Coffee Roaster Tour in Hawaii

To the left of the entrance to the cafe, they are experimenting growing coffee plants.

I recently spent a week in beautiful Hawaii. While my husband was cooped up in a conference, I was seeking out some of the wonderful food-related experiences available on the lush island of Oahu!

Because Hawaii is known for its Kona coffee, I wanted to pay a visit to one of the sources of this liquid gold. I discovered Lion Coffee, the nation’s first coffee roaster and distributor.  I was able to see how they roast and package their coffee, and I learned a lot about coffee history in the U.S.

Lion Coffee was founded in Ohio in 1864 by Alvin Woolson as part of The Woolson Spice Company. Mr. Woolson noticed that green coffee beans, shipped over long distances in questionable conditions, wound up being pan roasted in households, often resulting in burnt bitter tasting coffee. His experience in the spice industry gave way to “fancy roasting,” a more reliable and consistent way of roasting coffee beans.  He then ground the roasted beans and began selling the ground coffee in prepackaged one pound bags.

Woolson launched the first great advertising campaign in history by offering customers “promotions” with purchases–picture cards, pins, holiday items, and other trinkets. His promos created buzz about the product and encouraged customer loyalty. Demand became so great that Lion Coffee began distributing coffee through a mail order company. The mail order business was incredibly successful–so much so that the U.S. Post Office had to come up with a new shipping category for “bulk” shipments!

In their cafe, a display of antique roasting and brewing apparatuses dating between the late 1800’s to the 1920’s shows the evolution of roasting, grinding and brewing techniques.

Lion Coffee was purchased by Jim Delano in 1979 and relocated to Honolulu. They launched a website in 1999 and have been delivering coffee to loyal fans all over the world since then.

The master roasters start every day in the cupping room where they taste the previous day’s roast.

My tour started in the cupping room. In this laboratory-like room, Lion’s master roasters perform a cupping ritual every day.  Samples of the previous day’s roast are ground and tasted according to strict protocol for quality control. This daily step ensures that every bag that leaves their facility meets the high standards for which Lion Coffee is known.

My next stop was the warehouse where massive stacks of burlap bags of raw coffee beans were stacked nearly to the ceiling. Much of the coffee is the prized Kona coffee which is grown only in Hawaii. The favorable weather conditions, combined with Hawaii’s mineral-rich, well-drained volcanic soils, create the ideal growing conditions for Kona coffee. Lion Coffee is the largest roaster of Kona coffee in the world.

This is the parchment, or outer hull of the coffee bean. The hulls are very lightweight and look a little like peanuts.

The first step after receiving the coffee beans is to put them through a machine that removes the parchment, a lightweight hull that surrounds the coffee beans. The green beans are then placed in a roasting machine for about 15 minutes at 400 degrees to achieve the perfect roast.

The roasting machine looks a little like a flying saucer and works hard throughout each day roasting the beans that will make their way to stores, hotels and restaurants throughout the country. The smell is glorious!
The beans are constantly swirled during the roasting process to ensure uniformity in color and roast.
The bags are formed from a roll of flat foil lined film.

Once roasted (and sometimes ground), the coffee is sent to a bagging machine. The machine forms the bag from a roll of film, applies the label and a one-way valve. The valve releases the natural gases the coffee produces and keeps air from entering the bag. Any remaining oxygen is forced out of the bag by injecting nitrogen. This ensures that the beans stay fresh. Once bagged and tagged with their golden insignia clip, the coffee is boxed and shipped to various distributors, restaurants, and mail order customers all over the world.

This machine forms the bag from the flat roll and sends it off to be filled with coffee.
These bags await receiving their golden clip, a Lion Coffee signature feature, which helps preserve freshness after opening.

Lion has a complete espresso bar/cafe and a gift shop at the end of the tour. You can sample their various products, enjoy a beverage and a freshly baked pastry, as well as purchase bagged coffee (and tea) to take home.

I ordered my first “nitro-brew,” an iced coffee concoction infused with nitrogen gas to create small bubbles and a foamy head on top of the coffee. This technique makes the coffee richer and creamier than standard coffee brewing techniques and I found it quite delicious.

For a coffee lover like me, touring the roasting facility was educational and gave me a greater appreciation of how my morning cup of java is created. I purchased several bags of this delicious coffee and am now brewing my own Lion coffee at home.

If you would like to purchase Lion coffee yourself, you can buy it at their online store. https://www.hawaiicoffeecompany.com/lioncoffee

The last stop on the tour is their cafe and gift shop where you can sample all their coffees. Lion’s baristas brew up a plethora of delicious coffee drinks. And of course, you can also purchase bagged coffee and tea here.

Note: I have received no compensation from Lion Coffee for this blog. All opinions expressed are my own.

Italian Dinner Party – Pasta and Polenta


This is the final post in a series on the Italian themed dinner party we hosted a few weeks ago. If you’d like to catch up, you can read about the appetizers and cocktails here:  http://eclecticgirldesigns.com/index.php/2017/06/05/italian-dinner-party-appetizers-and-cocktails/

Part two on the table setting is available here:  http://eclecticgirldesigns.com/index.php/2017/06/12/italian-dinner-party-the-table-setting/

This post will cover the menu and recipes for the meal, as well as a small parting gift we gave our guests at the end of the evening. 

Primo: Homemade Spaghetti with Roasted Cherry Tomatoes and Basil

After our guests were seated, the first course was served, homemade pasta with roasted cherry tomatoes and basil. While you can certainly use boxed pasta, homemade pasta is not difficult to make and the flavor is substantially better than boxed. I find it is worth the extra effort to make it when entertaining. I promise a post on how to make it soon!

The cherry tomatoes were oven roasted with garlic and drizzled with olive oil. They were added to the cooked pasta along with toasted panko breadcrumbs, parmesan cheese and fresh basil. I served a small portion as a first course for this dinner, but it’s a hearty dish that would also make a wonderful main course. Here is a link with the recipe:  http://www.abeautifulplate.com/spaghettini-with-roasted-tomatoes-fresh-basil-and-toasted-garlic-breadcrumbs/

Segondo: Polenta Board with Shredded Beef in Wine Sauce and Kale Mushroom Saute

Years ago I saw a television chef serve up a dramatic polenta board and vowed that I would do it one day. This was my moment! I headed to my local hardware store and purchased an eight foot long 12″ wide pine plank and had the hardware store cut it in half for me. I covered both boards with parchment paper and wrapped them like gifts by taping the edges of the paper down on the underside. This provided a sanitary surface upon which to spread the polenta.

The polenta was spread out in a thin layer on each board and served with shredded beef in wine sauce and sauteed kale and mushrooms alternating down the board on top of the polenta. I learned that it’s important to form a lip around the edge of the polenta to keep the sauce from dripping out.

I kicked everyone out of the kitchen for the night’s biggest surprise–bringing out the polenta boards. It required two people to carry each four foot long polenta board to the table! According to our guests, this was the highlight of the evening. Each table had its own board, and every guest was provided a large spoon and invited to serve themselves by scooping up the polenta directly from the board. There were lots of oohs and ahhs when the boards came out, but it became oddly quiet once the polenta board began to be consumed.

Here’s the recipe for the shredded beef sauce:  http://www.thekitchn.com/dinner-party-recipe-braised-beef-in-tomatoes-red-wine-recipes-from-the-kitchn-186550

The recipe for both the polenta and kale mushroom saute can be found here: https://www.pinterest.com/pin/562809284673365728/

A crisp citrus fennel salad was served as an accompaniment. It added just the right contrast in temperature and the licorice-like flavor of the fennel cut through the heavier flavors of the polenta board. I used toasted pine nuts instead of walnuts and added a little arugula to this recipe: https://www.pinterest.com/pin/562809284673391976/

Dolce: Tiramisu

One of the most well-known and beloved Italian desserts is tiramisu. Importantly it does not require any last minute prep, other than a shaving of chocolate on top for garnish. It can be made a day or two ahead and kept refrigerated.

I found a recipe called “The Best Tiramisu You Will Ever Make” and couldn’t resist trying it. It was creamy and delectable. I didn’t tinker with the recipe one bit (other than topping it with shaved chocolate rather than cocoa powder). Given that I’d only made tiramisu once before, I can honestly say it is the best tiramisu I’ve ever made!  Here’s the link:  https://www.askchefdennis.com/the-best-tiramisu-you-will-ever-make/

We concluded the meal with a digestif of limoncello, a cold, sweet, lemon flavored Italian liqueur. While the actual medicinal benefits of digestifs are yet unproven, it is thought that such drinks help to digest the prior meal. I don’t know whether it assisted anyone’s digestion at our party but it did give us an excuse to remain around the dinner table a little longer.

Parting Gift

To make the memory of our evening linger, I prepared two types of biscotti for our guests and packaged them up as a parting gift. Each guest was given a pair of cookies upon their departure. While there are many variations on this twice-baked cookie, I made chocolate walnut and lemon anise almond flavors. I placed the cookies in separate bags so that the flavors wouldn’t mingle. The two cookies were tied together with a tag that said, “Ciao Bella.”

Ciao means both hello and goodbye in Italian. Hopefully our guests will come back soon so that we may greet them again with ciao.

Italian Dinner Party – The Table Setting

Last week’s blog focused on cocktails and appetizers for our Italian themed dinner party.   In case you missed it, you can check it out here: http://eclecticgirldesigns.com/index.php/2017/06/05/italian-dinner-party-appetizers-and-cocktails/  This post will describe the table setting. Next week, the last post in the series will cover the menu and recipes.

The Table, Place Cards, and Menu

What could be more classic for an Italian themed dinner than a red and white checked tablecloth? I put two folding tables together to form one long banquet style table and placed a red checked tablecloth over both.  To this foundation, a white table cloth overlay was added to the center and the table was set with white dinner plates. I designed my menus and place cards using free online clip art and repeated the logo throughout the event, keeping the font and colors consistent. A printed menu was placed on each plate and place cards were mounted in little wooden place card holders next to each plate. (These were purchased but it would be easy to make them from fallen branches.)

The Napkin Fold

I used a napkin folding technique called the “twin candle roll” for my white cloth napkins and placed them in the stemware. They added height and whimsy to the table and couldn’t be easier to do. I recommend starching your napkins first as they will stand up better. Here is a video which shows how to make them:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VRjvOuzHPlU

 

 

A Conversation Piece

Around the holidays last winter I came across a gigantic bottle of Italian wine and immediately knew it would be perfect for an Italian themed dinner party. I purchased it and held onto it for this moment! It was placed front and center on the table and quickly became a conversation piece. It is not terribly common to see a magnum of wine and my guests spent a little time trying to figure out how many regular sized bottles of wine it contained. (The correct answer is three.)

The Centerpiece

The pièce de résistance for the table setting was a large floral arrangement of red gladiolas in the center of the table. I used a classically-styled urn to raise the arrangement up off the table. Floral foam was used to hold the long stems in place and the flowers were arranged in a spray design. I added a few stalks of spiky palm leaves and some lemon leaves from my backyard to fill out the base of the arrangement and provide additional texture. A floral arrangement of this scale certainly makes a statement and can really give your table a “wow factor!”

My sweet husband lit the fire and directed guests to their places at the table.

Creating Ambiance

A few weeks prior to the party, I began saving empty wine bottles to use as candle holders. The bottles were soaked in warm soapy water to remove the labels and candles were inserted into the openings. They were placed on the mantle above the outdoor fireplace. Our weather turned chilly that evening and we ended up lighting the fireplace for warmth.  The flickering glow of the candles and crackling fireplace made for a cozy and convivial setting.

Next week’s blog will provide the menu and recipes for the meal and will feature a dramatic polenta board. Stay tuned!

This picture was taken the morning after the party. The dripping candle wax covering the wine bottles is evidence that the party lasted late into the night.

Italian Dinner Party: Appetizers and Cocktails

Who doesn’t love Italian food? It has become a mainstay of American cuisine and seems to be the epitome of “comfort food.”  Many classic Italian dishes can be made ahead of time which makes it perfectly suited to a dinner party for a crowd. We invited twelve friends, some old, some new, for an Italian themed dinner party al fresco.

This is the first of a three-part series. Today’s blog will cover the appetizers and drinks. Next week’s blog will address the table setting, and the following week will cover the dinner menu and recipes.

The Signature Cocktail:  Sparkling Negroni

The Negroni is a classic Italian cocktail developed by a bartender in Florence in 1919 as an adaptation of an Americano.  When the bartender replaced the soda water with gin and added an orange peel zest instead of lemon, the Negroni was born.

A signature cocktail is a festive way to set the tone for the evening. Preparing the cocktail in a punch bowl or large pitcher also allows the host to make drinks ahead and not have to deal with last minute mixing.

I decided to add prosecco to the classic cocktail to cut some of the bitterness of the Campari.  Here is the recipe for a crowd.

Sparkling Negroni (Serves 12-16)

  • 1 cup Campari
  • 1 cup Gin
  • 1 cup Sweet Vermouth
  • 2 bottles prosecco
  • Orange peel zest for garnish

Mix the Campari, gin and vermouth in a punch bowl with ice. Add prosecco and gently stir until blended. Pour into glasses and garnish with sliver of orange peel zest.

I also set up a self-serve water dispenser with lemon slices and made Italian grapefruit soda and Pellegrino Italian sparkling water available as non-alcoholic drink options.

The Antipasto Board

In Italian, antipasto means “before the meal” and is typically a selection of cured meats, cheeses, olives, marinated vegetables, and other finger foods intended to stimulate the appetite. Antipasto is a great choice for a crowd because it is simple to put together and can be endlessly varied, made more or less complicated depending on your preferences, time and budget.

My antipasto platter included a selection of cured meats, a hard cheese, a soft cheese, olives, pickled peppers, marinated artichoke hearts and grapes.

I used shipping tags to identify containers of avocado honey, white bean rosemary spread, and garlic mustard aioli. Guests are more likely to try foods if they know what is in them.

Condiments are a nice addition to any antipasto board to provide variety and additional flavors.  Along with a garlic aioli mustard, I added a dish of avocado honey which is particularly delicious drizzled over cheese. To complete the antipasto board, I made a white bean spread flavored with lemon, garlic, and fresh rosemary and served it with baguette toasts and crackers.  Here’s the recipe:  http://www.seriouseats.com/recipes/2013/01/rosemary-lemon-white-bean-dip-recipe.html

Note the interplay of colors, textures and flavors. The round, smooth, colorful grapes contrast with the crunchy linear bread sticks, while the chewy saltiness of the cured meats plays off the creaminess of the cheese.

For my table setup, I used a wine crate from Italy as a platform and tucked in fresh greenery from my yard around the perimeter for additional color and texture. Two cans of San Marzano tomatoes were used in the meat sauce I made for our dinner, and I thought the cans were so colorful and authentic looking, I decided to recycle them for table decor. A bouquet of flowers was arranged in one can and bread sticks were placed in the other.

I was delighted to find a set of rather ingenious appetizer stem holder plates online and couldn’t wait to see how my guests liked them. They have an opening for the stem of the wine glass to be inserted so that both the glass and food can be easily handled with only one hand. Guests commented on how nice it was to have a free hand and not to have to awkwardly juggle their glasses and food plates! I have a feeling these plates will make regular appearances at future parties. In case you’d like to get some for yourself, here’s a link:  https://www.amazon.com/Oenophilia-Bamboo-Hors-Oeuvres-Plate/dp/B003ZIV12K/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1496155036&sr=8-1&keywords=bamboo+wine+plates+appetizer  

After our guests, some of whom didn’t previously know each other, spent a little time together sharing Negronis and antipasto, they were in a good mood and ready for the meal.  Stay tuned next week for part two in this series which will feature the table setting.

While most of our guests congregated around the appetizer table, a separate seating area was available with plenty of space to comfortably relax.