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Kona Coffee Quality Control - The Mountain Thunder Way

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There are many inputs to quality for coffee. This includes the growing environment, picking, processing, roasting, packaging, and freshness. If all of these are done with a focus on quality, you will have coffee that is far superior to other coffees.

Growing Environment

The leeward side of Hawaii Island offers ideal conditions for growing coffee. Shielded from the conditions that create inclement weather on the windward side of the island by two volcanoes—Hualalai and Mauna Loa—the mild weather in Kona, with abundant morning sunshine and gentle afternoon cloud cover and rains.

The Mountain Thunder Coffee Plantation has another element that contributes to exceptional coffee growing conditions: a 3,200-foot elevation.  In every region of the world, high elevation coffee is almost always superior to low elevation coffee. This is probably due to cooler growing temperatures and more rainfall. Our farm in Kona, Hawaii is one of the highest elevation coffee farms in Hawaii.

Picking

Many parts of the world use machines to pick coffee trees. These machines essentially strip all the coffee beans—ripe, unripe & rotten—from the trees all at the same time. Machine harvesting guarantees lower quality coffee.

At the Mountain Thunder farm, and, indeed, at all Kona coffee farms, all the coffee cherry (the red coffee fruit that contains the beans) is hand-picked. Skilled pickers will only pick the red, ripe fruit and leave the unripe fruit for a later picking. Many coffee farms will go through several rounds of picking from August to December.

Processing

We take great care when processing our picked coffee fruit. The first step is to remove the coffee fruit skin, which leaves the coffee beans. These beans are then cleaned to remove the sticky coating and then dried on large shade-covered drying decks until they meet a precise moisture content. The beans are then milled to remove the parchment-like coating. These steps are very labor-intensive, but they all offer multiple opportunities to remove “bad” beans. Most Kona coffee farmers follow a similar process.

Mountain Thunder has two more steps: 1) sorting/grading the beans and 2) color sorting to remove any beans that might affect the taste negatively.

The grading process runs the green beans over different size screens to assure uniform size beans are roasted together. Many farms roast big and small beans together—ungraded coffee—which can make the roast uneven and the taste affected by off-grade, low-quality beans.

Mountain Thunder uses a Satake optical color sorter on all coffee beans prior to roasting. This machine scans every bean and shoots a puff of air to remove black, white, yellow and brown beans.  These beans will affect the taste of the coffee, so we remove them prior to roasting. It cannot be emphasized enough that this step is key to making sure every bean that goes to our Master Roaster will contribute to quality.

Roasting

Many people have noticed that a lot of the commercial coffee they drink at coffee shops and buy at the supermarket is over-roasted, and, as a result bitter. This is an old trick of coffee roasters: over-roast low-quality and poorly processed coffee to mask the poor and uneven quality.

At Mountain Thunder, we use small-batch roasting, with each roast overseen by a highly-experienced Roast Master. This attention to quality and bringing out the best in each coffee bean is only possible with the small-batch roasting of similarly sourced coffee.

Packaging

Our freshly roasted beans are quickly sealed in specially-designed coffee bags. Many bags of coffee you see at the store are sealed, air-tight and placed on the store shelf where they may sit for long periods of time.

The Mountain Thunder coffee bags have a valve that allows the oxygen to flush from the bag, keeping the coffee fresher and flavorful.

Freshness

Coffee drinkers worldwide know that freshness is key to making an outstanding cup of coffee. At Mountain Thunder, we usually ship coffee within a few days of roasting. Small batch roasting allows us the ability to roast each of our products frequently and only as it is needed.

So, if someone asks you what makes Mountain Thunder coffee so good, you can tell them that it’s not one thing; it’s doing many things right, time after time.