Meet the Makers: Learn from the Connoisseurs of Coffee at Big Island Coffee Roasters

September 21, 2021

When you shop with Hawaiʻi businesses, you’re doing more than supporting a local shop, restaurant or service provider. You are also investing in a community of hardworking entrepreneurs who are passionate about sharing all that makes Hawaiʻi special through their unique, island-made products.

At Hawaiian Airlines, the state’s oldest and longest-serving carrier with roots as a small air tour operator, we are dedicated to engaging our guests in supporting fellow kamaʻāina companies — from our HawaiianMiles Marketplace to products we feature inflight. Our efforts to share Hawaiʻi products with the world have strengthened through a partnership with local business accelerator Mana Up and Hawaiian Airlines® Bank of Hawaii World Elite Mastercard®.

Mana Up, launched in 2018 to assist up-and-coming Hawaiʻi companies with growing and scaling their products, has backed 63 businesses across food, fashion, beauty, home and art. Last year, it helped generate over 325 jobs and $42.7 million in revenue for the state’s economy. As the exclusive airline partner of Mana Up, we are proud to jointly present Meet the Makers, a virtual event series kicking off this month on Hawaiian Airlines and Mana Up’s Facebook pages to celebrate nine Hawai‘i entrepreneurs and showcase their products.

“With travel in flux over the last year, we wanted to launch a virtual series that offers an exclusive and behind-the-scenes look at our islands’ rising entrepreneurs and their locally made products,” said Brittany Heyd, cofounder of Mana Up. “Meet the Makers builds on years of collaboration with Hawaiian Airlines, and we are looking forward to highlighting the journeys of Hawai‘i’s most fascinating business owners.”

Over the next several months on our blog, we will feature the stories of the small businesses participating in the Meet the Makers series before each live event. The first episode debuts on July 28 with Big Island Coffee Roasters, where roasting coffee beans and making the perfect island blends is an art form.

“We get comments from people who start drinking our coffee and then can't go back [to their usual blend]. Experiencing freshly milled and roasted Hawaiian coffee coverts them,” said Kelleigh Stewart, co-owner of Big Island Coffee Roasters.

The Island of Hawaiʻi-based company took root in 2010 when its two owners, Brandon von Damitz and Stewart, stumbled upon an online advertisement listing a small coffee farm for sale in Puna on the island’s eastern side. The duo purchased the farm with no experience growing coffee and spent years learning to cultivate one of modern Hawai‘i’s most prized specialty crops.
Photo credit: Mana Up/Big Island Coffee Roasters
Brandon von Damitz and Kelleigh Stewart preparing and pouring their award-winning coffee blends.

Big Island Coffee Roasters still calls its original farm home, though today produces some of the finest regional varieties in the islands, including Kona, Kaʻū, Puna and Maui. Named "The Ultimate Artisan Coffee" by Coffee Review, their teams do a little of everything in-house, from hand-picking coffee cherries (which produce the beans), milling in small batches, and sorting natural defects from the coffees, to roasting to-order and date-stamping the bags.
Photo credit: Mana Up/Big Island Coffee Roasters
Big Island Coffee Roasters' farm in Puna on the Island of Hawaiʻi

“We roast to order, meaning we don't keep pre-roasted inventory in stock because we want to maintain a high level of quality,” Stewart said. “Roasting to order equates to a big checklist for the production team working in our roastery, including generating order lists, milling, grading, sorting, roasting and fulfilling orders. We're roasting all day, five to six days a week. On any of those days, the team might also be cupping new or rare Hawaiian coffees, working with farmers, or mastering a particular coffee blend before we debut it."

Photo credit: Big Island Coffee Roasters
Hand-picked coffee cherries from Big Island Coffee Roasters' farm

"While our customers enjoy the quality and variety of coffee they receive, they also love knowing what their purchases support: living wages, sustainable agriculture, and regular donations to wildlife rescue organizations (over $7,000 this year!),” she added.

Big Island Coffee Roasters is now considered one of Hawaiʻi’s masterful coffee brands, with products sold in stores across the state. The company attributes part of its success to joining Mana Up’s second cohort of entrepreneurs in 2018.

Travel Pono (responsibly) by supporting local businesses while visiting the Hawaiian islands. Big Island Coffee Roasters is sold and served at local cafes and stores throughout the state.

“It's all been very exciting, and I'm so proud of the Mana Up team. They are masterful connectors who have helped us scale distribution and build awareness for what we do,” Stewart said. “The benefits of having a community like Mana Up that we call on when we get stuck can't be understated. Neighbor Island companies like ours face complex challenges that you wouldn't expect, and they help us navigate difficult community dynamics toward finding the right, tailored solution.”

Big Island Coffee Roasters will host the first Meet the Makers event at its Puna headquarters, walking the audience through its farm and operations while offering a step-by-step demo on how to brew the perfect French press and pour-over coffee using its beans. Viewers are encouraged to purchase the company’s exclusive tasting set to immerse themselves further and follow along in demos.

Items in the set include:

Tasting sets are available for purchase at Cardmembers can use their Hawaiian Airlines® Bank of Hawaii World Elite Mastercard® to earn two additional bonus miles per $1 spent on all purchases.*