Kula Orchards: a Maui Coffee Story

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Kula Orchards: a Maui Coffee Story

August 2023

It was a rainy day in El Salvador on July 29th, 2023.  As a low-pressure system moved westward over the Pacific coast, the warm tropical water fueled an increase in intensity.  The system reached tropical storm status on August 1st and was named ‘Dora’, the fourth named storm of the Pacific Hurricane Season.

Here in Hawai’i, we took note as Dora strengthened to hurricane status.  There didn’t seem to be too much cause for alarm, though.  Even when Dora had intensified to a powerful category 4 storm, she was tracking well to the south of the Islands and the risk seemed low. 

On August 8th, Hurricane Dora passed 800 miles to the south of Maui.  We knew to be prepared for windy conditions with bands of cyclonic energy bolstering the already-stiff easterly trade winds.  But no one was prepared for the devastation that ensued.

Kula Orchards

In 2017, Bill and Kathy McCormack planted some coffee.  Grown from seed, they got the coffee from friend and neighbor Warren McCord (if you’ve ever tried Waiakoa Light or Waiakoa Estate, you’ve enjoyed Warren’s coffee).  They planted a handful of different coffee varietals on what had recently been a scrubland covered with invasive wattle plants.

Bill and Kathy had both had long careers as medical professionals - Bill as a gastroenterologist and Kathy as a nurse.  As they looked ahead to life after their careers in healthcare, they forged a vision of transforming their Kula, Maui home into Kula Orchards, a diverse and thriving farmstead where coffee would be their primary crop.  They had a prime location – 2.7 sunny acres along a gulch near Kula Lodge – but they also had their work cut out for them.

They continued to beat back the wattle and expand their coffee grove, work that is ongoing to this day.  As of this writing, they have 0.8 acres of coffee plants and they keep planting more.  All of their coffee plants are watered with drip irrigation.  As the plants have matured, they have revealed clues about their genetics.  The Yellow Caturra cherries ripen to a bright lemon yellow, while the Red Bourbon plants yield thick clutches of deep-red cherries.  Perhaps most remarkable are the orange cherries from another Bourbon varietal whose genetics trace back to Jamaica Blue Mountain coffee. 

There’s a lot besides coffee that’s growing at Kula Orchards.  Interspersed among the coffee are peaches and cacao.  There’s even an apple tree that’s yielding tasty fruit!  Avocado, allspice, citrus, fig, banana… the list is long.  There is a garden full of root vegetables and greens as well as a honeybee hive.  Every year, Kathy gamely plants tomatoes, even if they don’t always ripen quickly enough at Kula Orchard’s 3200’ elevation.


Around the side of the farmhouse, you’ll find Kathy’s fairy garden.  It’s full of cool plants and funny gnomes and it’s a favorite with the grandkids.  Knowing how much work goes into the rest of the farm, it’s hard to imagine where she finds time for this whimsical side project.

‘It’s a labor of love,’ Bill tells me when I ask him how they find the time and motivation to run a complex and demanding farm.  It’s clear that a tremendous amount of passion, not to mention time and money, were invested into Kula Orchards over the past several years.  And it was all under threat of destruction during last year’s wildfires.

August 8th, 2023

Shortly before midnight, with winds gusting up to 50mph, a security camera at the Maui Bird Conservation Center in Olinda captured a flash – probably a tree falling on a power line.  That was the likely start of the Upcountry fire.  By 12:20am, reports of brush fires in Kula were pouring in.

Bill first noted smelling smoke at 1:30am.  The rest of the day would get increasingly tense as the smoke got thicker and the wind continued to intensify.  The wind was surging down the gulch next to their house and farm, carrying smoke from a rapidly spreading wildfire just across the highway.  By 3pm, an estimated 1000 acres were burning.

Meanwhile, firefighting resources were quickly overextended as a smaller brushfire across the island in Lahaina was reported.  That fire was declared ‘100% contained’ at 9am, but by the afternoon it had flared up again and started to spread in the 60+mph wind.  Increasingly dire reports were coming from Lahaina, but for most of us on the other side of the island, the extent of the devastation wouldn’t be known until late that night or the next day.


At 4:07pm an evacuation order was sent out via text.  Bill and Kathy packed their car.

AT 4:17pm, their bee box blew over.  Winds of 50+mph were ripping leaves off of the trees in their orchard, but visibility was limited by smoke so the extent was unclear.  The coffee would be 100% defoliated by the combination of wind and wildfire heat that day.

By 5:46pm, flames were visible 100’ in the air.  Nearby houses were starting to burn – 19 structures would be lost Upcountry, mostly concentrated in their neighborhood.  The ghostly howl of the wind was punctuated by exploding propane tanks and the gas tanks of parked cars.  Some sheds containing folks’ personal stock of ammunition burned, adding to the apocalyptic, explosive racket.


As nighttime set in, Bill and Kathy evacuated their home and took shelter with family in Pukalani.  

Like Bill and Kathy, I went to bed that night worrying what the morning would bring for Upcountry Maui.  I had no idea that I would wake up the next day to find out that Lahaina had been destroyed.

August 9th, 2023

At 6am, Bill and Kathy returned home, unsure if they would find their home standing at all.  It was, but their neighbor directly across the gulch was not so lucky.  The gulch itself was on fire, and smoldering debris was raining down on their orchard, burning irrigation lines and leaving scorch marks that are visible to this day.

There was no water, no electricity, no internet… though they heard sirens in the distance, the residents were forced to defend the gulch themselves.  Armed with shovels and whatever water they could scavenge (Bill and Kathy filled buckets from their toilet tanks), neighbors fought fire for days on end.  Flare-ups continued for the rest of the month.

By this time, Kula residents knew that Lahaina town was destroyed and many lives were lost.  The island-wide grief was staggering.  It was an especially grim time for folks Upcountry still fighting fire in the gulches, still experiencing dangerous drought conditions, still without water and electricity.

The aftermath

Starting on August 10th, helicopters were brought in to drop water on the still-burning gulches.  It took two full weeks before the fire in Bill and Kathy’s gulch was contained.  But there were still flare-ups.  Every neighbor was on round-the-clock fire watch and the community effort ultimately won out. 

It would be five months before the water was restored to all of Kula, and Kula Orchards was among the very last properties to get service again. 

A visit to the farm

On 6/4/24, I visited Bill and Kathy at the farm.  I wanted to learn more about their experience during the wildfire disaster.  I also wanted to share the story the resilience of a small family farm and a tight-knit community, particularly in a Maui coffee industry that’s still reeling from the past year’s fires.  Maui’s one commercial-scale coffee plantation is still not producing coffee after the fires destroyed its Lahaina coffee mill.  In contrast, Bill and Kathy’s small-scale farm is incredibly adaptable and is thriving under ever-changing conditions.  In a world that seems to be constantly beset by disasters, it’s vital to honor the community-based producers. 

The Coffee

 In 2022, five years after their first plantings with Warren, Bill and Kathy roasted their first homegrown coffee.  I started roasting for them shortly thereafter.  Now, The Coffee Store is the exclusive supplier of their coffee, called Holoholo Ridge and Holoholo FC

Holoholo Ridge is our medium-light roast offering of their coffee and Holoholo FC is a full-city (medium-dark) roast.  Both use the same 100% Kula Orchards green coffee which is ‘honey-processed’ at the farm.

Honey-process coffee is pulped shortly after picking, but the fruit residues aren’t washed off the beans.  As the beans dry, the fruit residues – the honey – impart complex flavor to the beans.  The process yields a more refined coffee than ‘natural’ processing (where the bean ferments inside the fruit without any pulping), but it yields a fruitier coffee than washed processing (where the beans are rinsed clean after pulping).  It’s the perfect way to develop the flavor of this particular coffee – a coffee with a very clean, refined flavor and a very bright, blueberry-tinged aroma.

 Here at The Coffee Store, ten months after the wildfires, the only grown-on-Maui coffees we offer are from small farms like Kula Orchards.  It will be a wonderful day when we’re able to offer our Ka’anapali plantation coffees again.  They’re tasty and abundant (and quite a bit more affordable than the microlot offerings). In the meantime, we’re very happy to share the wonderful coffees that are available from our small-farm partners. 

This is Maui Coffee for now, and, as always, we’re proud to be your front-line source for the best there is! 


I asked Bill what his thoughts were for the future of the farm. He walked me down to the end of his driveway and showed me a small building that I hadn’t properly acknowledged when I passed it earlier that day.  It was recently-built and freshly-painted with a storefront façade.  Bill told me that I was looking at the Kula Orchards farm stand.  He confessed that he might not ever be the one to start running it – that task may fall to a future generation.  That’s the vision:  Bill and Kathy want the abundance they’ve created –- the farm they defended from the flames – to carry on and grow even in their eventual absence.  I think it will, and I’ll be all-too-happy someday to roast coffee for the Kula Orchards farm stand. 

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