When we booked the VRBO on the Big Island of Hawaii back in the summer, I guess I didn’t realize I was signing up for an eco-tourism experience. We were taken in by the images of the infinity pool overlooking the Pacific in the distance, the dramatic sunsets and the spacious accommodations. But our getaway was about more than views and getting some sun; during our stay we learned a lot about Hawaii’s history and its Kona coffee culture.
Kona View Estate offers a 2 bedroom, 2 bath Vista Suite for four people that has a well-appointed kitchen, comfortable sitting area and tremendous views of Kailua Kona down 1,500 feet below. They also have a 1 bedroom cottage adjacent to the suite for rent as well. The owners live in the semi-connected home next door. Rather than finding their presence to be intrusive, it had its benefits!
Typically, when we visit Hawaii, I love being next to the ocean to listen to the crashing waves lulling me to sleep. I think that is part of the feeling of a tropical getaway. But I have to say, I think staying “up-country” on the steep volcanic slopes of Hualalai was an even better experience.
We were surrounded by a two-acre Kona coffee farm, the random rooster crowing in the distance, colorful small birds and butterflies speckled our views of the Pacific coastline down below, and mountain breezes gently swept the deck cooling us from the warm island sun. Every night, the sunsets were broad and expansive, filling the sky with a fiery spectrum as the sun sank beneath the Pacific’s edge. Nighttime brought the sweet chirping of the coqui tree frogs, and the twinkling gemlike lights of Kailua Kona below.
Owners Randy and Atsumi Phillips offer a few extras to their guests. Their concierge service provided us with a stocked refrigerator and pantry per our emailed grocery list upon arrival. This was such a great benefit following our six-hour flight from Seattle and half hour drive to the property. We were able to cook dinner and just chill for the first evening while we did some research and made plans for the rest of the week. They also included a bag of their award-winning coffee, so we could brew our own throughout our visit.
Randy greeted us when we arrived, showed us the place and concluded by saying he would have a freshly-brewed carafe of their own Kona View Coffee, ready and waiting for us outside our door promptly at 7:15 am. I think Brad particularly perked up over this being a habitual coffee drinker.
And right on time, our coffee magically arrived. Brad takes his coffee black – it’s a different flavor from dull Starbucks, or a washed-out diner, or a flavored Keurig. It’s deep, and a little bit fruity and tastes kinda…well, natural.
I like mine with lots of milk and sugar, and there was something so special about sipping a cup of fresh Kona coffee, stepping out onto the patio, staring out at the bushes the very beans had been picked from, feeling the cool air, and gazing at the Pacific from above. I started thinking about lifestyles and careers, family and retirement, and how with life, you can carve out the experience that you want with some effort, patience and love.
Brad and I planned our week together. We wanted to go to the Mauna Kea Visitor’s Center at 9,200 ft for the sunset and stargazing, we wanted to go to the famous white sand Hakuna Beach, and the Hawaiian Botanical Gardens and Akaka Falls on the Hilo side. We were hoping to squeeze in a helicopter ride around the island. We also wanted to explore the culture.
One morning we headed to the Kona Historical Society Museum. The museum is very small, but details the amazing history of Kona coffee from its beginning in 1828. There were so many incredible photographs, and details about immigration, the wars, the struggle of the farmers, the laborious process of coffee picking, world economics, and the coffee bean growing cycle. And we happened to be there during the Kona coffee festival. There were daily competitions, events and tasting that we could explore at a discount if we so desired. This prompted us to reach out to Randy to ask him for a tour of his own coffee farm.
Randy met us one morning and gave us background on his two-acre farm. According to their website, their coffee trees are Kona Typica which is a strain of Coffea Arabica. They dry process and grade all sizes of their beans separately and they all go on a gravity table to separate any beans of each size that are not the proper density. They then recombine the top three sizes by the ratio that they came off the tree to make our Estate Blend. They process their cherry three different ways: pulped natural, wet process, wet process/fermented to offer different flavor profiles to their coffee, and are one of only a few farms in Kona to do this.
We were even an audience for a roasting of the beans. Randy and Atsumi have a full commercial workspace which features a Giesen six Kilo drum roaster. Their roasting process is computer aided and they roast to order any day of the week. They also have a coffee of the month club where they will send you coffee on a regular basis.
The honey-colored beans went into the bright red, large Dutch roaster. After several minutes, you could hear the “first crack” of the beans, which sounded faintly like popping popcorn. The fragrance of the roasting beans started filling the small room, with its warmth and sweet bitterness. Atsumi opened the door and dark brown beans poured out. She extended her palm to us containing two freshly-roasted beans for us to taste. The warm bean tasted like coffee, of course, but also like chocolate, and chiles and oranges. They said they would package up our coffee for us to take home.
Brad and I have stayed at about a dozen VRBOs over the years, but I think this was my favorite. It’s not only the gourmet kitchen and the spaciousness, the views of the coast from the infinity pool, the hot tub at sunrise every morning and at night under the stars, the sound of the little tree frogs carried by the mountain breezes. All that was absolutely tremendous in itself. But I think a place that can inspire, and make you dream a bit, and wonder about life and reflect on love and family, all the while encompassing you in a Kona coffee embrace …well, I think that beats an ocean front hotel room any day.