If Kakaako is any indication, the local coffee shop scene is booming. At Salt at Our Kaka‘ako in particular, on a single block you’ll find no less than five coffee establishments.
Start a stroll on Auahi Street at the Keawe Street end of the block, and you’ll hit Insomnia Espresso Coffee, a favored lunch spot famous for Vietnamese plates and pho. Two dozen steps beyond, there’s Arvo, inside the Paiko plant shop, where both coffee and Aussie-style foods are on the menu.
Head 30 or so steps toward Ala Moana Boulevard to find 9Bar HNL, where the emphasis stays fixed on coffee (with a selection of fresh-baked goods for good measure). A few steps in the same direction takes you to Starbucks, or get back on Auahi to find Morning Brew, which boasts an extensive brunch menu.
>> Coffee fruit: The flesh surrounding the coffee bean.
>> Single-origin coffee: Unblended coffee from a single country, region or farm.
>> Tasting notes: “Bright” indicates noticeable acidity; “smooth” refers to a lack of bitterness and acidity.
“We’re developing a community … and coffee brings people to a developing area,” said Gary Evora, senior assets manager at Kamehameha Schools, explaining the logic behind the coffee cluster. “We saw the differentiation between (the shops). Arvo offers unique blends and unique food offerings, for example. Starbucks is a mainstay; it’s a great draw for the area.”
Take a walk around Salt on any given day and you’ll see Evora is right. The area bustles with street traffic, cafe seats are filled and there are lines at the counters.
Coffee expert Shawn Steiman, author of “The Hawai‘i Coffee Book” and owner of Daylight Mind Coffee Co. on Hawaii island, estimates there are 80 to 90 shops statewide, with room for growth.
>> Cold brew: Coffee brewed by steeping the grounds in room-temperature or cold water for at least 12 hours.
>> Espresso: Strong coffee brewed by forcing pressurized water through grounds.
>> AeroPress: A specific method of brewing in which ground coffee is placed on a filter in a syringelike cylinder. Water is poured over the grounds, and a plunger is used to force the liquid through the filter into a vessel.
>> French press: Ground coffee is placed in a French press pot, hot water is poured over the grounds, and the grounds are steeped, then pressed to the bottom of the pot with an attached plunger. Coffee is served from the pot.
>> Pour-over: Hot water is manually poured over grounds. The liquid passes through a filter into a cup.
>> Nitro cold brew: Cold-brew coffee infused with nitrogen, which lends richness and a creamy head, like Guinness draft beer.
“There’s an increased interest in coffee,” Steiman said. “There’s a trend in general, because of the foodie and farm-to-table movements, that encourages people to have more awareness about quality and taste — and a willingness to spend money on it.”
A handful of folks in the biz helped spotlight a few trends and goings-on surrounding Hawaii’s obsession with coffee.
COFFEE WITH CLARITY
At 9Bar HNL, coffee is “a craft, an art, not just a caffeine fix,” said barista Marisa Buhr. That intention is displayed in a menu designed to accentuate the intricacies of the beans. Coffee drinks with milk, for instance, are served with sparkling water, to cleanse the palate between sips.
“Milk layers on the tongue, so as you drink the tongue is less sensitive,” Buhr explained. “A sip of sparkling water allows you to re-experience that first sip.”
9Bar has created an espresso blend specifically for those milk drinks. Single-origin coffees, meanwhile, are water-based, which allows the notes and flavors to shine through.
The Cloud 9 Trio ($7.50) shows off 9Bar HNL’s repertoire, comprising a shot of espresso made with the single-origin coffee of the day, a cortado (2 ounces espresso and 2 ounces milk) and a sparkling juice made in-house.
ANY WAY YOU WANT IT
While Kai Coffee Hawaii, with locations in downtown Honolulu and Waikiki, serves all the espresso- based drinks you’d expect, customers can choose to have their coffee prepared using one of three other brewing methods.
MAKE YOUR OWNTry your hand at cold brewing with this cold-brew coffee concentrate recipe from James Beard Award-winning food expert Lynne Rossetto Kasper:
>> Take 1 pound medium-grind coffee. Add 10 to 11 cups of cold water.
>> Leave it on the counter overnight. Strain in the morning.
>> For hot coffee, add hot water to taste; for iced coffee, ice and water or milk.
The French press produces a brew with lots of body and prominent natural coffee oils, said Natalie Suiter, owner of Kai Coffee with her husband, Sam. An AeroPress delivers a cup with a clean taste and all the natural flavors of the coffee, while the pour-over yields the smoothest cup, she said.
Kai Coffee features a lineup of single-origin Big Island and Maui coffees, plus a signature house blend using all-local beans. Suiter said the shops also serve single-origin coffees from Colombia and Brazil, specifically for their local customers.
“I think people here are already familiar with Hawaii coffees, so we bring those in so they can taste them,” she said.
Meanwhile, at Morning Brew cafe, the dessert menu provides ample opportunities for great pairings with coffee.
A matchup of the vegan, gluten-free chocolate dune cake with the Sunrise Blend espresso latte provides balance between the rich chocolate of the cake and the light roast of the coffee, said Sreela Johnson, manager of the Kakaako location. The cake’s subtle sweetness is delicious with the creamy, milk-based coffee.
A vegan, gluten-free, sugar-free oat cake and a dark-roast Sumatran latte is a symbiotic pairing, Johnson said. While the coffee is full of body and depth, it still allows the flavors of the light oat cake to shine through. “Neither overpowers the other,” she said.
Finally, an oft-requested pairing is the Maui Mokka pour-over with the cafe’s lemon bar. The bar’s tanginess is well balanced by the subtle flavor of the local coffee, she said.
NITRO COLD BREW
It’s all the rage now, but one of the earliest venues to serve nitrogen-infused cold brew is Kakaako Kitchen at Ward Centre, chef Russell Siu’s casual eatery. Back in 2015, office manager Korina Hanohano-Jung’s hubby saw a TV segment on nitro coffee, prompting the staff to visit a few bars that were already serving the brew in Hawaii.
“We thought it was fantastic,” Hanohano-Jung said. “The nitrogen boosts the caffeine a bit, and it adds a creaminess so you don’t need cream. You don’t need sugar because it’s not bitter — that’s from the cold brewing.”
The nitro preparation allowed Kakaako Kitchen to reintroduce customers to Siu’s line of coffee. They serve a taster ($1.50) and an 8-ounce cup ($4.95).
“We have regulars come for it all the time,” Hanohano-Jung said.
Christine Coleman’s curiosity was piqued when she heard about a health supplement made with green (unroasted) coffee beans. Coleman sells Kona coffees under various labels, based on the Big Island.
So she sun-dried green Kona coffee beans and triple-ground them to produce a tea. A cup has about 20 percent of the caffeine of a cup of coffee.
“We were impressed with the taste,” she said. That led to a nine-month test. “People were focused and happy but not caffeinated. They said it was like ginseng in Japan or kava kava in the Pacific.”
For Coleman, a diabetic, a 4-ounce shot keeps her sugar from spiking for two hours.
She added her coffee bean tea ($20 for an 8-ounce bag) to her Buddha’s Cup line that includes pure Kona coffee and other items.
Coleman attributes the flavor to the quality of the bean.
“This is a high-elevation green Kona bean. We promote high-mountain Kona coffee — there is a difference in flavor depending on elevation,” she said. “This tea confirmed what we already knew.”
COLD BREW, AND IN A BOX
Brewing coffee in hot water is an efficient process, but there’s no reason you really need to use heat for brewing, said coffee expert Steiman. With cold brewing, you trade off time (ground coffee is soaked for hours in unheated water) to arrive at a coffee concentrate that’s less acidic, friendly for sensitive tummies.
Cold brews now have a place on menus everywhere, and they’re also something you can make at home (see recipe below). Another option: bottled versions.
KonaRed, the company that utilizes Kona coffee fruit to produce antioxidant juices, sells five flavors of bottled cold brew. And as of April, it’s taken the concept of boxed wine and applied it to its cold brew, selling 3-liter boxes ($12.99) at Hawaii Costco locations.
“Sales are good,” said Curt Smith, brand and sales manager of the Pacific region.
Smith said that while the product is not a wellness beverage, it still reflects the KonaRed brand.
“It’s dairy-free, gluten-free, non-GMO and kosher. It’s a clean product,” he said. “We put our berry extract back in the coffee, and while it’s not an antioxidant coffee, it adds a smoother flavor.”