is an incredible example of sustainable, symbiotic farming at work. The orchards are terraced with an irrigation system and filled in with cover crops that all do their part. Inga and Koa trees provide shade and help protect the coffee trees from powerful winds, Pigeon Pea and Nasturtium bring nitrogen and nutrients to the soil, and daikon help aerate the soil and funnel water deep into the ground to the trees’ roots.

We got a taste of fresh cacao — it comes in these big orange pods, and when you open it up, the cacao beans are white and slimy, and kind of alien-like. They taste tart and sweet, and have a texture that like slippery lychee. Whoever came up with chocolate from this stuff is a genius.

Cacao pods
Cacao pods

We also caught a glimpse of the farm’s massive composting system, and saw the early plans for an aquaponics system to come. With all the knowledge exuding from Greg’s head, we couldn’t believe that he wasn’t always a farmer. Oh yeah, did I mention that he is also president of the Maui Coffee Association? This is one busy retired man.

Roasted Coffee
Roasted Coffee

After a break for lunch, and a cold-brewed coffee pick-me-up, we headed to the barn to get a lesson in roasting. We put the 80,000 BTU roaster to work.

Coffee Roasting Time
Coffee Roasting Time

Throughout the process, Greg would pull out a sample for us to smell. The progression and range of scents was incredible. The beans went from smelling like wet grass/hay to baked bread, toast, then caramel notes, and finally chocolate tones. Soon the entire barn was full of heavenly aromas.

Then, they put me to work. The coffee got weighed out, bagged, vacuum-sealed, and clipped. Don’t worry, they paid me in coffee. I’ll take it.

Piliani Kope Coffee

Greg and Susy have built themselves a truly special place at Piliani Kope Farm. If you find yourself in Maui, do yourself a favor and pay them a visit. They will pour you a fine cup of coffee and undoubtedly impress you with their passion for what they do.

Ka’anapali Coffee Farms
Ka’anapali Coffee Farms

Next, for a taste of Maui coffee on a much larger scale, we visited the sprawling Ka’anapali Coffee Farms located on the West Maui Mountains, where 500 acres of coffee are cultivated for MauiGrown Coffee.

The Ka’anapali Estate was established by the Pioneer Mill sugar company in the early 1990s as a diversified agriculture project. The company took 500 of their 6,000 acres dedicated to sugar cane production, and converted it to coffee orchards. They planted 28 different varieties of coffee to determine which would grow best, and decided on four varieties of Arabica coffees.

MauiGrown coffee

Here’s how MauiGrown Coffee describe the flavors of each bean:

  • Maui Mokka: the “champagne of coffees” fused with a range of chocolate tones
  • Yellow Caturra: vibrant, clean, crisp, with spicy tangy aroma
  • Red Catuai: the “cabernet of coffees” with rich, nutty, and buttery characteristics
  • Typica: gentle floral aromas with a smooth, seductive finish

The most famous of the four is the Maui Mokka, which is not commercially grown anywhere else in the world. The bean is smaller than most, making it much harder to farm, but a wealth of flavor is packed into that tiny package.

Ka’anapali Coffee Farms
Ka’anapali Coffee Farms

In 2001, Pioneer Mill and the Ka’anapali Estate shut down, but two years later, James “Kimo” Falconer revived the coffee farm and created MauiGrown Coffee, the only major producer of 100% Maui origin coffee in the world. The land that makes up Ka’anapali Coffee Farms is now subdivided into farm lots that are available for sale to the public. On each lot, one acre can be used for a home and the remaining acreage is reserved for coffee farming, which Ka’anapali Coffee Farms maintains and harvests. So if you ever wanted a coffee farm without having to do all the work, this is your chance. The view is pretty awesome.

MauiGrown Coffee, Lahaina
MauiGrown Coffee, Lahaina

After seeing where the coffee started, we sampled the finished products at the MauiGrown Coffee Company Store back in Lahaina. Experiencing Maui through its coffee was such fun! It’s always a treat to enjoy something after seeing where it came from. Appreciating the context, history, the steps along the way to creating it just makes it taste better.

Maui Country Farm Tours
P. O. Box 278
Makawao, HI 96768
Twitter: @MauiFarmTours
Facebook: Maui Country Farm Tours

Piliani Kope Farm
15 Wailau Place
Lahaina, HI 96761
Twitter: @PilianiKopeFarm
Facebook: Piliani Kope Farm

MauiGrown Coffee Company Store
277 Lahainaluna Road
Lahaina, HI 96761
Facebook: MauiGrown Coffee

Maui Coffee Farm Tour 17 July,2012Stephanie Hua

  • Overman

    great article with fantastic photos. more Hawaii coffee growing regions outside of Kona need more press. just like wine, each island/district/place has a considerable amount of variety to offer. having been a fan of Hawaiian coffee for years, i’ve come to appreciate all those subtleties now more than ever as the quality continues to increase. recently i discovered the young couple that runs this operation: http://www.bigislandcoffeeroasters.com 
    they’re very knowledgeable and put a ton of work into their products. highly recommended, especially if you favor Hawaiian coffees. the Puna and Ka’u stuff is great.

  • swagv

    Maui Moka has been one of my favorite home roasting beans for over a decade. But it required James Falconer to rescue the farm from condo developers set to plow it over several years ago.

    I really hope it can survive, despite the economic pressures of development. So I wouldn’t say it’s giving the Big Island “a run for its cup o’ Kona”. It’s just trying to stay relevant and survive.

  • Theresa Markert

    Thanks for the great story. Yes the Stilles are amazing folks with the love and heart not just for coffee but for mankind. I can’t wait for their next chapter. <3

  • Marilyn Jansen Lopes

    Steph, I love your story about the coffee tours. I can’t believe I hadn’t commented until now. Thanks for a great write up in the Bay Area! Aloha from Maui. Time for a visit.., chef girl


Stephanie Hua

Stephanie Hua is the creator of Lick My Spoon, a place for all things delicious. So far she has learned that she very much enjoys salted caramel anything, a good soup dumpling is worth a scalded tongue, and there is no room in life for non-fat cheese and crappy chocolate. Also, a barrel of cheese balls never ends well.

Stephanie has been known to choose her company based on how much they can pack it down. Ability to endure cramped quarters, sketchy back alleys, and uncharted paths to seek out that special dish is also a plus in her book. If you fit the criteria, drop a note. You’ll probably get along just fine.

Stephanie’s writing and photography have been featured in Fodor’s Travel, Wine Enthusiast Magazine, Serious Eats, and Sundance Channel. Follow her on Facebook and @lickmyspoon.

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