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.

10 thoughts on “Coffee Roaster Tour in Hawaii

  1. Oh yes, it did smell heavenly! Knowledge always increases appreciation and I must say I appreciate my morning coffee even more now.

  2. Kathy, This week’s blog through Lions coffee history and factory tour was a real treat, as many times I’ve gone to Hawaii I’ve never taken that tour but you can bet next time in Hawaii I’ll be in line for a tour.

  3. Belatedly picking up your blog of the Hawaii Lion coffee factory tour. Looks as though it was a roaring success.

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