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Roy’s Coffee, A Royal Kona Sellout

Roy Yamaguchi tells me how he encouraged farmers to grow for Roy's restaurants. Daniel Lane photo.

Roy Yamaguchi tells me how he encouraged farmers to grow for Roy’s restaurants. Daniel Lane photo.


 
I’m a big fan of Roy Yamaguchi. He makes gorgeous food that tastes delicious, and he’s a nice guy. I had the honor of meeting him, and we talked about the challenges of sourcing from local farms and feeding a lot of hungry people. But this morning, as I drink a disappointing cup of Roy’s coffee, I wonder what’s gone wrong.
You may already know that Yamaguchi is an icon in Hawaii. In the 80s, he and 11 other chefs created Hawaii Regional Cuisine (HRC). Before HRC, mom and pop restaurants served the “peasant” food of Hawaii, which is based on plantation-style food. Thousands of people immigrated to Hawaii from places like China, Japan, Portugal, Korea, and the Philippines to work on plantations, and the best of their cultural dishes are enjoyed in restaurants today.
Since Portuguese sausage, beef teriyaki and chicken katsu weren’t considered fine dining, leading resorts hired chefs from around the world to cook in their kitchens. Italian and French chefs imported their fine ingredients from overseas, and prepared dishes inspired by their homeland. The problem was freshness. After traveling thousands of miles, most of the produce arrived wilted or spoiled.
Yamaguchi was a keystone in creating destination food that Hawaii could call its own. He, along with those 11 chefs, worked with local farmers to get the best tasting, freshest ingredients possible. Since they were classically trained, they employed French cooking techniques, and since they were in Hawaii, they used Asian sauces. Hawaii Regional Cuisine is rooted in local ingredients, Asian sauces and European cooking techniques.
Mike and Carol Anne on A Culinary Romp Through Paradise. Marta Lane photo.

Mike and Carol Anne on A Culinary Romp Through Paradise. Marta Lane photo.


Two Fridays ago, Canadians Carol Anne and Michael joined us on our culinary tour, A Culinary Romp Through Paradise. This past Friday, they joined us again on our new agtour called A Taste of Old Kauai. We connected easily over good food, fine cocktails and the beauty of Kauai. They grudgingly left last night at 11 p.m. I’m told that Carol Anne spent her rainy Sunday on the beach, staring at the ocean she was going to miss.
They had been here for five weeks, and build up a warehouse of food. Not wanting to throw it away, they asked us if we wanted it. Not one to say no to free food, I said yes.
As we unpacked three grocery store bags and two small coolers, we were delighted to get this bounty from people who like food. Departing friends have left us with food before: boxes of sugar leaden cereal, imitation maple syrup and wonder bread. Carol Anne and Michael left behind delicacies such as Parmesan cheese (the real stuff), ripe local tomatoes, and a sesame seaweed salad. There was also a 2-pound bag of Roy’s Royal Kona Coffee.
Kona Coffee is a specialty coffee because it’s grown in a small area on Hawaii, the Big Island. The delicate and prized taste of Kona coffee was developed by Japanese farmers about 100 years ago, and the area, or terrior as it’s called in wine circles, is what gives Kona coffee its unique taste. Today, the area is made up of hundreds of small family farms who hand pick coffee cherries at their peak ripeness. If this were Europe, Kona Coffee would be protected with a designation. But is isn’t. Corporate coffee companies can put the Kona name on the package if it contains 10 Kona coffee beans in every 100. Ten percent blends are cheap to produce and give the unsuspecting buyer the impression that they will soon be brewing a cup of coffee grown in Hawaii. What the buyer doesn’t realize, is that 90-percent of the coffee beans are imported.
A 2-pound bag of Roy's coffee. Daniel Lane photo

A 2-pound bag of Roy’s coffee. Daniel Lane photo


 
The Hawaii Coffee Company produces Roy’s, which is emblazoned with a seal that says, “Royal Kona, Coffee For Royalty”. As required by Hawaii law, 10% Kona coffee is prominently displayed. But for some reason, we still think it’s Kona coffee.
Roy’s coffee is void of character and personality. It’s flat, bitter and forgettable. In fact it’s so bad, Dan dumped it out and brewed a pot of our regular coffee, which is not Kona because at an average of $25 a pound, it’s not in our budget. The rest of the bag of Roy’s “Kona” ground coffee went into the compost bucket.
If you’d like to buy Kona coffee, look for the 100 percent Kona coffee label. Otherwise, just but your favorite kind. If you’d like to buy coffee that was grown on Kauai, we have three wonderful estates. At Kauai Coffee, I recommend taking the self guided tour and buying their premium coffee that’s only sold at the gift shop. Moloaa Bay Coffee has won the Hawaii Coffee Association Cupping Contest for Kauai Island in 2009 and 2010. Blair Estate Coffee is certified organic, handpicked, and grows just up the street from where we live.
It’s alarming to me that Yamaguchi would throw Kona farmers under the bus and trade on his good name as well as the beloved state of Hawaii. It reminds me of the commercial Rick Bayless did for Burger King.
 

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