Kimberly and Byron Brown are Maui’s power couple of coffee. You can taste their detail-driven coffees at two Akamai Coffee Co. locations. One is a drive-thru in Kahului on the corner by Home Depot that’s been open for more than a decade. The other is a drive-thru and cafe in Kihei.
“All of our coffees are grown on Maui and roasted by us,” says Kim. “Our espresso is our Makawao Avenue Roast–that’s standard in our espresso drinks. Our coffee is super-high in caffeine because we try to keep the best flavor profile in our roasting. We want to pull out the best in the flavor of our coffee so we roast to that specification.”
Akamai in Kihei is gorgeous. Parisian cafe music plays in the background, and there’s a trendy, cohesive aesthetic from their logo packaging on coffee and cups to their seating and wall colors. The cafe has a nice, open feel to it, and it easily converts to an event space if needed. They have a vertical green wall of plants on one side, and cool bird cage-like chairs dangle from the ceiling in front of it. I choose a four-legged chair with a table near the front to chat with Kim and Byron.
“One of the cool things about what we do here is our start to finish process,” says Byron. “From the beans to roasting to exactly where I want the flavors to be. One of the things I had an issue with before was we used to bring our beans in from Seattle up until three and half years ago. The main reason was I couldn’t find any coffee that was grown here and roasted here that I enjoyed. It always did not have the flavors I was looking for. I just thought Maui beans couldn’t develop those flavors.
That changed when he bought his own roaster from the Big Island.
“I would just make these little batches of beans,” says Byron. “I was roasting all these beans off this little machine and I thought, let’s just see what people think if we do it this way. Because my goal was to serve Maui coffee. I just wanted to keep quality and flavors to my specifics. Once I got it dialed in to where I liked it, I ended up going and getting a big roasting facility set up in Haiku.”
The emphasis is on flavors, bringing out the notes of the certain beans, but because of how they roast their beans, their coffee has a large caffeine content. The trick is to do a lighter roast, and you will retain more caffeine.
“We roast a full city roast,” says Kimberly. “As a result because we are not going any darker than that we get to keep this flavor profile. This one has a lot of chocolate, toast, some berry, cinnamon. The Cortado–we do a double restricted espresso shot, two ounces and then the rest is milk. It’s also called a ‘Gibraltar.’ These are the kinds of terminology and drinks I have to stay up with.”
Then there’s the Hawaiian Honey Bee, a 12-ounce espresso with steamed milk, honey, vanilla and coconut. It’s delicious. The chai is their own blend.
“This is our own in house chai,” says Kim. “We came up with this recipe about eight years ago. We make it from scratch. I bring in all the spices from all over the world and we brew it here. It’s really really special.”
There are a lot of factors that go into the process of making an Akamai coffee.
“It’s not just the beans,” says Byron. “The beans are huge, really important. But it’s the water quality as well. The water quality we have here is phenomenal. Both places in fact. Our grinders are extremely high quality. Then we have the best machines in the world. Synessos, the way they are designed, the pump system, the heat–they are so elegant. It’s all of these elements coming together in the cup that’s going to make this one of the best coffee experiences you can have. It’s always been our goal to compete on a world level.”
Their coffee was recognized at a world coffee expo in Seattle. Tommy Bahamas also carries their coffee, as does Pint and Cork.
“We do three types of cold brew,” says Alex Gazley, who also works at Akamai. “Toddy is a 48-hour cold brew, and we use the Yellow Brick Road roast, which includes four different bean varieties. It’s delicious, really smooth. No harsh finish. Then there is the NOLA–a New Orleans style cold brew. Same roast as the toddy but brewed a little shorter, slightly sweetened and capped with milk. It has a nice, rich, earthy taste–we add the chicory root at the same time as the beans so it’s brewed the whole time, and then after that process we add a little bit of sweetener. When we serve it, we pull it from the tap.”
Gazley’s third and favorite cold brew is the Nitro. It is a seasonal roast, served from the tap as pure coffee infused with nitrogen. It has a foam head on top.
The cafe also offers some fresh fruit smoothies, Italian sodas, as well as light cafe fare such as banana bread, cinnamon rolls, croissant sandwiches, baguettes, cookies, with gluten-free and vegan-choices, too. Their are so many options for coffee from their signature drinks to their aeropress and pour-overs.
The Browns really want this to be a hub for community and connection. That’s why there’s no wi-fi.
“We designed and built the Kihei location with the intent to provide a venue to showcase our techniques and our Maui coffees, as well as cultivate a space for the community to meet up with a friend, have conversation and connect on a human level,” says Byron. “We do not offer wifi for this reason.”
The drive-thru window has been a boon for the convenience fans, but it also meant no liquor license. Prices at Akamai are also a bit higher than other coffee shops, but for a good reason.
“Everything is 100 percent Maui,” says Byron. “Our cold brews, the Nitro is 100 percent Peaberry. That is a very expensive bean. Our espresso, our brew, our cold brew toddy is 100 percent Maui. I work with Kimo Falconer for the beans. He’s excited that our coffees are being presented on this world level. This year, we were featured at the world coffee expo in Seattle. We were so honored. I’m not a fan of calling Maui Coffee if it’s only 10 percent Maui coffee. Hawaii is the only place in the world that allows that. Our future goal is to have a coffee roasting tour. We are designing it now. We want to have the roaster there and a place where we can show people what we do.”
AKAMAI COFFEE CO.
Open Mon-Sun, 6am-6pm
Open Mon-Sun, 6am-6pm
Photos: Sean M. Hower