After taking over an old, abandoned coffee orchard in Kalihiwai which hasn’t been looked after for over seven years, Ben Fitt, a coffee enthusiast, business owner and farmer, got an agreement from the orchard’s landowners to launch a new coffee company called Outpost Coffee in mid-February of this year.
“We are excited to showcase the possibilities of modern Hawaiian coffee, supporting our local farmers who strive towards excellence, and doing it with a pono approach can result in a delicious, more-sustainable way to start your day,” Fitt said. “This is the first new coffee farm on Kaua‘i for over a decade, and having the opportunity to buy a cup of coffee grown, roasted and brewed for you by the farmer is a unique experience.”
Fitt said the Kahiliholo coffee orchard expands on one acre of land with 400 trees near Kahiliholo Road off of Kuhio Highway in Kilauea, and he started his coffee project in 2018.
“I was looped in through friends Mark and Tina Furr, the previous owners of Hanalei Coffee Roasters,” Fitt said. “When Garret and Camille purchased their new property, there was an abandoned coffee orchard which they didn’t have the knowledge or time to take, but didn’t want it cut down or left to be a jungle.”
“They asked Mark and Tina if they knew anyone who might be interested in taking on the project and Tina mentioned that I would be a good person to ask,” he said.
Fitt said his coffee journey began in a quaint New Zealand seaside town in 2007, where he found himself working in a Kiwi bar/restaurant equipped with an espresso machine that no one knew how to operate.
“Having witnessed coffee’s ability to enhance a communal experience, I dedicated my spare time to learning the art of coffee,” Fitt said. By keen observation and inquiry, local coffee shops became my classroom. I studied the baristas and asked questions, then practiced the day’s discoveries on my own in the evenings.
“Gradually, the refined aroma of coffee-infused the atmosphere. And, simultaneously, a bright passion began brewing within me,” said Fitt.
Fitt has been testing the waters by selling his coffee at the Hanalei farmer’s market every Saturday.
“Over the last couple of years we have pruned, tended, and now harvested our first crop of coffee grown on the north shore,” Fitt said. “People can try and purchase bags of Hawai‘i grown coffee, as well as in many independent stores on island and online.”
Besides running his coffee company on his own, Fitt has plans for future co-op collaboration opportunities.
“I do it all solo apart from help on Saturdays at the market from Marc Fulbright who as we grow will become more involved and hopefully a partner at Outpost as we plan on growing into a Co-op employee-owned business,” Fitt said.
Like many businesses affected by the pandemic, Outpost Coffee has faced their own challenges.
“Hawaiian coffee is particularly popular with visitors, so with a lack of tourists, sales have been down significantly but we have developed a good local following,” Fitt said. “And we also offer our ‘Rise Up’ an International blend and our Makai a Hawaiian blend at more approachable everyday price points too.”
In February, Fitt said Outpost will be releasing their first two products.
“A Naturally processed yellow Catuai with a lot of depth and sweetness reminding us of a tiramisu,” Fitt said. “A washed Typica lighter in body, with a milk chocolate sweetness with notes of graham cracker and red berries.”
According to Fitt, he will be selling his coffee in 4 oz bags because this is his first harvest, which is smaller than expected.
The retail price will start at $20 and will be available at local farmer markets and on their website with national shipping.
“At Outpost we strive to bring the tastiest, traceable, and sustainable farmed Hawaiian coffee to our Kaua‘i Community,” Fitt said. “We work closely with farmers from around the state to build relationships, share their stories and showcase the diversity of Modern Hawaiian Coffee.”
Fitt offered TGI some brewing advice.
“But always the general rules are like buy (the) whole bean and grind it yourself just like you would do for like pepper or spices,” Fitt said. “They’re gonna be way more aromatic. Yeah, you grind it rather than buying it, and it’s sitting kind of thing. After brewing, just tinker with it. You know, see what you like.”
Creating coffee is just one side of Fitt’s passion, he also advocates for environmental and sustainability issues farmers face daily.
“With the introduction of coffee leaf rust in Hawai‘i, unless we as consumers help support Hawaiian coffee farmers through buying local and doing our part to minimize spread we could lose Hawaiian Coffee for good,” Fitt said.
Besides concerning himself with the coffee leaf rust issue here in Hawai‘i, Fitt harvested the last of the coffee cherry stragglers on Friday.
“So the main harvest is done this year, and then you get kind of stragglers,” Fitt said. “And because of coffee berry borer they like to bury into the fruit. And then they lay their young in there. So we don’t leave any fruit on the trees over the season. That way, if there was the chance that any berry borer was in the orchard, they won’t have anywhere to live. So hopefully, they’ll just die out. I haven’t seen any here so far.”
Fitt said berry borers have been sighted on the south side of Kaua‘i a few months ago.
“So I’m doing everything I can to like prevent it from spreading,” Fitt said. “And at the moment, all I picked is like stragglers. Pick out some lucky ones (because) it rained a lot and so some of them stopped. If they get too wet their skin will split.”
For more info go to outpostcoffeekauai.com.