When the coffee tree produces fruit, we call that fruit “cherry’. When the cherry is a dark red it is to be picked. Kona coffee is picked by hand which means that a human looks at each cherry to determine if it is ripe enough to pick. If it is not quite ripe, it will be left on the tree for a future picking.
The cherry is usually placed in a picking basket or receptacle and then transferred to a burlap bag. This cherry is somewhat fragile in that it must be processed within a day. Many of these steps are time critical to keep the quality of Kona coffee highest.
The cherry must be removed in a process called pulping. The cherry will be discarded, used as fertilizer and processed into other products.
The remainder is one or two beans, covered with a parchment-like material we call “parchment”. On that parchment is a sweet, mucilage which may be removed by leaving the beans in water overnight, allowing the sugars to ferment.
Then the parchment-covered beans are dried in the sun or perhaps by supplemental heat. The parchment must be brought down to 12-15% moisture to ensure the beans will not mildew due to moisture.
Parchment may be stored with no degradation under proper conditions for over a year and allows farmers to store the items until needed.
When it is time to roast the beans, the parchment must be removed in a process called milling. This is similar to removing the reddish-brown covering of peanuts. What is left is either one or two beans which are green in color. We call these “green” beans.
Under proper conditions, green beans may be stored for up to a year.
The green beans are then roasted to specification. There are a number of different roast profiles and desired roast levels.
If the coffee beans are to be consumed soon, they are ground. The size of the grind is determined by the type of brewing. A drip machine might use a different sized grind than a K-cup or French Press.
The coffee is often sealed in a plastic bag with a one-way valve, allowing the carbon dioxide to escape and oxygen blocked from entering the bag. Some airline passengers leaving the Hawaiian Islands may notice the smell of roasted coffee as soon as the cabin air pressure changes and coffee bags in suitcases overhead start out-gassing.
Roasted coffee should be kept sealed in a cool dark location and used fairly soon. As coffee sits after roasting it begins to lose its brightness. Left long enough it begins to go stale. Some aficionados like to order whole bean and grind it themselves, varying the grind level to their tastes. It also allows them to keep the coffee a bit longer before going stale.
Although some people store their coffee in a refrigerator or freezer, it might be better to buy less coffee more often than try to extend the length of the coffee.
There are some who feel that even stale Kona coffee is better than fresh other coffee.