Sunday, August 22, 2010

HI: Wait, There's More!

Source: USGS
Note: Vertical scale of mantle is greatly exaggerated for this illustration, as is horizontal scale of Hawaii
To Pam's main post about Hawaii, I would like to add a few thoughts and links about the state that is the newest and at the same time the most like part of another country. Like many people who are fairly well-traveled within the continental United States, I have yet to make it to Hawaii, which became a state just four years before I was born.

Hawaii's islands are geologically young, and although the youngest is still about 700,000 years older than I am, the theory that explains their origin is quite young: the Canadian geophysicist J. Tuzo Wilson developed the theory of "hotspots" -- or thermal mantle plumes -- in 1963, the same year I was born in a tectonically tranquil corner of our nation's capital. The USGS This Dynamic Earth series includes a good introduction to the theory -- with Hawaii as the prime example -- in its "Hotspots" article.

Hot Rocks
When I wished one of my colleague's a "Happy Hawaii Day," he mentioned that he had recently been wondering about how the electricity demands of the state are met, as the state is far isolated from the North American grid and the islands are far too young to have their own deposits of fossil fuels. The Hawaii Energy Profile from the U.S. Department of Energy confirms what I suspected, based on my experience in other isolated places: as with Rondonia, most of Hawaii's electrical energy is generated by the burning of petroleum. Even though some conventional sources are more difficult to obtain in Hawaii than they would be elsewhere, the state does have some real advantages when it comes to renewable alternatives. In addition to wind and solar power, geothermal energy is already an important source of energy, and research into the expansion of geothermal-electric power is ongoing as part of a concerted effort known as Hawaii's Energy Future.

As Pam mentioned, coffee for our celebration was shipped directly from the islands -- in this case Maui. Who knew that Kona was not the only coffee-producing island in Hawaii? I didn't, until a couple of weeks ago. Fortunately, one of my barista sources mentioned the recent all-Hawaii cupping, with winners from eight different regions. So for our celebration I decided to get coffee from the Maui winner -- a smooth and flavorful, medium-roasted coffee from Kupa'a Farms. This is an excellent farm that produces dozens of organic food crops along with the coffee; it is a farm I really look forward to visiting. In fact, one reason I chose this coffee is that we are thinking Maui is the most likely site for a Hawaii visit in the next couple years.

We enjoyed the coffee straight-up with our chocolaty luau dessert; delicious! Pam had suggested brewing it with some of the macadamia nuts left over from the stuffing, but I resisted. Even though we played a small role in the expansion of flavored coffees, I generally resist them. I especially resist flavoring high-quality coffee, since I know that low- to mid-grade "flavor base" coffee is usually used for this purpose. Nonetheless, on the morning after Hawaii Day, I ground three madadamia nuts (native to Australia, by the way) with our trusty mortar and pestle, and added the paste to the Kupa'a coffee in our press pot. (I like that Kupa'a looks a lot like cuppa!) It actually was quite delicious, the nuts lending a buttery mouth feel to the already excellent coffee.

In a couple of days, I will be serving the coffee to the students who studied Kona coffee in my most recent coffee seminar. I think I will set up a blind tasting with and without the macadamia to see what they think. Hawaiian coffee, by the way, was introduced (i.e., sneaked out) from Brazil in 1825, reaching Kona three years later. The Hawaiian Coffee Association describes the history of coffee on the island, which is now found over several thousand acres on all of the major islands. Incidentally, Hawaiian coffee is by definition not Fair Trade, but fortunately it does not need to be. One reason the coffee is so expensive is that it is the only coffee in the world that is produced under U.S. minimum-wage law. Of course, it is also expensive because it is rare and excellent! Because it is expensive, people who buy it are sometimes tempted to store it long-term, in order to save it for special occasions. I suggest the opposite approach: get a small quantity, and drink it up over a few days. Those days of Polynesian coffee bliss will then be the special occasion!

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