There’s something reassuring about holding a hot cup of coffee and just taking a moment. The biochemical results of even smelling this hot, dark, satiny and magical potion results in the release of dopamine and specific levels of pleasure. No wonder I’ve been experimenting with different coffees.

Along came Hale Kai Lana, Kona coffee. I’ve recently learned much about authentic Kona coffee from co-founder Kelly Edwards.

The Kona coffee growing belt is only a mile wide and 30 miles long at altitudes of 800 to 2,500 feet. Altitude is important because the coffee cannot tolerate extremes in temperature or rainfall. To be called “Kona,” the coffee must be grown only in this district.

As coffee fruit grows and ripens, it has a pulpy flesh, much like cherries. This is where the name coffee cherry comes from. A descriptive word for coffee before it’s processed. Once ripened, it is picked, the fleshy outer layer removed and typically discarded. This is called the pulping process. The remaining coffee bean, actually a seed, is placed in the sun to dry.

Once dried, an outer skin-like coating remains on the “green” coffee beans called the parchment. Coffee beans with the parchment intact can be stored for a year or more in dry, cool surroundings. When beans are ready to be roasted, the parchment is removed and the green beans are then ready to become roasted beans.

Hale Kai Lana’s “Kona in the Raw” is the old Turkish method of processing coffee, whereby the entire coffee cherry with the bean inside is picked and dried. The entire dried cherry and bean are roasted intact creating a smoky finish.

Hale Kai Lana has the green coffee beans shipped to Sand City, California, where they are locally roasted in small batches by Acme coffee roasting. This helps maintain freshness because they roast as needed. Once coffee is roasted it releases gases. This is why it’s important to have it packaged in airtight packaging with a one-way degassing valve. The gas can escape but oxygen cannot enter. It seems that, like wine and olive oil, oxygen is coffee’s worst enemy. It degrades the coffee and causes loss of flavor and aroma. Once roasted, Hale Kai Lana grinds (if requested), packages and ships.

The only difficulty I had in tasting their three coffees was deciding which one was my favorite. I revisited my mug several times. Dark or medium roast and the smoky cherry coffee, I couldn’t pick just one because they were all a pleasure to savor. Nice balances from mild and flavorful to more robust, with a coffee fruit and acid balance that gives a nice roundness to your cup. Kona coffee is a rare delicacy in the coffee world, a much sought after commodity. Hale Kai Lana prides themselves in selling products that are non-GMO, using Fair Trade practices.

Although not currently available at locations in Napa Valley, we can order through Amazon or, better yet, directly from Hale Kai Lana. They would like to have a local presence, if anybody is interested. They do recommend that customers order directly, as the coffee will always be at its freshest. If it is coming directly from them, you will know when it was roasted and they will ship it out the same day if ordered before 3 p.m. The website is HaleKaiLana.com.

As often happens in life, tragedy becomes the reason for reinvention. The Edwards family lived across the street from Gordon Leslie in Hawaii.

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The tsunami from the Tohoku earthquake in Japan traveled to Hawaii where it lifted and swept the Edwards’ home into Kealakekua Bay. The Gordon home was pushed off its foundation and destroyed.

After many discussions Leslie and Edwards decided it was time to help the locals, farmers, processors and pickers, while at the same time preserving a heritage crop. The downturn in the economy forced many farmers to abandon their farms and find jobs in town to support their families. Many farms were in need of rehabilitation.

The meaning of Hale Kai Lana? “Floating House in the Sea.”

In addition to palate-satisfying coffees, Hale Kai Lana also grows macadamia nuts. The same ideal conditions of rich volcanic soil and perfect amounts of rainfall results in seven versions of flavored nuts.

Mangia bene, with a cup of joe.

Diane De Filipi lives in the Napa Valley and leads cooking tours to Italy and Burgundy, France. Visit LetsGoCookItalian.com or ila-chateau.com/cook-italian for information.

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