"It's just fascinating," said Altay Sendilo of Palo Alto. "We're from Northern California, and we do tons of wine tastings, but nothing like this."
Travelers flock to the Kona Coast's coffee farms, not realizing that mom-and-pop plantations can be found elsewhere on the Big Island.
Heading counterclockwise from Captain Cook, a spectacularly beautiful 90-minute drive leads to Pahala and Aikane Plantation Coffee Co., where Phil Becker and his wife, Merle, welcome guests.
"If someone calls and would like to see our plantation, we welcome them to come and share the coffee experience," Phil Becker said. "We don't advertise, so it's a special tour for each guest. And it's free." ( 927-2252, http://www.aikaneplantation.com).
The Beckers' farm is in the Kau district, which is gaining an international reputation for its excellent coffee, celebrated each year at the Kau Coffee Festival. This year's festival begins Saturday. At it, guests can sample local brews, plus food items with coffee among the ingredients. The event at the Pahala Community Center also features Hawaiian music and hula dances (http://www.kaucoffeefest.com).
North of Hilo, near the village of Honokaa, hosts Netta and Wendell Branco offer tours of Long Ears Hawaiian Coffee ( 775-0385, http://www.longearscoffee.com). Guests can even roast their own beans at the end of the $35 tour.
To fully understand coffee's Big Island connections, a visit to the Kona Coffee Living History Farm is an excellent idea. It's on the grounds of the Kona Historical Society in Captain Cook. Admission is $15 for adults and $5 for children ages 5-12 ( 323-2006, http://www.konahistorical.org).