Mana Up "Meet the Makers": Big Island Coffee Roasters

Big Island Coffee Roasters Talk About the State of the Industry, Counterfeit Coffee, and How a Craigslist Ad Changed Everything

Disclaimer: Big Island Coffee Roasters is known to ruin all other coffee experiences.

“We’ve heard it so many times,” laughs co-founder Brandon von Damitz. “People tell us ‘Now that we’ve had your coffee, we can’t drink the coffee we used to.'"

Jokes aside, Brandon and co-founder Kelleigh Stewart are totally serious about growing, sourcing and roasting some of the world’s most flavorful coffee.

They’ve been pursuing that mission since 2010, when the pair answered a Craigslist ad to purchase a three-acre coffee farm on the remote and wild side of Hawaiʻi Island known as Puna.  

In those early years, the curious couple learned all they could about growing and processing coffee. Meanwhile, they set their roots within the tight-knit community and began connecting with likeminded farmers.

Rebuilding Trust in Hawaiʻi’s Coffee Industry

As a relative newcomer, in 2013, Big Island Coffee Roasters won Grand Champion in the Hawaii Coffee Association’s Statewide Cupping Competition. That award put Puna coffee on the map, and gave Brandon and Kelleigh the confidence to keep going.

It was a particularly sweet accolade given Hawaiʻi’s complicated history with counterfeit coffee. Since the 1990s, so-called “Kona Coffee” has flooded the market, pushed by unscrupulous retailers looking to capitalize on the popularity of Hawaiʻi-grown coffee.

“That really dropped the Kona reputation because most people now question the authenticity of the Kona Coffee they see on the market,” explains Brandon, who adds that some people assume any coffee from Hawaiʻi is “Kona Coffee.” 

Brandon and Kelleigh are working to reverse this trend, starting with their own quality control. In 2017, Kelleigh became the sixth Hawaiʻi resident to earn the Coffee Quality Institute’s coveted Arabica Coffee Q Grader license. That’s a fancy way of saying she can sniff out the highest-grade coffees, down to the finest subtleties. Her in-house expertise leaves no bean unturned.

That premium flavor is now folded into the company’s popular espresso bites bars, which come in three options—classic, sea salt espresso, and latte bar espresso—and look and taste like chocolate, but surprisingly contain none. Instead, these clever confections are made with the company’s award-winning coffee.  


Growing Coffee, Growing Community

In addition to roasting their own, Brandon and Kelleigh partner with neighboring growers to showcase Hawaiʻi’s flavor diversity. 

“We’re always seeking coffees that are really expressive of the terrain—or terroir—and we’re adamant about the quality we’re after,” says Brandon.

By sourcing from local farmers, Big Island Coffee Roasters can prepare small batches that are made-to-order. 

“Put simply, your order comes in, then we roast the coffee,” says Brandon. “This ensures our customers get super fresh coffee that retains its flavors and aromas.” 

Big Island Coffee Roasters is determined to rebuild Hawaiʻi’s coffee reputation through transparency and integrity—and of course by serving up extraordinary flavors. It starts by understanding the source, says Brandon, who is on a first-name basis with each of the two dozen or so coffee farmers he works with

“We’re not simply buyers who sit behind a desk looking at spreadsheets. We spend time in the field talking to our growers and learning about our product from the ground up.”



Also in Letʻs Mana Up Blog

Hawaiian Airlines and Mana Up Elevate Hawaiʻi Entrepreneurs with New Meet the Makers Virtual Series
Hawaiian Airlines and Mana Up Elevate Hawaiʻi Entrepreneurs with New Meet the Makers Virtual Series

HONOLULU – Hawaiian Airlines® Bank of Hawaii World Elite Mastercard® and business accelerator Mana Up are launching a Meet the Makers virtual event series this month to celebrate nine up-and-coming Hawai‘i entrepreneurs and offer viewers special products and promotions.
10 Best Local Gift Ideas for Dad
10 Best Local Gift Ideas for Dad

While it may be hard to encapsulate all the love and appreciation for your dad in just one present, we’re here to help you pick out the perfect gift for him – one that is both practical, yet thoughtful!
10 HOMU Products to Start Your Year off Right
10 HOMU Products to Start Your Year off Right

Happy New Year!  I think most of us are on the same page when we say we’re relieved to say “a hui hou” to 2020!  Mana up your 2021 with some of our top picks at House of Mana Up that are sure to start your year off right.   

Check out 10 of our favorite items we’re loving for the new year!

Join the House of Mana Up Kua Club