Ka’u Coffee Mill drastically impacted by COVID-19 pandemic

Coronavirus

PAHALA, Hawaii (KHON2) — There are coffee plants as far as the eye can see at Ka’u Coffee Mill on the Big Island. The coffee farm sits on 86 acres of land.

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General Manager Louis Daniele said, the taste of Ka’u coffee is what has made it so popular in recent years.

“If I can describe Ka’u coffee, it’s very smooth. It’s almost tea-esque,” Daniele said, adding that Ka’u coffee is not bitter.

Ka’u Coffee Mill was a popular tourist destination before COVID-19 hit the islands.

“Pre-pandemic, we were averaging 250 to maybe 300 people a day. It was pretty spectacular,” Daniele said about the number of visitors that would stop by Ka’u Coffee Mill each day.

When COVID-19 began to spread in the United States, however, Daniele had to close the visitor center to the public entirely.

“We were just kind of in a holding pattern in terms of our retail operation,” he said.

Closing the retail store was brutal for business, but then came another financial blow; the coffee kept on growing.

“In terms of the coffee itself, well it doesn’t know a pandemic is going on. So you know, it grows. We still have to feed it. You still have to prune it. You still have to harvest it. So all of those activities continue like we normally would,” Daniele said.

According to Daniele, it costs roughly $2 million per year to operate Ka’u Coffee Mill. That is an especially high price tag when little revenue is coming in.

“So the vast majority of our sales are bulk green beans, and so I had clients in Korea. I had clients in Japan and forget it. That didn’t happen at all last year,” he explained about the business that stopped due to COVID-19.

Ka’u Coffee Mill also does a lot of business inter-island, but sales to those businesses have dried up as local restaurants and cafes continue to struggle.

Ka’u Coffee Mill is still sitting on nearly 100,000 pounds of green beans that never sold — something that rarely happened prior to the pandemic.

“The first quarter of the year is when you’re milling everything, and you’re selling everything, so those warehouses should have been fairly empty,” Daniele explained.

Daniele said, the numbers at his visitor center are still far from what they used to be while tourism is slowly starting to come back to Hawaii.

“Some days we have four people. Some days we have 20 people,” he said.

Ka’u Coffee Mill is relying on its website to reach coffee lovers around the world until in-person business picks up again.

“Hopefully, we can move past this. I still think it’s going to be into 2022,” Daniele said about when he thinks life will return to normal.

To checkout Ka’u Coffee Mill’s website, click here.

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