Categorized | Agriculture

Rusty’s tops at Hawaii Coffee Association again

Special to Hawaii 24/7 by Andrew Hetzel

Rusty’s Hawaiian 100% Ka‘u Coffee was named grand champion for a second consecutive year at this weekend’s annual statewide cupping competition organized and hosted by the Hawaii Coffee Association.

More than 50 coffees from across the islands were submitted for this year’s event and evaluated in multiple stages by an impressive panel of coffee cuppers including Shawn Hamilton of Java City, Paul Thornton of Coffee Bean International, Warren Muller of InterAmerican Coffee and Lindsey Bolger from Green Mountain Coffee Roasters.

Lori Obra with the newest Rusty's Hawaiian 100% Ka‘u Coffee award. (Photo courtesy of Ralph Gastons)

In an afternoon award ceremony Saturday at the Hilton Waikoloa Village, all members of the cupping panel stressed the substantial quality improvements that they have witnessed over three years of cupping competition in Hawaii, crediting feedback received from independent evaluation of coffees and a newfound spirit of horticulture and process experimentation across the state.

Shawn Hamilton expertly likened the situation in Hawaii as being similar to Colombia, where government cooperatives worked for decades to create a homogenized coffee flavor profile and have only recently begun to “unwind that work,” by separating and accentuate unique characteristics of micro-regions and individual estates. Many on the panel commented about new market opportunities for Hawaiian coffees with rare and distinctive characteristics differing from traditional island flavor profiles.

Lorie Obra and family (including honorary family member Miguel Meza) from Rusty’s Hawaiian were on-hand to hear the grand champion announcement and accept the award personally from news reporter Howard Dicus at a dinner ceremony.

Rusty’s Hawaiian has won the top prize twice in the three years that the HCA has organized the event.

In a highly disappointing departure from last year’s competition, the HCA has decided to not publish a list of point scores or ranking of the top 10 coffees statewide. Only the top three farms from each district will be named, a move that we speculate was made after last year’s event where only one Kona coffee placed in the list of top five Hawaiian coffees.

Bowing to fragile egos and political pressure to not disclose fairly and objectively collected quality ranking data undermines the core value of competition and discredits those who excel.

Most egregiously, the association announced at its award ceremony that every farm submitting a sample will receive a certificate imprinted with only the positive cupping characteristics of their coffee — criticism and constructive comments would arrive separately in a private letter.

In a contest where everyone is a winner, what is the incentive to improve? Are Hawaii’s farms submitting coffees to improve their chances of survival in competition with others from around the world or are they just looking for a shiny new plaque to place on the wall of a visitor center to (falsely) impress the next boatload of uneducated tourists?

The lack of transparency at this year’s event embarrassingly proclaims to the specialty coffee industry that farmers from Hawaii still see no difference in achievement and participation. We hope that the HCA membership will soon recognize what professional coffee buyers already know: all that glitters is not gold.

— Find out more:

UPDATED, 2 a.m. Monday, July 11

Rumors surface that, under pressure from contestants, the HCA will release the top 10 scores in a press release. If so, Coffee Strategies will post that list as soon as possible.

UPDATED 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, July 12: HCA posts 2011 Hawaii cupping contest results to its website. The document does not include top 10 scores or statewide ranking.

4 Responses to “Rusty’s tops at Hawaii Coffee Association again”

  1. Michael says:

    What are you implying with this crass Special Olympics comment? On one level, there is no difference between Olympics and Special Olympics, awards are given to those that use their God given abilities as best as they can!

    I find it highly insulting that you draw this parallel including The Special Olympics and its participants as part of your criticism of a coffee taste judging. You should have more sense and Hawaii 24/7 should have more sense than to pick up this insensitive article.

    • Ari says:

      Guess this sentence had been now edited out by the author after Michael pointed it out: “… farmers from Hawaii still see no difference in medals awarded by the Olympics and Special Olympics; no difference in achievement and participation.”

      Certainly rubbish and offensive! The author appears to be miffed for not being invited to lecture the farmers with such ‘professional’ opinions like he did at previous Hawaii Coffee events. I doubt he’ll get invited in the future either.

  2. Despite seeming rather straightforward, this site’s publisher believed that some of its readers would be unable to grasp the Special Olympics / Olympics analogy and misconstrue its meaning to liken Kona farmer with Special Olympians, so it was removed from this version of the article. I will be certain to use smaller words and less complex concepts for Hawaii247 readers in the future.

    • Baron says:

      Aloha Andrew. I’m Baron Sekiya. I’m the Founder, Publisher, Webmaster and Visual Journalist for Hawaii 24/7.

      I believe you missed the point of the original reply to this article which I though was pretty clear, so although I would normally not post this outside of an email, I feel that an answer to your comment was needed since it is public.

      The original reply wasn’t about a slight to Kona Coffee Farms but to the hard working athletes who compete in Special Olympics events. As the webmaster for the Special Olympics West Hawaii website which I’ve hosted for years pro-bono I too did not think the analogy was fair or justified.

      Both the Olympics and Special Olympics hosts athletic games for participants who’s goal is to do their best when participating. Their best in athletics, their best in sportsmanship and their best representing where they come from. The Olympic Committee doesn’t take lightly to any event using the word ‘Olympics’ so they too recognize the participation and achievements of athletes participating in Special Olympics.

      I applaud athletes in numerous events held here on the Big Island and beyond. If you are going to compare the Olympics to Special Olympics based upon some level of athleticism or conditions for athletes then why stop there? Ironman vs. Lavaman Triathlons? Ultraman vs. Ironman Triathlons? FIFA Soccer vs. AYSO? Olympians who hold world records vs. Olympians that didn’t break records but won gold medals?

      I was the one who pulled the article above until the change was made and if the message was not relayed to you about the problem properly then my apologies. We welcome articles from our community and comments from our community because we love our community here.

      Pahoa’s own Louie Perry III brought home three gold medals from the Special Olympics World Summer Games in Athens, Greece this year.

      Perry represented Pahoa, the Big Island, Hawaii and the USA well in those games.

      As for the lack of disclosing critical notes by judges on coffee samples I don’t think I’ve ever seen Olympic judge’s notes made public though we see a lot of commentary by those covering the Olympics. Scores yes, notes no.

      I think you make a good point, without needing any analogies, about some transparency being needed in the scores.



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