The team behind Kona Coffee Purveyors is opening a new café.
What do you do when you sell the extremely successful coffee empire you built from scratch? If you’re Raymond Suiter, the answer is: get started on the next one, of course.
In 2008, Suiter sold Honolulu Coffee Company, the multi-store retail chain he had founded in 1991 as a kiosk in Waikiki. The reason? He wanted to get back to basics. “I had worked myself out of the position of touching the beans because I had 100 employees,” he explains. “I’m a craftsperson—I wanted to get more involved in the roasting business.”
For the past eight years, he and his flavor scientist wife, Jackie, have focused their energy on Kona Coffee Purveyors, a high-end roasting operation run out of a Sand Island warehouse. But he couldn’t stay away from retail for good—now the pair is launching a brick-and-mortar café, scheduled to open at the new International Market Place in Waikiki in August.
This café comes at an ideal time— Raymond, who now has more than 30 years of experience in the coffee industry, feels that the roasting operations at Kona Coffee Purveyors has never been better. He credits his wife’s background as a flavor scientist with helping to raise the quality level of the company’s output, noting that her exacting approach to taking detailed notes about each roast and correlating it with blind taste tests have led to greater overall consistency and quality.
“She’s our master roaster,” he says of the evolution of Jackie’s position in the company. “We really wanted to take the roasting to the next level. She knows what she’s doing.”
“When I first met Raymond, coffee was just a caffeination experience—I had no idea,” Jackie says, about her prior relationship to coffee. “Th en I started on this taste journey and this whole world opened up.”
Jackie has also been instrumental in turning the Kona Coffee Purveyor headquarters into an education center for the Specialty Coffee Association of America. She got certified through the program—the equivalent of a sommelier exam for wine— and now moonlights as a lead instructor for the organization.
For Jackie, this initiation into the coffee world—with its sometimes-intimidating jargon and customs— has strengthened her desire to make education part of the experience of buying beans. “[I want] to make it really simple for customers.
I don’t think that they know that Extra Fancy or Peaberry [two grades of coffee] could be from the same farm. I really want them to feel like they can go down this flavor journey, so their whole experience can be more rewarding.”
Another reason why the pair feels that the output of Kona Coffee Purveyors has never been better has to do with better care taken during the coffee growing and processing process. The map of the coffee world has changed dramatically in the last decade, with increased consumer demand for quality coffee driving many regions to experiment with new growing and roasting techniques. Citing examples of innovation such as honey processing (a method of drying coffee beans that’s gaining popularity in Costa Rica) or planting new varietals of coffee bean, Jackie says the Kona coffee scene used to be a little stagnant in comparison because it tended to sell out on brand name alone.
But Kona Coffee Roasters is helping to change that. The company, though focused on primarily roasting, tends to get involved earlier in the growing process to get access to the kind of high quality beans they prefer to work with. “There are probably 15 steps before it gets to us,” says Raymond, counting off everything from growing conditions to picking the berries at the right time to drying the beans properly. “We work with our growers in Kona,” he says, about how he ensures he ends up with the best beans by working with entire coffee estates rather than buying beans solely by grade. “We usually buy that farm—the coffee that year.”
Now, after concentrating on the roasting business for so long, the couple is excited to showcase their product at their new 28-seat café. The space, located on the ground level of the Kuhio Street-end of the marketplace, will serve a streamlined menu of espresso drinks, pastries, charcuterie, cheese and wine.
On the coffee side, Raymond wants to concentrate on promoting his vision for an elevated Kona coffee experience. The café will serve only 100-percent Kona coffee, made into Italian-style espresso drinks. “We’re at origin,” he says. “I want to raise the bar for Kona coffee in Hawai`i. Let’s not just put it on the shelf and charge $55 for it. All of our coffee bags have roast dates. Everything we do is going to be taken to that ultimate level of quality.”
To parallel the high-end coffee experience, the Suiters have partnered with San Francisco’s b. patisserie, a 2016 James Beard award nominee, to provide top-notch baked goods, including their signature kouignamann, a sugared riff on a croissant. Local wine expert Lyle Fujioka will help select a streamlined menu of wines to be served by the glass after 4 P.M. Separate stations for house-made charcuterie and cheese will round out the offerings for the savory-inclined.
In total, the Suiters feel the space will offer a new type of high-quality experience unlike anything else in Waikiki—or Hawai`i. “Everything’s been magical the way it’s flowed together,” Raymond says. “That location is so amazing.”