centsEURoeA lot of sun and a lot of rainA centsEURA
make Kauai a good place to grow many different
fruits, says a member of an orchard-owning family.
on the waves and hiking through the jungle are must-do
activities on Kauai. But to better commune with the
westernmost of the well-populated Hawaiian Islands, I also
wanted to taste the local bounty.
there are great ways to savor what makes Kauai unique
without breaking the bank at gourmet restaurants. There
may be nowhere else on Earth you can visit a coffee farm,
a microbrewery and a cacao farm in such close proximity,
surrounded by lush mountains and sandy bays.
With a bit
more time, you can watch delicate taro chips sizzling in
oil and buy aromatic lychees by the bag.
and I managed all of the above in between naps at the
beach, and our farm-to-table adventures introduced us to
people and places we would have otherwise missed.
agricultural land, agricultural history and agricultural
values,” said chocolate farmer Will Lydgate, whose
relatives have lived on Kauai since the 1800s. “We love
selling what we grow to visitors. The life of the land is
perpetuated in righteousness. That’s our state motto.”
home or on vacation, I reach for coffee when I wake up. I
was born and raised in Seattle, after all.
But I had
never encountered an actual coffee tree until we made a
trek to Kauai Coffee Company’s picturesque plantation by
the sea. Situated near Hanapepe on the island’s south
shore, the land was for 100 years a sprawling sugar estate
owned by the wealthy Alexander and Baldwin families.
company began growing coffee rather than cane on the land
in the 1980s, as sugar plantations across the Hawaiian
Islands were closed down.
sugar started to replace cane sugar,” said Darla
Domingo, who manages the plantation welcome center, where
you can sample a variety of Kauai Coffee brews and join
walking tours to see the red and yellow cherries that
encase the precious beans.
moved here in 1990, there were still five sugar
plantations,” Domingo said. “Now there are none.”
is massive, with 4 million trees covering 3,100 acres
tended to by more than 100 union workers.
company Massimo Zanetti runs the coffee operation, so the
atmosphere is more corporate than homey, and the brews
themselves are less than spectacular. But there was
something magical about strolling down rows of coffee
trees, their waxy green leaves shimmering, within view of
trees need mild sun and rain, they’re mostly cultivated
on shady mountainsides, like the slopes of volcanoes on
Hawaii’s Big Island.
Kauai, a sea breeze does the trick, we learned, straining
to detect some hint of salty spray as we sipped.
For a more
rustic experience, try Hanapepe, a sunbaked little river
town with historic storefronts.
grumbling, we parked outside the ramshackle building with
peeling paint where Dale Nagamine has made taro chips for
root plant is a staple in native Hawaiian cuisine, and
Nagamine’s chips are sliced letter-thin, dusted with
garlic salt, deep-fried and baked.
have heard about poi, the taro-paste dish important in
native Hawaiian culture. I bought some to try at a
beside the door read Taro Ko Chips Factory, but the
timeworn kitchen was barely large enough for Nagamine and
a pal, who were watching football when we arrived.
parents started the business,” Nagamine said. “Then I
use a website or Instagram account to drive business, the
laconic master chipmaker counts on tradition and
with purple, his crunchy snacks are understated yet
the taro in the valley over there. I make the chips and
sell them here,” he shrugged. “That’s about it.”
laid-back option is the Kauai Beer Company brewpub in
Lihue, the southeast-shore town where the island’s
airport is also located.
are top-notch, the grub is tasty and the vibe set by
easygoing owner Jim Greuber is friendly, attracting a mix
of tourists and locals.
popped in for lunch, the other customers included mainland
families and construction workers.
birthday parties, readings, business meetings,” said
Greuber, who was raised in Pennsylvania and began brewing
beer in his garage back in 1978. “Everyone is welcome
and barley are imported, but Greuber and his son, Justin,
write the recipes themselves and brew the beer on-site —
about 650 pints per day.
mainstay is Lihue Lager, while their pride and joy, Black
Limousine, combines a light taste and dark color.
water here on Kauai is conducive to lighter beers,” said
Greuber, who moved to the island in 1996 after a career in
transplants, the brewer admitted, are crowding the island.
such a special place … but don’t tell anyone that,”
CACAO BEANS, ‘BRANCH TO BAR’
lovers should head for the hills above Kauai’s east
shore, where Lydgate raises cacao for chocolate and offers
three-hour “branch-to-bar tours.”
small-scale operation near Kapaa, called Steelgrass Farm
when we took the tour, has since been renamed Lydgate
have recently been begun cultivating coffee in California,
but Hawaii remains the only U.S. state where cacao can be
reliably grown — and there was a real thrill in watching
our guide slice open a bright yellow cacao pod to reveal
the beans inside.
how chocolate came to be and how the sweet stuff gets
Farms beans are grown, fermented, dried and roasted on the
island, then shipped to a chocolatier on Oahu for
the group tour covered other plants grown on Kauai, such
as vanilla and black sapote, a persimmon-like fruit with
pulp like chocolate pudding.
like nature’s jello shot,” suggested our guide, a
surfer from California, as she introduced rambutan fruits
— lychee-like balls with translucent flesh and spiny red
ended with a chocolate taste test, including 10 varieties
from Lydgate Farms and around the world (afterward, I
bought a bar of the estate’s milk chocolate with sea
was too pricey and long. But the chocolate was superb, the
junglelike grounds were beautiful and the idea behind the
farm was intriguing.
says growing cacao is his way to connect with the island,
and he believes artisan chocolate, like specialty coffee,
could turn into a craze as evaluation standards are set.
experiment is part of a broader trend on Kauai, where
visitors also can sip on locally distilled rum or tour a
historic rice mill and taro farm.
wants to eat the good stuff,” he said. “Everybody
wants to pay for products that have meaning.”
MARKETS BRING YOU CLOSER TO THE LAND
markets abound on Kauai and they’re an easy and
enjoyable way to nosh and stock up on local produce.
peruse tables piled high with pineapples, coconuts,
avocados and star fruit for a few minutes or an hour.
For $5 at a
Saturday market in Hanalei on the north shore, I bought a
bag crammed with two dozen rambutan.
struck up a conversation with Matthew Cummings, who
learned how to drive from the seat of the tractor used in
his family’s 10-acre orchard.
out a lot when I was a kid,” Cummings said. “Kauai is
a really good place to grow so many different fruits. We
get a lot of sun and a lot of rain.”
wants a snack, Cummings reaches for soursop fruits —
spiky green ovals with creamy flesh that taste a bit like
markets are important to Kauai residents because they
promote healthful eating habits, he said. Many vendors
sell only organic products.
day, there are markets that pop up around the island,”
popular Saturday market, at Kauai Community College,
features island cheeses, pies and jams.
through the Hanalei market later, I browsed handmade
artwork and clothes. It was a misty morning and a local
musician was singing Hawaiian songs while plucking a
ukulele. Taro leaves planted between the market and the
mountains swayed in the breeze.
with my fruit, I lingered longer than intended, which was
OK. There was nowhere else I had to be.
IF YOU GO
WAKE UP TO
“Coffee on the Brain” plantation tours at Kauai Coffee
Company in Kalaheo are $20 per person and start at 8:30
a.m., Tuesday through Thursday and Sunday. Shorter walking
tours, daily at 10 a.m., noon, 2 p.m. and 4 p.m., are
free. Visit kauaicoffee.com.
miss Taro Ko Chips Factory in historic Hanapepe. Knock on
the screen door to check whether the store is open. Taro,
potato and sweet-potato chips are $5 per bag, cash only.
GRAB A COLD
relaxed beer or three, stop by Kauai Beer Company. The
brewpub’s regular hours are 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., Tuesday
through Saturday. See kauaibeer.com for more information.
cocoa-tree tours at Lydgate Farms run from 9 a.m. to noon,
Monday through Friday. The price is $95 for adults; kids
12 and under are free. The tours include chocolate and
tropical-fruit tasting. More at lydgatefarms.com.
websites maintain farmers market schedules, including
Tasting Kauai: tastingkauai.com/farmers-markets/.
tasting room: koloarum.com/tasting-room/
Rice Mill tour: haraguchiricemill.org/tours/
Foundation Food and Farm tour (on hold during repairs to
Kuhio Highway, which are tentatively expected to conclude
in October): waipafoundation.org/visit/