Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Ali'i Buzz Bike, Kona, HI

After purchasing an excellent cup of coffee here at the Ali'i Buzz cafe in Kona, I noticed this fine fixed coffee steed propped outside. Ali'i was a chiefly or noble rank, so I suppose this is "royal buzz" cafe. I think the shiny Pista I saw locked up in Manhattan is still my favorite vacation bike catch, but this KHS is probably a close second. When I read the reviews on yelp for this place, it makes me all the more suspicious of the quality and motivation behind those reviews. I have visited many independent cafes in many countries, and this one is among the very good ones. The coffee was good, the service was prompt, and the barista came across as an intense and interesting person, which is all I ask of my baristas. I don't like canned answers or shallow banter, I appreciate a good strong attitude coming from a solid perspective, and a challenge with my caffeine. For example, at a cafe in Phoenix, they disallow cell phone usage while ordering or checking out, and I appreciate that: while you're talking to me, your thumbs are not moving, your bluetooth is silent.

At Starbucks in LAX, in contrast, I heard a young woman ask the barista, who was a frantic efficient Tasmanian devil of an espresso shot maker by the way, "Do you have any soy milk?" This was while the woman was standing in front of a glass divider behind which stood about ten cartons of soy milk, and I have never been at a Starbucks that didn't have a full array of soy milk ready to address all of your lactose intolerant non-dairy preferences. This was an excellent opening for any number of challenging and humorous ripostes, most of which probably would have sounded rude to your average IN-A-BIG-HURRY frappo-crappo-mocha-chino smoothie drinker. But if I was a barista who just wanted to pull the perfect shot of organic locally grown coffee, who had to face impatient frappo-crappo-mocha-chino smoothie purchasers all day, I might be likely to go ahead and reply to the soy milk woman with an appropriate and challenging comeback, just to keep it real. The good customers will engage and connect. The others will probably harumph and go write nasty reviews on yelp. Now you might say also that charging ruinous prices for the frappo-crappo-mocha-chino smoothies should be enough compensation for having to whip up those sugary abominations, second in evil only to iced coffee itself (oh the horror of the squelching of the 600+ aromatic compounds that come to life in the lovely vapors over a steaming cup! To ice coffee is to kill it! Ice Nescafe, if you want a cold drink! LET COFFEE LIVE I say!), but I learned a long time ago that just because it's on the menu doesn't mean the chef is going to put his heart into preparing it. His heart is going to center around a few items, and identifying those and ordering them is what's going to lead to a revelatory gustatory epiphany rather than another nondescript reheated prepared forgettable nullity. Let the buyer be aware. Let the customer of the independent cafe realize that ordering from the simple, espresso-based section of the menu, with an adjunct of milk if you must, is most likely to result in an excellent result, while most everything else may just be acceptable, revenue-generating products.

Kona was crazy in the aftermath of the Ironman competition, crawling with super-fit, muscly, low body fat beings who run up and down mountains, swim miles in the ocean, and ride a hundred miles like it's nothing. The men looked like statues of Greek gods, while the women resembled magazine ads, except in 3D, and moving around buying fruit and vegetables and Hawaiian sodas in the Farmer's Market. Also, they were riding their tri-bikes around, which was funny, too, since there were guys in beach wear and sandals pedaling their $7000 carefully fitted and not-very-comfortable wonder machines down to the beach. Usually still at high rates of speed, though. And with very good form. Me? I was just chilling at Huggos, eating the most perfect poke possible, and taking it all in. I have a feeling the chef likes to make these. Damn. I shall dream of this.

Huggo's Poke: food of elite Ironman athletes, as well as chillin tourists. Unforgettable.


  1. Interesting: most bicyclists seem to be true coffee connoisseurs, and you are no exception, JRA.

    Me? I've worked in and around heavy highway construction for over two thirds of my life, so the rule of thumb is that GOOD coffee is hot and black and wakes you up. Coffee the consistency of maple syrup is even better. Coffee with chewable grounds in it (i.e. Cowboy coffee out camping) is the best. ;)

  2. Wow, that Poke looks delicious! I used to go to Huggo’s with my grandmother in the mid-eighties. Kona is cool. Thanks for the memories.

  3. BluesCat, one camping trip, we faced a crisis at dawn: everyone forgot to bring a coffee pot. I did have a backup plan, always be prepared: a box of those instant coffee bags approaching its expiration date. Instant hero, I was that day.

    mindful mule, it was very good, and "going to Kona with grandma" just has a nice ring to it.


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