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Thursday, May 20, 2010

Being a Tourist

For quite a few years I've worked in Sonoma and Napa tasting rooms either full- or part-time. Okay, I'm using the term "work" loosely.  Anyway, I've seen or heard most of it as far as what people do when they're on vacation in an environment that's a bit different than back home.

Recently I was on the Big Island of Hawaii right in the middle of the Kona coffee country.   On the mainland we usually see the "10% Kona blend" coffees because Kona coffee is so expensive--$20 to $38 for a pound.

First, in the nearby grocery store I found the coffee aisle and it was like a kid in a candy store with dozens of coffees to pick from at what looked like discounted prices.   I picked up a couple based on what I don't know as I have no idea what's what.   Sounds like a wine country tourist hitting the local wine shop.   I know that's how I'd feel if I came here from out-of-state and found the Bottle Barn in Santa Rosa.

Then one morning a local grower came to our condo complex with some samples and gave a talk about growing, making and selling coffee.  She mentioned several times, "It's what you like. Then later said how the coffee-knowledgeable crowd goes for a medium rather than dark roasts because they're more complex and you get more aromas and flavors.  "Good,"  I thought, "I'm supposed to buy medium roasts."  She'd be happy to sign us up for their coffee club!  I tried to ask a couple semi-intelligent questions about the difference in growing seasons (they're in the middle of a drought) and about the differences in growing regions within Kona.  Pretty good, huh?   She gave us a discount coupon for a coffee store in Kailua-Kona right on the touristy strip.   This all sounds familiar to anyone in the wine hospitality or sales business, huh?

We hit the shop in town with dozens of coffees to choose from.  How do I pick something to buy?  Some have neat packaging.  Prices seem a little high, but I have this coupon.  Is the cheapest as good as the most expensive?   Probably not, so I don't want to buy the cheapest one.  Besides it's not in as attractive of a package as most others.   I finally settled on the only organic coffee and it was in clear packaging so you could see the beans -- two things to separate it from the others.   Oops, no medium roast in that one, only dark.   Back to the drawing board.   I finally picked something else based on I don't know what.   Price and packaging, I guess.   Just like with wine where you have price and a label.  (Thank God for Robert Parker)!

Another day we went up into the coffee country to the growers' tasting rooms.   Free tastings, tours available, retail shops, etc.   We sampled, I bought a couple coffees, cruised the retail rooms, but no tours as they all charged for this.   Oh yeah, I bought some coffee beans to bring home and plant.

One guy advertised "The first trellised coffee tree plantation just like wine grapes."   So I got some pictures.

Trellised coffee trees--Just like being in the vineyards!

I brought home a half-dozen bags of expensive coffee and stashed most in the freezer.  I hope they're worth it.  If not, at least I have coffee from places no one else around here does!   Stop in some morning and I will show off my fancy coffee to you.  If you don't like it as well as the $10 Starbucks blends you usually buy ... well, at least pretend you like it for my sake.   Thanks.

It was fun being on the "other side," but also I felt a bit dumb not knowing a damn thing about coffee--other than what I like, of course.