Farm Owners: Lorie Obra, Joan Obra and Ralph Gaston
Acreage: 6 acres
Elevation: 1,700 ft
Coffee Varietals: Typica, Red Caturra, Yellow Caturra, Maragogipe, Bourbon
Processing Methods: Washed, Natural, Honey, Yeast Inoculation, Anoxic Fermentation (also known as anaerobic)
How did you become a coffee farmer?
Joan Obra, Lorie Obra’s daughter, tells her parents’ story in the December 2020/January 2021 issue of Barista Magazine:
"Dad was a chemist in consumer products and Mom was a medical technologist at a hospital. But they longed to retire in slower-paced Ka‘ū. When my father’s company offered him an early-retirement package in 1998, the first thing he and my mom did was fly to Hawai‘i. Pahala was undergoing monumental changes. Its largest employer, the sugar mill, had closed in 1996. The former mill workers had a federal grant to lease sections of the old plantations as small coffee farms.
That’s how my parents ended up on a young coffee field above Pahala, listening to their friend talk about the soil, the trees, and the weather. Rusty’s Hawaiian—their coffee farm, mill, and roastery—was conceived.
When they returned to New Jersey, my brother and I were stunned. They didn’t even drink coffee! They had no professional agricultural experience. Pahala is super remote, with none of the conveniences of suburbia. After more than 27 years in New Jersey, it was a shock to see them switch up their lives."
Years in coffee:
Rusty and Lorie Obra launched Rusty's Hawaiian in 1999.
What are your biggest challenges as a coffee farmer?
The early years were the hardest. At that time, Ka‘ū coffee was unknown, and buyers kept asking us for Kona coffee. And then, Rusty died -- before achieving his dream of making Ka‘ū coffee famous.
Joan talked about this time during a talk at the 2018 Hawai'i Executive Conference. Watch the video on our blog, starting at 2:05.
What are your biggest joys as a coffee farmer?
Lorie particularly enjoys the anticipation of tasting a new coffee: "I love the early harvest season, when I’m standing at the cupping table, about to taste the new crop for the first time. We experiment with different processing methods, and if one (or more) turns out to be a really good coffee, it gives me the greatest joy. The cup validates what I’ve been doing on the ground."
What does coffee mean to you?
For Lorie, working on her late husband's coffee business has been a way to continue her relationship with him.
"Coffee, to me, is love," she told NHK, the Japanese broadcaster. Click here to watch Lorie tell her story, starting at 0:25.
Where can your coffee be found for purchase?
We ship worldwide, so you can order off of our website.
And if you're in Hawaii, see this list of stores that carry our coffees.
Anything else you'd like to tell us about your coffee journey?
If you'd like to read more about our awards, they are listed here.