Coffee Farm

February 6, 2016

Hi Everyone,


The concept was simple. We wanted to move to where we would like to live for the rest of our lives, and then find a way to live there. We decided to move to Hawaii and buy a coffee farm.


We had been moving from one side of the globe to the other because of my job. We moved wherever the opportunity existed as U.S. multinational corporations explored the far end of the emerging markets in search of growth. Initially I was sent from the Home Office to work at a foreign branch. Other times, I went to work in the foreign branch directly and the only time I spent in the Home Office was for the interviews. Sometimes, I felt like as if I were an offshore drill worker, except I was wearing a suit and tie.


When we moved to my new job, we typically had one week to find the best apartment we could find before we relocated to the new city. This time, as we thought about the next phase of our lives, we wanted to find a place where we would be comfortable for a long time and learn to live with the land, community and other like minded people who decided to live there. What we did was secondary to where we wanted to be, so we thought. We had some money saved up and the kids’ college tuitions were already paid for. Surely we could find something to do in Hawaii to live a modest life. We imagined how wonderful life will be if we could live on the most beautiful island.


It was 2004 and the Hawaii real estate market was super hot. There was a huge inflow of retirees from California to Hawaii, who suddenly found a small fortune selling their California home, now moving to Hawaii to find a new home in paradise. If they did not like the first island that they happened to descend upon, move to the next island in a couple of years as you made a handsome profit on the first Hawaiian house in the meanwhile. Along with the California retirees, there was so much money moving to Hawaii that it pushed up the real estate market ever higher. People were buying new condominiums off the blue print and selling them for a profit before the building was completed. Highly speculative markets brought even more speculative people. It was evident that Oahu and Maui markets were too hot for my taste. The Big Island of Hawaii seemed to be the last frontier where one could buy a piece of land at a reasonable price.


The idea of buying a coffee farm in Hawaii seemed crazy, but there was some alluring feel to living off the land you owned. Diane had been an avid gardener and we thought that it could not be that hard to grow coffee in Hawaii. You always have the sun. Figure out where water will come from and anything will grow. We found out that the Kona region of the Big Island of Hawaii was where people grow the famous Kona coffee. This small area of the island always had showers as the moisture picked up by the convectional air flow from the ocean was squeezed out by the steep hills and dumped rain drops on the hill side. Good coffee land is very limited on the island, which put a cap on the annual production of coffee beans. With limited production, demand for Kona coffee outpaced the supply and it sold out every year. If you could grow, they would buy.


This was also the time when the internet was becoming a real commerce platform and people were starting to use Ebay for business. We thought that we could grow coffee, process them, roast them and sell them directly to the end consumers around the world on the internet. Coffee cherry harvest was going for $1.15 per pound, but the roasted beans were being sold to the tourists for $27 per pound. In a super market in Tokyo, Kona coffee was going for as high as $40 per pound. The closer to the end consumers, the more value was added. Similar to Chateau for wine, if you control growing coffee, processing, roasting and all the way to bagging to maintain a certain standard, it is called “Estate Coffee”, sound of which had tone of success worthy of pursuit. Surely this is something we wanted to do.


You can dream about it as much as you want, but there was limited amount of information on the internet about how to become a coffee farmer. So, we decided to move to Hawaii first. Why not? Nothing like seeing, hearing and smelling the actual thing. We spent a couple of weeks doing what the vacationers do, and then started looking for a coffee farm to buy.


We went to look at several coffee farms. Some farms were producing a Champion Coffee, the designation you earned by winning an annual cupping contest. Some were organic, meaning some sort of co-habitation arrangement with ducks and donkeys. Others were abandoned coffee farms that looked more like the Amazon jungle than a farm. We looked at some untouched land and entertained the idea of tilling the soil and planting new coffee plants, i.e. a 3-year plan. Some progressive coffee farmers were growing new hybrid coffee seedlings which had good resistance to certain natural diseases and testing grafting techniques to combine the strength of two spices. It looked like there were lots of interesting things going on and many people pushing the boundaries. If you can imagine, you can make it happen.


What happened after that? Well, we’ll tell you the rest of the story the next time you are at the inn.


Don’t move to an island if you have never been there… Come to Ormsby Hill instead…


In pursuit of the best island to live…


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