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Old 08-29-2011, 06:42 PM
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I recently returned from a ten day trip to Hawaii (my first) with most of our time being spent on the "Big Island", Hawaiʻi.

Being a big coffee lover, I could not be so close to the district of Kona without visiting a plantation.

The plantation I chose was Mountain Thunder, a plantation run by the Bateman family, headed by Trent Bateman, former mechanical engineer, now coffee expert and award winning coffee producer:



Looking West from the highway, parts of the Kona Coast look as pretty as this ...


... but much of it looks like this, not very inviting.


Looking East across the same highway we see Mount Hualālai.
At first sight, I couldn't believe that a drive of less than thirty minutes up that mountain
would put me in a "cloud forest" (encased in clouds at least part of every day).
I couldn't even see any roads up there from this distance ...


... but here we are at the entrance to the Mountain Thunder coffee plantation (3200 ft. alt.).
If it were not for those clouds, you would be able to see an incredible panorama of the
Pacific Ocean (looking West).


The plantation processing and storage area is not that large,
although processing is done on a continuous basis.


The heart and soul of the plantation, the coffee tree.
Mountain Thunder has 100,000 of them spread across the mountain.


Coffee trees can get quite tall, but fortunately they are also very flexible.
They can be hooked at the top and bent over for complete harvesting.
Look closely and you can see some Koa trees hiding in the forest.


Only the red beans (called cherries) are truly ready for harvesting.
Some plantations harvest with machines, but the best way to pick
a bag of mature beans is still using skilled pickers with with quick hands and sharp eyes.
Since pickers are paid by the pound, there is obviously temptation to be a little less "selective"
in order to fill the bag faster. Pickers who do that do not last long at Mountain Thunder.



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Old 08-29-2011, 06:45 PM
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Coffee beans can take up to a year to fully mature on the tree.
Mountain Thunder harvests only twice a year, hand picking only the most mature beans,
so there are always beans left maturing on the trees.
The harvested beans are washed, dried, husked, and bagged. Like wine stored in barrels,
these beans are always ready for daily processing between the harvests.



An interesting bean sorting machine that Trent Bateman (Big Kahuna at Mountain Thunder) is showing off to me.
Beans are sorted by their reaction to a precise level of vibration on a table at a precise angle.
Amazingly, they will travel in different directions and go down different slots based on their individual characterististics.

Trent has built or consulted in the design of several innovative machines for processing coffee beans.
I love machines of any kind, and I love to ask questions. Luckily, I seemed to be Trent's favorite kind of tourist.
He's a great guy who didn't mind spending a lot of time with me.



Trent is showing me how another of his unique sorting machines operates.
Color is a great predictor of the quality of taste in a coffee bean (they have no taste at all until roasted).
This sorter has several color cameras programmed to detect the slightest differences in color and sort them accordingly
The beans are sorted again further down the tubes. Flavor is also determined greatly by oil content.
Beans with more oil are heavier. Precisely calibrated air jets blow lighter beans (less oil) off course and down another tube.

The result of all this time consuming sorting is bins of beans of a wide variety of flavor quality.
And one bin containing beans representing the best of the best that they can produce (which Mountain Thunder prices accordingly).

Very few beans are actually discarded in the sorting process. Everything they grow is very drinkable and desirable.
They sell several levels down in quality under their own name, and the rest go to coffee brokers.


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Old 08-29-2011, 10:55 PM
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Of course the roasting is a very important step, even when you're working with the "best of the best beans". Even though computer controlled mass production roasters are commonplace these days, this is another process that Trent chooses to keep at the manual level.

Roasting coffee requires hot air. Typical coffee roasters use the effluent gasses of a burner as the roasting medium. In an attempt to be more efficient some coffee roasters even burn the exhaust gasses and re-circulate this effluent through the drum as the roasting medium. These burned gasses can't help but have some affect the finished taste of the bean.

Trent uses two manually operated Diedrich infrared drum roasters (manufactured in Orange County, CA). Infrared burners produce radiant heat which travels on the same wave length as sun light. Radiant heat warms objects NOT air. As the infrared burners do not produce hot air, the Diedrich has heat exchangers through which is drawn clean ambient room air. The heat exchangers heat this clean air to the temperatures needed for roasting. Once the roaster is at temperature, the heat exchangers allow complete and independent control of a wide range of air velocities/vacuum with very stable temperatures regardless of flame setting. As the air is responsible for 70% of the heat transfer into the bean, the stability of the air temperature makes the use of the air control very predictable. The conductive heat which is the remaining 30% of the energy is used to control the temperature profile.

Through years of experimentation, Trent has developed a roasting routine that maximizes the retension of moisture and oil, driving both to the center of the bean. This routine can only be done manually, continuously making adjustments while watching the roasting stages through a sight glass. Roasting is done in small batches, with the operator never looking away for even a moment (see video below).

Trent's enthusiasm for his work reminds me of Chris Schwarz in a woodworking class. In the photo above he tries to explain the profile of his roasting routine, which is obviousy hard to put into words. Every member of the Bateman family has thoroughly learned this process, but Trent's daughter, Brooke is now considered the plantation's "roastmaster", being responsible for every bean that hit's the ovens.

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Old 09-01-2011, 07:01 PM
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Default Re: Coffee anyone?

Dirty Jobs' Mike Rowe at Mountain Thunder:




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Old 09-01-2011, 08:14 PM
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Thunder Mountain is truly an organic operation (certified in both Hawaii and California), where humans and animals all have their place, and chemicals don't.




These Chinese geese have a voracious appetite for weeds and will make a home anywhere
they are supplied with a watering hole. These watering holes are placed all around the plantation.
In return for their fine buffet of weeds the geese leave plenty of droppings to be tilled into the rich
volcanic soil along with the cast off coffee bean husks.This mixture attracts earth worms, who will
eat every last trace of bean husk in about six months, their droppings further enriching the soil.



Even the most dedicated workers need some time off for relaxation.



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Old 09-01-2011, 08:30 PM
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Default Re: Coffee anyone?

Mountain Thunder. We used to get that in New Hampshire from summer camp food, but not the coffee.

That looks like a great operation in a magical setting. Did you get to sample some freshly roasted & ground coffee?
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Old 09-01-2011, 08:43 PM
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Default Re: Coffee anyone?

That's very cool that the geese do the weeding. And fertilizing. I'm thinking I need one for our yard. And if it laid eggs, so much the better.

And you could eat it the next year...
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Old 09-01-2011, 08:55 PM
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Default Re: Coffee anyone?

Quote:
Originally Posted by Poto View Post

And you could eat it the next year...
To my knowledge, the folks at Mountain Thunder do not eat any of their workers, including the St. Croix goats, who also help with weeding and fertilizing.




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Old 09-01-2011, 08:56 PM
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Default Re: Coffee anyone?

Hmmm. Might be a missed opportunity there. Coffee-infused duck or goat? Yum!
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Old 09-01-2011, 09:26 PM
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Default Re: Coffee anyone?

Quote:
Originally Posted by Wonderwino View Post

... Did you get to sample some freshly roasted & ground coffee?
Yup, in fact I'm drinking some right now. Hmmmmmmmmmm!


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