The most amazing part might not be the coffee – which, by many accounts, is some of the best on the Big Island – but that it’s just Eddie Sakamoto.
Retired now for five years, Sakamoto, 69, works his half-acre, 250-tree farm beside a comfortable Kona, hillside house almost exclusively by himself. Works it with a coffee basket, hook, and an easygoing disposition.
“It’s a fun operation. Keeps me busy,” Sakamoto says. “It’s a labor of love, I suppose.”
The Waimea Coffee Company is one of very few places to find the Sakamoto label. In fact, just one other store (in Oahu) sells the Sakamoto Peaberry variety that has become a favorite in Waimea. Other outlets for the Sakamoto varieties – there’s the Plantation Pride along with the Peaberry – have included select restaurants or by order from the man himself.
A medium to dark roast, the Sakamoto Aged Peaberry is known for complex chocolate, honey and oak flavors and gains it’s “aged” pedigree from beans that are carefully tended and up to 35 years old. The Sakamoto Plantation Pride is a medium-dark roast that features chocolate, honey and caramel notes.
“You know, that is my ultimate favorite coffee,” says Tennille Lindsey, a longtime employee at the Waimea Coffee Company, of the Peaberry. “That is the only coffee I enjoy without cream and sugar. And I’m a cream and sugar girl.”
Sakamoto recently invited several employees of the Waimea Coffee Company to his home – which features a well-maintained yard, with a pleasing lily pond and waterfall -- to witness how the beans go from cherry to cup. He strolled through his coffee trees, detailing his picking process and explaining why he selects one bean from another. He likes to do the work himself, joking that others “don’t pick it right.”
“Trying to hold a tree down, and pick with one hand, it takes all day,” explains Sakamoto, showing his skill with the basket and hook. “For me, I’m a slow picker, so it takes me six hours to pick a hundred pound bag.”
He continues: “Good year, about 2,000 pounds of harvest, all picked by me. … I only want ripe cherries.”
A former waiter and wine steward at the Mauna Lani Hotel for more than three decades, Sakamoto was born in Hilo, moved to Kona in 1979 and is a father of four children. He worked his full-time and part-time jobs together before his recent retirement.
“Yes, very serious about coffee. And I think that comes from his background in wine,” Lindsey says. “He’s just one of those amazing men, with an amazing palate.”
Not only is the Sakamoto brand locally grown and 100 percent Kona coffee, it’s cared for by a man with a discerning eye throughout the process. “I use organic fertilizer, which is twice as expensive as regular fertilizer,” Sakamoto says. Adding later, with a smile: “It was a fun thing. Now, I’m working on golf.”
“I would say that Eddie is a humble, hard-working man that has become a master of his craft through consistent attention to quality, through constant repetition to his work and the process,” says Waimea Coffee Company employee Victoria Mejia. “His hands pick the beans, plant the trees, clean the grounds, process the cherry to a form that becomes the beans. … What that man does is the epitome of homegrown and hand-made.”
Written By: Timothy Scott | Photos By: Kathrine Kauhane | Infographic By: Alicia Greenwell