Last week on our summer holiday we got the chance to go and pick coffee at New Zealands only coffee farm. Rob and Carol of Ikarus coffee are based in the Pekarau Hills, in the far north of New Zealand. They run the coffee at the Kaitaia and Kerikeri markets, and the rest of their time, they tend to the 1200 coffee trees on their beautiful property.
We turned up at around 10am and I was immediately transported back to the last time Emily and I picked coffee in 2017 Kanungu, Uganda.
Every sense was hit, seeing the trees laden with coffee cherries all lined up in rows. Hearing the pulper taking the skin of the cherry. Tasting the freshly picked coffee cherry (I rekin it tastes like sweet capsicum) Feeling the coffee drying out on the drying beds.
There was even a slight char in the air that had blown down from the KIaimaumau bush fires that was so similar to the smell of Ugandan cooking fires. This property is a special place. It has been a passion project for the last 15 years and they are now starting to see the rewards.
‘Ideally coffee plants like temperatures 15–30 degrees, a rainfall average of 1500 to 2500 mm a year and humidity of around 70–90%. Most Arabica coffee is grown in the tropics in higher altitudes, however, New Zealand’s maritime sub-tropical climate is the equivalent of these conditions. Coffee plants there are grown under canopy to ensure enough humidity, but our humidity here means we don’t need canopy. Since the average rainfall in the Far North has dropped dramatically over the past few years, we have now set up irrigation, which will help with the size of bean and volume of crop.’
Rob gave us a quick tour of the property, and then we were into it. You can’t just pick any bean, you need to look for the burgundy ones, these are the ripe and ready ones. It was incredible how many cherries these little trees produced! And in NZ!
The kids started well, but soon lost interest and wandered off to explore more of the property. We continued picking and chatting to Rob. He has some amazing stories that I wont attempt to retell, rest assured, that if you find yourself picking coffee with Rob, you wont be bored.
We smashed out picking 11kg of cherry in about an hour or so and headed to the pulper. This is the process that takes the skin and flesh off the bean. The bean becomes the coffee bean and skin can be dried to make into Cascara tea.
After that we left the freshly pulped bean in the shade to ferment. The process from there is to dry out the coffee to the desired moisture percentage and then hull off the ‘parchment.’ Then it is ready hand sort and then roast.
After our 1 hour of hard labour 😂 we headed up to the deck and Rob made us a cup of Pekarau Hills grown coffee that he had processed a couple weeks earlier. I can honestly say it was one of the most memorable cups of coffee that I have had, and the stories continued to flow from Rob.
If you ever are planning a trip to the far far north of Aotearoa, make sure you contact Rob and Carol and book in for a coffee picking. It is a chance to learn all about coffee, stay in a beautiful setting, pick coffee and join in on other local activities.