It's Coffee Pickin' Time

Click Photo to Enlarge

Leah Wilson, 2, picks ripe coffee cherries during the Kona Coffee Picking Contest Sunday at Ueshima Coffee Farm in Holualoa. – Photo By Laura Shimabuku | Special To West Hawaii Today

Residents, visitors participate in annual Coffee picking contest
by Carolyn Lucas-Zenk
West Hawaii Today
Monday, November 8, 2010 8:36 AM

Dinah Kunitake’s gloved hands expertly maneuvered over the clumps of coffee cherries Sunday morning, quickly plucking the soft, ruby ones and leaving the hard, green ones on the twiggy branches.

As the 61-year-old Holualoa resident circled the tree at the picturesque Ueshima Coffee Co. estate, it seemed to sway each time she bent and released the branches.

Kunitake is a clear natural. Before she could walk, she was picking coffee. Kunitake recalled crawling between the trees, gathering fallen cherries and filling empty fruit cocktail cans.

During the annual Kona Coffee Picking Contest, her speed, intensity, technique and style attracted spectators, of which several took photographs, offered encouragement and complimented her purple hat.

Two thoughts raced through Kunitake’s head — “Stay focused” and “Pick red.” Because her eyes “are not as good as they used to be,” the third generation coffee farmer relied on touch. Ripe cherries are plump and simply fall into the basket with a gentle tap of the fingers.

No matter the outcome, Kunitake was ecstatic about her participation and representing Waiaha River Coffee Co.

“This event gets everyone excited. You finish with such a tremendous high,” she said. “It’s so much fun and part of Kona’s heritage. More local people should do it.”

Competitors had three frenzied minutes to pick the ripest and cleanest coffee cherries. Leaves and debris, as well as coloring, resulted in point deduction.

Competitors in the senior division start the Kona Coffee Picking Contest Sunday morning at Ueshima Farm in Holualoa. – Laura Shimabuku | Special To West Hawaii Today

Kona County Farm Bureau volunteers served as contest judges. Winners in each division received cash prizes and earned bragging rights.

The competition gives people the opportunity to experience Kona’s time-honored tradition of hand picking coffee. It also showcases the unique techniques of beginners, the experienced and veterans, said Minoru Tashima, the contest’s co-chairman.

Many spectators, particularly newcomers to Kona coffee, leave with a greater understanding and appreciation for the intricate work that has to be done to produce this product. It takes approximately 100 pounds of cherries to produce 14 pounds of roasted coffee, Tashima said.

Yusuke Yamano has farmed coffee for five years. He owns Yamano Coffee Farm on the Bonin Islands, where typhoons hit annually and goats are a regular nuisance.

Ueshima Coffee Co. invited him to learn more about the process and what makes Kona coffee unique. Yamano said participating in Sunday’s contest was a bonus. So far, what he appreciated most during his trip was how Hawaii’s culture is celebrated and intertwined with coffee.

Six-year-old Tyler Sims devised a simple plan for winning — “Run fast to the trees and pick, pick, pick.” He hoped to fill his basket to the rim by the end of three minutes.

His father, Justin Sims, owns Sweet Spirit Farms in Honaunau. The pair were excited about picking coffee for the first time.

The family hires others to do the picking of the farm’s 5,000 trees. However, the Sims do the pulping and wet mill process.

“This will either inspire me to start picking on our farm or keep me far away from it,” Justin said, prior to competing.

This contest was part of the 40th annual Kona Coffee Cultural Festival. From now through Nov. 14, the public can attend nearly 50 events, which preserve, perpetuate and promote Kona’s 180-year coffee heritage. For more information, visit