By Anni Caporuscio
It’s one of my long-running jokes about how happy my parents must be that even after all the schooling they put me through, I chose my very first job as my career: coffee.
I’ve been immersed in coffee-shop culture since its modern rebirth in the early 1990s. The work and passion that makes coffee what it is has become a topic I can’t get enough of. It gives me great pleasure to write about Kaua‘i’s newest coffee roaster: Steven Meredith at Imua Coffee Roasters, behind Coconut Marketplace in Kapa‘a.
Steven has a long history working with coffee, from his first exposure in Australia 20 years ago. He saw how much a perfectionist everyone needs to be to make a good product. Later, in California, he worked as a barista and learned a bit of roasting coffee. Within the last few years, he did an intensive course in roasting with award-winning roasters and learned the updated technology and equipment to turn the green coffee bean, an agricultural product, into the cup of coffee we all know and love.
The modern coffee roaster is a machine based on a traditional approach to roasting coffee: You put the beans in the hopper on top, which funnels them into a circular drum. Here, they are turned repeatedly atop actual fire and hot air, which is customized for each phase of the roasting process. They are monitored and released at the right time into a cooling bin that spins them around, a process that’s just as important as the roasting phase. This whole event takes 12-16 minutes. People have been doing it this way at least for a hundred years. But these days, a coffee roaster has a USB hookup so molecular changes in the bean can be monitored. Learning to refine the particular parts of the roasting process brings out the uniqueness of each variety of coffee bean.
Steven pays a ton of attention to the science of roasting and the brewing of the coffee. He encourages the essential intuition that is necessary to know your product, which means, he gets to know the sight, the smell, texture, and character of the coffee through the different phases of roasting and extraction.
Every coffee varietal is different. Every region is different. Even neighboring towns will produce vastly different coffees. It is up to the roaster to pay attention and develop a roast profile to accentuate its characteristics for optimal flavor.
Steven sources exclusively Direct Trade (commerce directly from farmers) and Fair Trade (essentially, a designation that says the farming techniques are kind to the farm workers and ensure that they receive their just dues), mostly from South America and Indonesia. He requests samples and puts them through multiple levels of roasting and then does the “cupping” process. Cupping is an exercise that allows the roaster to break down the flavors into different categories and grade each bean by several elements, including aroma, acidity, sweetness, earthiness, texture, body, aftertaste, mouthfeel and more. It is a similar to wine tasting in that it allows the participants to parse the flavors and identify not only what they like, but why they like.
A lot of the coffees that Imua roasts will have toffee, caramel, nut tones to the flavor, and these are incredibly desirable attributes to coffee. No, there are no flavors added to the coffee, he’s just bringing out the natural tendencies of the bean given to it by the soil and mineral elements of the growing region. Steven roasts his beans from a light to a heavy medium roast; there are no dark or French roasts. Dark roasting will tend to mask a cheaper or less quality coffee, relying on carbon, and then eventually the sugar the consumer will add for taste. Popular palate goes for dark roasts, but there’s so much that can happen with paying attention to the varietals. Like, Imua’s Nicaraguan coffee contains a unique cedar and herb aftertaste. Or the citrus notes you can pick up in the Mexico.
Even Imua’s signature espresso blend, The 42, is a medium roast. Resist, consumer, the traditional view of a shot of espresso as an ounce of liquid coal to drown in sugar water and milk. A real and balanced shot of espresso is heavily researched and tested and embraces a sweetness, a fruit-note, an earthiness, with a caramel twist, and blends well with milk. It is a whole mouth experience, and let me tell you, it is GOOD.
Now, I haven’t even touched good brewing practices, good farming, bean storage, or ways to enjoy coffee at home. Nor have I talked about current trends in the coffee industry. Just know that there is a lot of good, honest care that goes into just this one phase of coffee production that allows us all to fully appreciate the good daily brew that gets us out of bed and off into our day.
“Imua” is a Hawaiian word that means “moving forward together,” and Steven at Imua Coffee Roasters encourages you to embrace the outdoor Hawaiian lifestyle and add a little adventure to your day, starting with Imua Coffee. Find him and his no-frills coffee roastery and coffee shop serving coffee and espresso daily next to Islander Resort behind the Coconut Marketplace on Kaua‘i’s Eastside. It’s in the same building as Trees Lounge.
Imua serves fresh roasted coffee and pastries baked by Small Town Coffee (with vegan and gluten free options). Feel free to talk with Steven and his staff about coffee: there’s more to say.
(Disclosure: The author is the owner of Small Town Coffee shop.)
- Anni Caporuscio is a food lover and can be found daily at her Kapa‘a business, Small Town Coffee.