When Rusty and Lorie Obra started our Hawaiian coffee farm, mill and roastery in 1999, they stumbled upon an award-winning coffee region. Of course, they didn’t know it at the time. The couple simply wanted to live in the Ka‘u District, the southern side of the Big Island known for the Green Sand Beach near Ka Lae (South Point), the Punalu‘u Black Sand Beach, and the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.
Rusty, a retired chemist, and Lorie, a medical technologist, ran the business like a laboratory. They started testing different processing methods and roasts, looking for ones that would bring out the best flavors in their beans.
Then Rusty died in 2006, leaving Lorie at a crossroads. Could she handle the business — with all of its manual labor — on her own?
Lorie thought about selling our farm, but she couldn’t let go of Rusty’s dream: to make Ka‘u coffee some of the best in the world. “It was the only reason I got out of bed in the morning,” she says of that grief-stricken time.
Her determination became known in the specialty-coffee industry. Acclaimed roaster R. Miguel Meza moved to the Big Island and conducted extensive processing experiments with Lorie. Soon, Rusty’s Hawaiian was on the world stage — earning a coveted winner’s spot in the the world’s most prestigious international competition for green beans (unroasted coffee). Rusty’s Hawaiian also supplied beans to U.S. Barista Champion Pete Licata in 2011 and Turkish Brewers Cup champion Asli Yaman in 2014 for their respective world competitions.
The success of Rusty’s Hawaiian prompted Lorie and Rusty’s son, Rusty Obra Jr., to compete in specialty coffee. In 2015, he won the U.S. AeroPress Championship.
As for the future of Rusty’s Hawaiian, Joan Obra and Ralph Gaston (Lorie and Rusty’s daughter and son-in-law) are guiding the company to achieve dreams beyond Ka‘u. Rusty’s Hawaiian continues to showcase remarkable coffees grown throughout the Hawaiian islands, such as Maui Mokka Peaberry and Kona Maragogype. See the complete list of Rusty’s Hawaiian awards here (link in same window to Awards “cover page”).
With Miguel, they operate a sister company, Isla Custom Coffees. Under Miguel’s leadership, Isla sources and develops high-quality green beans grown throughout the Pacific Rim.
Most importantly to Joan, Rusty’s Hawaiian is spreading the values of its late founder. “When my father was dying, he was as generous and cheerful as ever,” Joan says. “I asked him how he could be so happy, and he gave me the most valuable lesson of my life: ‘Have a positive attitude, be thankful and have faith.’ ”
“Everything my father did -- including starting a coffee farm, mill and roastery with no prior experience -- was infused with his characteristic strength and optimism,” she adds. “We see our coffee as a symbol of encouragement. I hope others see our story and are inspired to go after their own big dreams.”