The island of Moloka’i: a quiet dash between two boisterous sentences, Oahu and Maui. This small island of 7,500 residents has one 150-acre (57 hectares) plantation and a mill in the village of Kualapu’u. It is the only source of 100% Molokai coffee.
Molokai grows Red Catuai, which was selected in the mid 1980s for its superior quality and compatibility with local growing conditions. These Arabica coffee trees are rooted in the vivid red earth of the central island’s upper slopes.
Kualapu’u is the traditional name for this area, “sweet potato hill”. The sweet potato (‘uala) is a staple food of Hawaiian culture, grown just about everywhere that the land was too dry to support taro (kalo). As the name suggests, this land has been fertile farm country for a long, long time.
The plantation is located in the town of Kualapu’u on Farrington Highway, quite visible from Route 470 (“highway” means two-lane country road on Moloka’i!). The plantation also has an Espresso Bar & Deli, a unique gift shop and a self-guided tour display.
History of Coffee on Molokai
1980s: A group of local businessmen along with some Brazilian consultants set out to look for an ideal location to grow high quality Arabica Beans in Hawaii. After a few years of research throughout the Hawaiian Islands, Kualapu’u, Moloka’i was chosen as the best location.
1988: The Plantation was further developed with a 1/2 acre experimental field, which later became the source of the seeds. The soil was reclaimed and miles of irrigation lines were installed along with windbreaks of Wiliwili and Norfolk Island Pine trees. The Plantation sits in a micro-climate that is unique for its intense red volcanic soil, rich in minerals and the fields are surrounded by a 1.5 billion gallon reservoir, which serves the Kualapu’u and Ho’olehua agricultural plains.
At its peak, the Plantation had a total of 600 acres (243 hectares) under cultivation with 640,000 producing coffee trees. Today there are well over 300 acres (120 hectares) planted with 375,000 producing trees.
1993: The first commercial harvest was accomplished and the branding of Muleskinner (a natural dry), Malulani (a washed Arabica), and Molokai Island Princess (vanilla infused) was established.
2001- 2003: Another company managed the Plantation and the fields were let go.
2004 ~ 2014: Mike Atherton and Albert Boyce from Manteca, California, purchased the non-operational coffee fields and re-vitalized the gift shop and the espresso bar.
2015: There are 150 acres (57 hectares) currently in production, of which 22 acres (9 hectares) are are being farmed organically. The plantation continues to expand its product line and now produces more than a dozen brands of specialty coffees from Hawaii origins.