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Buddha’s Cup tops at Kona Coffee Cupping Competition

Judges John King and David Holfve get down to business Thursday, Nov. 12 at Keauhou Beach Resort. (Hawaii 24/7 photo by Marian Stanton)

Karin Stanton | Hawaii 24/7 Editor

The father-and-son team of Manny and Mario Ochoa were the big winners Thursday with their Buddha’s Cup coffee, which scored top marks with judges at the Kona Coffee Cupping Competition.

A total of 60 farms entered coffees into the annual contest, which is a signature event of the Kona Coffee Cultural Festival and is widely regarded as the most prestigious award for the world-famous brew.

Buddha’s Cup is a 24-acre farm with approximately 6 acres planted in Kona coffee and is located at the 2,300-foot elevation in Holualoa. It is managed by Mario, and owned by his parents Manny and Christine Coleman.

“Being the winner is good! It makes all the hard work and dedication to growing Kona coffee pay off. We grow and process our coffee in the old style including drying our coffee in wood,” Manny said. “Our farm has been in the finals for the past eight years. Last year, after placing in the finals yet again, one of the judges gave me some advice and here we are today.”

Mario said his family did not know what to expect from the judges this year.

“The drought hit us pretty hard and we just didn’t know. We didn’t really do anything special,” he said. “We just grabbed a bag of parchment and that was it.”

Second place was awarded to Kuaiwi Farms, a 100% certified organic Estate coffee located in Captain Cook and operated by Una Greenaway.

Third place was awarded to Brazen Hazen Kona Coffee, located in Holualoa. The farm is owned by Paul and Cassandra Hazen and managed by Brian and Amy Axelrod.

Each coffee farm submitted a 50-pound sample from which five pounds were actually entered into competition. To be eligible, the coffee submitted must have been harvested in Kona.

The Kona Coffee Cupping Competition is a blind tasting. Once the entry is accepted, it is simply assigned a number to protect its anonymity. These numbers are changed midway into the cupping, between the preliminary and final rounds, to keep the judges’ palates alert throughout the competition.

The coffee samples, both green and roasted, are placed on a long table for the judges to independently evaluate. The judges look for high marks in these six categories: fragrance, aroma, taste, nose, aftertaste and body.

Shawn Steiman, the only Hawaii-based judge on the panel, said he was pleasantly surprised by the outstanding quality of this year’s offerings.

“This year was exceptional. Honestly, I was delighted by how much nuance and complexity there was in the coffees,” he said. “From the final 16, it was fairly easy to get to five or six. From there was tougher.”

The drought conditions may have benefited the quality of the coffee this year, Steiman said.

“In some ways, it might have helped because the farmers really had to take more care of their trees and pay closer attention,” he said.

Judge John King agreed. “The drought certainly didn’t hurt in terms of quality.”

King, of Harold L. King & Co., said the top three coffees easily stood out during the final rounds of cupping.

“The top three clearly rose above. There might have been a couple of others close to that, but there was a separation with the top three,” he said. “We cupped those three together and once we lined them up on the same table we were in 100 percent agreement that Buddha’s Cup should be the winner.”

King, who has judged Kona coffees for 12 years, said Kona coffee has its own attributes.

“There’s just a different taste. The trick is keeping the classic Kona mellow, sweet profile,” he said. “Clearly, Buddha’s Cup was the truest to that old style, old school Kona profile. The quintessential Kona coffee.”

Manny and Mario insist there is no secret to their winning coffee.

“You just have to be dedicated,” Manny said. “When you come into farming, you have to have the ambition to do the work. You put in the time and you get the reward. It’s like you’re raising children.”

Manny, who also farms sweet potatoes, taro and coffee in Hilo, did admit he talks to the trees.

“Of course. I talk to the plant just like people, just like my children,” he said. “They will tell me how to take care of them.”

Mario said he hasn’t picked up that skill from his father. “No, but he taught me the most important thing: hard work.”

The Ochoa family also offers coffee under two other labels – Imagine Coffee and Kona Kulana. Both those coffees made it through to the final 16, too.

The competition is sponsored by Gevalia Kaffe and hosted by Keauhou Beach Resort.

Also Thursday, the winners of the art, website and label contests were announced.

Artists Bobbi Caputo and Stephanie Bolton were winners in the juried category, while Caputo also scored the People’s Choice Award. Marian Stanton was second and Mary Lund was third.

For the websites, it was Kona Rainforest, Kona de Pele, and a tie for third place between Rancho Aloha and Puu Nai Coffee.

The label contest featured three ties: 1st – Kona Rainforest and Kona de Pele; 2nd – Kona Rising Coffee and Orville Studley’s; 3rd – Kope Lani and Huaaala Sweet Spirit Farms.

Winners, judges and coffee queens. (Hawaii 24/7 photo by Karin Stanton)

Kona Coffee Cupping Competition Winners

2010 Buddha’s Cup
2009 Wolf Farms
2008 Hoshide Farms
2007 Kona Old Style/Kuaiwi Farm
2006 Pearl Estate Organics
2005 Rancho Aloha
2004 Lafayette Coffee
2003 Kona Coffee & Tea Co.
2002 Koa Coffee Plantation
2001 Wood Captain Cook Estate
2000 The Other Farm
1999 Dragon Roast Coffee
1998 Brockston Gate Estate
1997 Terry Fitzgerald Estate
1996 Keokea Kona Farm
1995 Kona Kulana Farms
1994 Perry Estate Farms
1993 Keopu Mauka Lani Plantation
1992 Kona Kulana Farms
1991 Wailapa Farms
1990 Island Girl Coffee
1989 Wailapa Farms
1988 Faye Takashiba
1987 Tojiro Motoki

— Find out more:

Judge Wataru Mori (Hawaii 24/7 photo by Marian Stanton)

Judge David Holfve (Hawaii 24/7 photo by Marian Stanton)

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