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Like Coffee for Wine

A sommelier takes his palate to coffee growing and roasting

For Duane Harens, who has tasted over a million wines and opened at least 150,000 bottles in his lifetime, it’s only natural that he would apply his well-honed palate to other liquid pleasures.

When he’s not out in his coffee fields, tending to the trees and roasting coffee, he’s brewing beer and taking home medals in a recent Kona Brewfest homebrew competition. Whether it’s food, wine, beer or coffee, the former head sommelier of the Kahala Hilton and Ritz Carlton Mauna Lani says “tasting is ingrained in my brain.”

It’s all about the appreciation of flavors, no matter in what form. Harens runs his coffee farm, Harens Old Tree Estate, as a one-man show, doing all his own farming, drying, roasting, bagging and marketing. “There’s no wife, girlfriend, no employees,” he says. “Just me.”

Harens coffee
Duane Harens on his coffee farm. Photo from KonaCoffeeFarmers.org
He’s applying his deep understanding of wines to coffee. From the very beginning, when looking for a coffee farm, Harens spent a lot of time seeking out old, established trees. Likening old trees to old vines in wineries, Harens believes that the older trees impart a deeper character into the cup of coffee.

On the Harens Old Tree Estate, the trees live up to the name. They’re some 125 years old, and Harens attributes his 10 years of consistent yields to the age of the trees. “These trees have seen everything,” he says. “They’re less susceptible to the winds of weather…they’re not fickle, they’re noble trees."

Tasting Notes by Chuck Furuya


Master Sommelier Chuck Furuya, wine director of the DK Restaurant Group, worked alongside Harens at the Kahala. He has observed Harens on his coffee farm and explains what makes his coffee so unique:


Konacoffee_350_logo-2
Photo from Kona Coffee Farmers.
In terms of wines, Europe has had centuries of working out what grapes are best suited for which growing areas. Even in the world-class regions, like Champagne, Burgundy and Bordeaux, they have bettered what they had previously been doing through better selection of genetic plant material and vineyard techniques and practices which were either innovated or borrowed from somewhere else in the world. Their specific goal was always to make wine distinctive and unique to their region.

America is just now beginning that process of understanding the complexities of which grape for which climate. I believe the same can be said about the coffees of Hawaii.

In Duane’s case, because of his extensive wine background and passion for wine, he applies many of wine’s concepts to his coffee production, whereas others treat coffee trees as just another plant.

Coffee beans
Coffee beans prior to roasting.
So, first of all, in selecting his farm, he sought older trees. Like a pineapple that becomes smaller, more concentrated, more intense and sweeter the more mature the plant is, similar things happen to grapes on vines and coffee fruit on trees.

Second, his bean drying and roasting is as non-interventional as possible, so he can capture the purity of his bean and his farm in the finished product. His coffee is more about tasting the terroir, intricacy and purity of his beans, rather than the roastedness.

Lastly, rather than separating out the fancy, extra fancy and peaberry, Duane will blend all of the above to make it a unique, distinctive coffee of his farm. To that he will add 10 to 20 percent of the previous harvest, just to add more dimension to his brew.

So it’s not just one thing, it’s a lot of different things that make Duane’s coffee so complex and nuanced.

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