Kauai: dreamy island respite, painfully beautiful, truly relaxing (other than east side traffic!) Last time, I covered restaurants and cheap eats, and killer cocktails on the island. This time, the final post in the series, I'll focus on the best places to stay, and more on libations from coffee to rum.
Grand Hyatt Kauai, Poipu Beach:
Do yourself a favor and stay at Grand Hyatt Kauai. A resort in the full sense of the word, it is its own world unto itself. From lava rock waterways and multiple levels of pools (including a salt water-sand pool), to its world class spa, Anara, and open air couples cabanas, you leave here feeling as if you've truly had a vacation.
Dinner at Tidepools, features pina coladas sipped poolside, taking in the sunset from the deck of your room with a bottle of wine, conversing with the parrots in the massive open air atrium, live bands, and a scotch in Stevenson's Library. It's all unforgettable. Yes, it will cost you, but service is impeccable and the experience ranks up there with (or above) the best I've had, anywhere – and that includes the Ritz Carlton and the Four Seasons. The unreal setting, balmy by day, lit by tiki torches at night, is unbeatable.
Outrigger Waipoli Beach Resort, Kapaa:
My initial take on Outrigger Waipouli wasn't strong. On a busy, strip mall-lined stretch of East Kauai in the town of Kapaa, its appears fairly generic from the outside, while kids swarm the lovely pool area (modeled loosely after Grand Hyatt's incredible pools and waterways). At the time, the one spa for adults was overtaken by eight children.
But from a non-descript hallway, the door to our room opened onto what felt like our own private beach house. Two bedrooms, three bathrooms, a spacious living room and kitchen; each room had sliding doors opening onto the lawn than ran right down to the beach. Breezes flowed through the space, which felt private and removed from any of the hotel's structure. Dishware, wine glasses, coffeemaker, everything we needed was in the kitchen, making it feel like a home away from home. It was the one part of the trip where we could cook and watch movies (Blue Hawaii, thank you very much) on flat screens in each room.
Though the location is not near as idyllic or removed as Grand Hyatt on Poipu Beach (it's certainly more affordable), inside our room we felt secluded, rested and as if we could settle in for weeks.
Kauai Coffee Plantation, Eleele:
The coast from the caffeinated climes of Kauai Coffee
Originally McBryde Sugar Plantation back in the 1880s, Kauai Coffee is Kauai's one and only coffee plantation, encompassing over 3,000 acres set right on the ocean. A more striking setting I could hardly envision. A half day personal tour with its amazing sales manager, Marty Amaro, was a highlight in Kauai. We off-roaded in his truck over red dirt roads, through coffee fields, and next to ocean rocks where we watched sea turtles lolling.
Coffee plant at Kauai Coffee
They do everything locally themselves. I toured the factory, climbed atop a coffee harvesting tractor, witnessed bean roasting and bagging on a vertical form-fill-and-seal machine, and of course, sipped Kauai coffee. Amaro makes a mean iced mocha, let me tell you. I was envisioning a sweet, chocolate-y drink but it's a bracing, coffee lover's delight, refreshing and cool on a hot island day.
Kauai Coffee grows farm varietals of Arabic coffee: yellow catuai, red catuai (both with high levels of acidity for medium-bodied coffee), typica (medium acidity for medium-bodied coffee), Kauai Blue Mountain (medium acidity and full-bodied), and Mundo Novo (low acidity but full-bodied).
Coffee beans roasting
They run the largest drip-irrigated coffee estate in the world, sourcing waters from a nearby dam in the foothills, roasting over 600,000 pounds of coffee a year: an amazing feat when you see the size of the room it all happens in. Similar to wine, harvesting happens annually, around September through November, when staff double in size to get it all processed.
You can join the coffee club for a reasonable $15.25 to receive one 10 oz. bag, or $29 for two. Besides some of the elegant estate coffees, I find the newer Big Braddah a real representation of Kauai spirit: casual, familial, playful. I'm definitely not a flavored coffee type, but I am pleasantly embarrassed to admit I was taken with the Hawaiian coconut caramel crunch coffee. Each batch is painstakingly hand-flavored and the result is not so much sweet as integrated and nutty.
Kauai Coffee should be a stop on any visit to Kauai.
Koloa Rum, Lihue:
I found Koloa Rum to be a bit of a mixed bag. The setting is memorably Hawaiian: a traditional sugar plantation-style tasting room on the grounds of the delightful Kilohana Plantation (a former sugar plantation preserved since its 1930s heyday). The distillery's elegant packaging makes for a strong first impression.
Staff are gracious and aim to please. But complex Hawaii liquor laws are such that tastes remain exceptionally tiny, cannot be shared, and though they have created a mai tai mix, it's illegal for them to mix alcohol – you won't find cocktails of any kind here.
Using a 1,210 gallon copper pot still originally used for Kentucky bourbons post World War II, white, gold, and dark rums work best as entry points to the pleasures of rum. I know some who find them flat or not as nuanced as other rums, yet each one has won bronze or silver medals at esteemed rum tasting competitions like the Miami Rum Renaissance Festival.
I expected to find the gold ($30.95) and dark ($32.95) rums too sweet, given their somewhat unnatural coloring, which comes from crystallized sugar and molasses. But they were more balanced than I expected. But I'd be most inclined to drink the white ($29.95): clean and light, appropriate for cocktails. Another recent launch is the spiced rum.
If you're in the area, it is a worthy stop: a local venture using the last of the little sugarcane left from the island, and pure mountain rainwater of nearby Mt. Wai'ale'ale.
Java Kai, Kapaa:
The best coffee I had in Kauai, the bracing coffee at Java Kai is a local favorite for a strong cappuccino or espresso. It doesn't have the friendliest staff (which is unusual in Hawaii), but that's no matter when coffee is being prepared right. It was my regular morning stop on this side of the island (P.s. - it's ideal iced, next door at Mermaids Cafe.
Kalaheo Cafe, Kalaheo:
On the south shore of Kauai, this casual cafe would be at home in any hip, small town. Kalaheo Cafe has a healthy, locals vibe and is packed for breakfast. Eat-in or take-out, stand-outs include straight-from-the-oven baked goods (apple coffee cake is one). Using local coffees like Kauai Coffee, they serve robust espressos and cappuccinos. There may be no third wave, artful foam atop that capp, but rest assured it will wake you up. For one picky about coffee and how it is prepared, I didn't feel like I had to suffer for good coffee on the sleepy island of Kauai.
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