The keys to roasting rare coffees

Holly Szakal
October 30, 2023
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In recent years, producers have begun differentiating themselves by growing rare coffees, such as Gesha, Sidra, and Pink Bourbon, to name a few. While it is certainly challenging to grow some of these varieties successfully, there are benefits to doing so – including higher prices in some cases.

For specialty coffee roasters, the ability to offer consumers a variety of rare coffees can help boost sales and brand recognition. Beyond this, it can help introduce their customers to coffees they’ve yet to come across, and are unlikely to find by themselves. 

To learn more about the keys to roasting rare coffees, I spoke with Miguel Meza, the owner of Paradise Coffee Roasters based in Hilo, the Big Island of Hawaii.

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Bringing rare coffees to Hawaiian consumers

In 2002, a humble journey began on the shores of the island, with a simple yet audacious mission: to bring the essence of paradise directly to coffee lovers’ cups. This led to the birth of a brand that would transform the way Hawaiians savour coffee. 

Before launching his roast-to-order coffee brand, Paradise Coffee Roasters, Miguel worked as a barista. “Back in those days, coffee fresher than 3 to 4 weeks old was something I rarely experienced. More so, the times I did work with it, it was clear the freshness of roast was not of high importance,” he explains. 

This lack of prioritising freshness fuelled Miguel’s desire to provide locals with fresh, high-quality coffees, and Paradise Coffee Roasters was born. The brand began by offering fresh roasted, rare coffees to home consumers through its online store. This developed into a flagship tasting room adjacent to the brand’s roastery in 2020.

The tasting room at Paradise Coffee Roasters has provided fresh flavour to the Hawaiian palette, where specialty coffee shops are still emerging. Research shows the majority of Hawaiian coffee consumers tend to opt for traditional American coffee chains, such as Starbucks. Notably, with one Starbucks location for every 12,000 Hawaiian citizens, it’s no wonder why it’s the default choice for those who have yet to truly understand the importance of rare specialty coffee.

“At our tasting room, we sell bags of freshly roasted coffee and offer a variety of coffees by pour-over,” Miguel explains. “We use Cafec flower drippers and abaca filters, and all of our coffee is ground with a Baratza Forté grinder.

“Beyond this, we offer three free daily pour-over samples of our Hawaii-grown offerings,” Miguel adds. “Plus, we offer three cold brew offerings to taste, which typically include a Hawaii coffee, a decaf option, and an internationally grown coffee.” 

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The first to offer single-origin robusta coffee subscriptions

Hawaii has a unique selling point for the specialty coffee industry. Due to its location, it can provide an exceptional cup of coffee from farms located just a few miles away.

Wanting to bring more diverse alternatives to non-arabica species, the brand began offering robusta as a key element in their first espresso blend. Notably, since 2005, Paradise Coffee Roasters has offered robusta coffees as single-origin choices.

In 2023, Paradise Coffee Roasters launched the world’s first single-origin robusta coffee subscription. This love for robusta options stems from the first relationship the brand ever built with a coffee producer – a robusta grower named Nishant Gurjer of Sethuraman Estates.

Miguel understands this relationship between local farms and hand-poured baristas on a profound level. Having moved to Hawaii to further develop the quality of the then-nascent Kaʻū growing region, he worked with coffee farms hands-on.

This experience helped Miguel better understand coffee quality and develop best practices for post-harvest handling. In turn, this has helped growers in the region further increase the quality of the coffee they were providing.

From his learnings in Hawaii, Miguel began consulting producers in many other countries, such as Thailand, Yunnan, Taiwan, Jamaica, and Ecuador. Many of these producers have since become suppliers for Paradise Coffee Roasters.

The brand now purchases Hawaiian coffee cherries and processes them in-house. The team uses proprietary methods, further developing techniques to utilise yeasts and bacteria from the wine industry, such as its signature Champagne Natural.

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Rare coffees: Take a world tour

The island often organises tours that highlight rare coffees. The events focus on highlighting coffees of uncommon origins, varieties, and species, as well as top coffees from green coffee auctions.

Paradise Coffee Roasters views Hawaii as its home base for education and experimentation. Additionally, the brand is dedicated to sharing its learned techniques with its team and producers in less fortunate countries.

“An advantage to roasting on the island of Hawaii is that we always have access to fresh coffee, and our employees have the opportunity to learn about coffee production in a hands-on way,” Miguel explains. 

“Once a year, we take a company field trip to a local farm to harvest and process coffee so everyone who works for us can see all the steps of the process and the differences between varieties in the field,” he adds, highlighting the importance of education in the coffee industry.

“This way, our team can taste the difference between the cherries, smell the coffee blossoms, and better understand where flavours, both positive and negative, can come from.” The team recently travelled to a farm in Kona to harvest Liberica cherries: a species known as rootstock for purposes, usually planted on farms prone to root-knot nematodes.

This style of education keeps Miguel’s baristas motivated to continue the mission to provide the freshest and rarest coffees year-round.

Paradise Coffee Roasters aims to offer coffees as fresh from the date of harvest as possible. Notably, the brand typically focuses on northern hemisphere offerings for one half of the year and southern hemisphere coffees for the other half. 

Coffees grown in Hawaii differ due to the variety of climates and altitudes on the island. However, its locally grown coffees are roasted and served fresher than most roasters anywhere in the world can offer, with an average timeframe of 1 to 3 months from the time of harvest.

The mission to transform the coffee culture of Hawaii has become a journey for Miguel and his team that continuously grows and evolves. It’s a mission that mixes tradition with innovation, education with passion, and the beauty of the Hawaiian landscape with the allure of a perfect cup of coffee.

When it comes to showcasing rare coffees, we at MTPak Coffee understand the importance of high-quality packaging. This is why we offer a full range of eco-friendly coffee packaging options, including compostable coffee pouches, recyclable coffee bags, and biodegradable coffee packaging options. 

Additionally, we allow our customers to customise coffee packaging to their business specifications using eco-friendly digital printing technology. 

Images courtesy of Paradise Coffee Roasters

For more information on sustainable packaging for rare coffees, contact our team

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