Story by Becky Speere
I pop open a can of nitro-brew coffee, and as I take my first sip, a mist of cool bubbles greets my nose. The light, effervescent drink is just what I need on this muggy morning.
It’s 9 a.m. and I’m in Olinda with a gathering of the movers and shakers of agriculture on Maui. Chef Rob Ramshur, the owner of li hing mui (crack seed) company Traveling Plum, has laid out a spread of eggs, his homemade take on SPAM, and other breakfast delights. I grab a plate and listen to Heather Brisson-Lutz relate how, in 2018, she took the leap to follow her coffee passion and start her own business: Origin Coffee Roasters.
Heather’s caffeinated journey took her from a job in a coffee shop in her hometown of Columbus, Ohio, to working as a barista at Albina Press in Portland, Oregon. She shares, “The cafe was fairly new, but it attracted a lot of talented baristas and famous clientele. I was lucky to work in a cafe environment that was much like a fine-dining restaurant . . . where perfection was the only way to serve.”
Her first coffee-roasting stint was her five years at Caffe Calabria in San Diego, where she learned the fine points of Italian-style dark roasts. Looking to broaden those skills, she went to work at the award-winning Bird Rock Coffee Roasters in La Jolla, California, in 2012. “They had just won Micro Roaster of the Year, an award given by Coffee Review,” Heather says.
In 1997, as its website notes, that influential guide introduced “the first-ever 100-point, wine-style coffee reviews to the specialty coffee industry. Our mission is to help consumers identify and enjoy superior quality coffees and, in the process . . . reward the farmers and roasters who invest time, passion, and capital in producing high quality coffee beans.”
In 2016, Heather roasted a Kenya Guama Peaberry for Bird Rock that scored the highest points for Coffee of the Year as rated by the tasting panel at Coffee Review. Her path led next to Maui to join her wife, Kim Lutz, a master brewer at Maui Brewing Company in Kihei. A year later, Heather began to plan a new venture: Origin Coffee Roasters. She established international business partnerships with coffee farmers; relationships nurtured during her employment with various coffee roasters laid the foundation for her endeavor.
I ask, “Do you ever visit the coffee growers?”
Smiling, she says, “We try to visit direct trade partners, such as Finca Loma La Gloria in El Salvador, during the middle of the harvest season; this gives us the chance to try coffees that were harvested at the start of the season and see which coffees we want to buy.”
Maui’s local growers have also benefitted from her roasting skills. In 2019, she approached Gerry Ross and Janet Simpson, owners of Kupa‘a Farms in Kula, about submitting their organic coffees for Coffee Review’s Hawai‘i tasting report. “I did three separate roasts of different varieties of beans. Kim Westerman, who runs the lab at Coffee Review, was particularly excited about the quality of the coffees from this little farm on Maui.”
Talk about perks. Westerman, who is also Coffee Review’s managing editor, is a licensed Q-grader, qualified to rate coffees according to the Specialty Coffee Association of America’s 100-point scale. In blind tastings, SCAA experts sampled thousands of coffees from all over the world, and ranked Kupa‘a Farms’ #16 of the top 30 — not just in Hawai‘i, but worldwide. Kupa‘a Farms’ Orange Bourbon coffee scored 93 points, the only Maui coffee to make it into the review. The SCAA’s extensive tasting notes described it as “bright, crisply sweet-tart. Peach, honeysuckle, cinnamon, cedar, cacao nib in aroma and cup. Richly sweet, high-toned structure with citrusy acidity; crisp, silky mouthfeel. Peach and honeysuckle carry the short finish, while cocoa-toned cedar resurfaces in the long. (See the full report at coffeereview.com/top-30-coffees-2019).
I take another sip of my coffee, roasted, brewed and canned on Maui by Origin Coffee Roasters. I can taste the freshness and know that these specially sourced green beans were roasted to highlight their quality and nuances. Like the other one billion coffee drinkers in the world, it may be a long road to educate my palate, but I’m not stopping anytime soon.
To buy direct: 605 Lipoa Parkway, Kihei, HI 96753 | www.origincoffeemaui.com