Day 8: Coffee Tasting on the Kona Coffee Belt
Breakfast was again at the condo, eating all the delicious fruit we bought at the farmer’s market. After breakfast, we hopped in the minivan for our series of stops through the Kona Coffee belt. We didn’t make reservations at any location but basically stopped whenever we saw a sign offering free samples or tours. Some places we went to were: Greenwell, Bayview, UCC to name a few. Greenwell had a nice informative tour. We saw how the coffee beans were harvested from the “cherry” stage all the way to the cup. There were a ton of samples to try from too. If you have a chance, try some kona red, which is an antioxidant juice made with the coffee cherry fruit that surrounds the bean. It’s similar to cranberry mixed with prune juice. It’s supposedly super healthy. My sister liked this because well, she doesn’t drink coffee like the rest of us! So needless to say, she didn’t really care for the tastings, but she liked the tours and spent her time taking pictures of us tasting coffee.
We stopped at a few places in Holualoa, Kealakekua, and Captain Cook, including the Donkey Balls store, which sells gourmet chocolate covered mac nuts with clever names such as Dirty Balls (rolled in cocoa), Salty Balls (rolled in sea salt), and Blue Balls (in blue colored white chocolate)…you catch my drift. A little gimmicky, but lots of different flavors and combinations and they also make great gifts. I work in a team full of guys and brought back a few bags, and they all got a kick out of the names…and the chocolate is damn good too.
A surprising find was UCC Coffee’s tasting room. It’s small, and the tours aren’t too exciting, but the tasting room is new and has fabulous views. Also the tasting is served on real china cups, and not paper or Styrofoam cups which made it all the more special. Oh yeah and the coffee is really great too. This is where picking up those touristy magazines pay off, as we got a coupon for a free cup of homemade kona coffee ice cream that was just out of this world. It was a great treat that day. Even my coffee-hating sister liked the ice cream.
We also stopped at the Painted Church, which is a small little church where the interior has been painted with colorful murals. It was cute, yet a bit eerie…maybe because the skies were darkening. It was going to rain soon!
We passed by the Kona Historical Society and my mom was kind of bummed we missed out on the portugese cheap propecia bread baking event (happens every Thursday), but I told her how it would pretty much be a half day event and we’d have missed out on a lot of coffee tasting so she didn’t seem too sad after that. Next to the historical society there was another tasting room which seemed to have the most samples, Royal Kona Coffee Museum – it’s a red building where you go upstairs and there is a large gift store and a coffee “museum”. Lots of coffee samples out back, and also samples of rum cake which was yummy. It was raining at this point so it was nice to just chill with a hot cup of coffee.
At this point it was almost sunset and all the coffee farms were closing for the day. Wow – couldn’t believe coffee tasting took up an entire day! I guess all the coffee meant we were still wired. No worries, it was off to Sam Choy’s new restaurant in Keauhou for dinner. Sam Choy’s Kai Lanai is located on a hill next to a strip mall and the view is amazing. Luckily it stopped raining at this point so we could get a glimpse of the water during sunset. I can’t believe this used to be a former Wendy’s location…it had 5-star views!
We started with a free soup and salad appetizer and coconut bread. The soup looked like paste, but it had great flavor. I can’t really describe it, but it was maybe a potato/turnip bisque? The salad was great, mixed field greens and a zesty dressing. We got a seared ahi tuna poke appetizer for the table, which was good, but I prefer my poke to be raw. We each got an entrée that was beautifully presented, complete with fresh island flower garnishes. Some highlights were the mahi mahi, and the Ono served on Okinawan blue potato gnocchi. Oh and the rib eye is pretty good, but note that it’s served in a creamy mushroom sauce. I thought the food was pretty good although not the best pacific rim we’ve had, but the presentation is really pretty. Service was excellent. I’d return on another trip.
After dinner, my sister wanted to go shopping – so we headed to Kailua Kona to walk around. It was fun, glad the stores were open late so we’d have something to do. Plus we had so much coffee…we couldn’t sleep! Although we certainly needed it as we were looking at a looong drive down south tomorrow…on Day 9 we visit the volcano!