108-Year-Old Hawaiian Coffee Roaster Finds Café Home in Bonita, CA

Bonita, California: population: 12, 538. They’ve got horses, ranches, orchards, and a few million-dollar homes. Coffee is not exactly this small town’s forte.

Except for this one shop. Tightly squeezed between one of San Diego’s best fish taco joints, TJ Oyster Bar, and a Thai restaurant, you will find Pavaraga Coffee.

While it is kind of my duty to report on the state of coffee, I’d much rather focus on how unique Pavaraga is to not just the neighborhood, but to the entire coffee industry.

For starters, they picked a location like Bonita. On top of those horses, orchards and mansions that this town has become known for, you also have the guy that damn-near owned it; Henry E. Cooper

In 1893, Cooper was the chairman of the Citizen’s Community of Safety that had an influential hand in the overthrow of the Kingdom of Hawaii. In 1899 he became the first Attorney General for the Territory of Hawaii. And in 1907, he was one of the founding members of the University of Hawaii at Manoa. But before all of that, he was a resident of Bonita.

It dates back to 1884 when Cooper first moved to Bonita to build a ranch and lemon grove. He called it Bonita Ranch, naming it after a local pond, Bonita Laguna. After the financial success of his groves, the name of his ranch stuck and the area became known as Bonita. Shortly after, Cooper sold off his groves and moved with his wife and five children to Hawaii. 

What he left in Bonita was the name, and a bunch of lemon groves that became known as the Sweetwater Fruit Company. 

Fast-forward almost a century, and you will find Leo Pavaraga Javar, now president of Pavaraga Coffee, in elementary school. What was he learning about in his textbooks back in Hawaii? Henry E. Cooper.

Now, they are neighbors. Kind of. 

Leo said that most of his customers don’t realize the “deep connection” to Hawaii that he, his coffee shop, and his fellow Bonita natives have. Must be nice.

To some people, that history lesson matters. To others, not so much. But that’s okay, because really what we should be doing here is letting the coffee speak for itself. And that it does.

In fact, it’s not just the shop’s regular customers that think so. It’s dignitaries too. Like presidents, prime ministers, governors and even iron chefs. Just ask the Speciality Coffee Association of America (SCAA), who gave them top honors back in 2009 when Pavaraga became the only Hawaiian coffee to place in the top ten in the America Roaster’s Choice Tasting competition. 

A sample can of the Pavaraga Presidential Reserve Coffee that was served to President Obama. 

A sample can of the Pavaraga Presidential Reserve Coffee that was served to President Obama. 

Pavaraga Coffee, who has been around since 1908, has primarily been a wholesale luxury coffee supplier over the years for some pretty shiny, expensive brands. Think along the lines of Trump Hotels or Nieman Marcus. Throw in Japan Airlines and Samsung too, just to name a few.

Point is, Pavaraga knows what they’re doing. Though they have yet to scratch the surface of the everyday coffee shop customer. But that’s okay, because the company business model and infrastructure is more than capable of running a few new coffee shops.

From growing to producing to distributing to roasting to brewing, the Pavaraga family operates on a fully-functional, high-powered vertical business model. This allows them to eliminate any need for buyers, suppliers, roasters, you name it. If you want farm-to-cup, this is it. 

Like when you pop-in for the first time, you’ll known this place is different the second you sit down for your customary first-time cold brew tasting. They start with a warm greeting on entry, asking you to have a seat and get comfortable. Then comes the unveiling of their prized cold brew. Not just one, two, three, or four bottles of the stuff, but six and sometimes more. Every coffee is single origin, all coming from various regions of the Hawaiian islands.

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Much like when you wink at your local butcher and whisper to him for the “good stuff from the back,” it’s the same way on the weekends at Pavaraga. It is then you will the find good stuff, when they serve their “wild” and “expedition” cold brews. According to Leo, it’s a 6.5 hour climb to these coffee trees. They are literally in the wild, and at times can take up to 10 times longer to harvest. Not exactly your commercial Christmas-tree like coffee farm.

But to Leo and his family, offering these cold brew tastings is like a public service. It is coffee for the people, as he puts it. And it just happens that it costs the family more money to harvest these wild coffee trees than it does to serve it. Like, $150 per/bag more. So take advantage, this coffee is for you! 

Not only that, but the experience you get in a Pavaraga coffee shop is almost like that of a chef. Leo said that one reason why they offer the free cold brew tasting is to give their customers the same experience their VIPs get, like Iron Chef Forgione. Much like a chef, you would never serve something without tasting it. Pavaraga’s theory is “why let their customers buy something without tasting it?”

Also similar to a chef’s tasting, is wine tasting. And for Pavaraga, that is a unique part of their business that they don’t plan on parting ways with for a while. To give you some perspective, Pavaraga sells a coffee for $150 p/pound! Thanks to their proprietary processing techniques, Pavaraga is able to produce the majority of their coffee without any water. That allows them to preserve more of the caffeine content that is originally found in the coffee cherry itself. That, coupled with age, has helped make Pavaraga the most luxurious coffee in the world.

With Pavaraga, it’s the typical case of quality over quantity. Where most coffee producers are shipping their green coffee after just three days of processing, Pavaraga is shipping after three months. And at times, like with wine, they are waiting three years. Leo explained that most people are not patient or willing enough to produce or drink aged coffee. To me, I say hell yes! For the rest, I hope it catches on. I really do. 

In the mean time, Pavaraga remains one of the few coffee brands that is producing aged coffee. Now, keep in mind this coffee isn’t for everyone. According to Coffee Review, when green coffee ages, it tends to gain body, lose acidity and take on an earthier, wood-like flavor profile. At times, it can taste dull, burnt and pungent. But for the experimental coffee drinker, and when paired with typical Hawaiian sweeteners like Haupia (sweetened coconut milk syrup), aged coffee can be a very luxurious coffee drinking experience. Sometimes, the coffee will even become sweeter, more syrupy and make for a more complete cup. 

You can plan on seeing a lot more of Pavaraga’s aged coffees too, as the family has plans to add at least a dozen new locations throughout Southern California. 

Though remember, it’s not always just about the coffee. Often times, there is a story, or in this case, a family behind your cup of coffee. And this family is doing different things, and they are to be acknowledged by the very culture that now more than ever before is craving serious change. If you want to join in on a company that is taking risks, and genuinely cares about delivering a quality product to the people, drink Pavaraga. 

As Leo put, this coffee is for you. 

“A lot of the power and choices you’ve had was with corporations. Now, you have the power to choose whatever coffee you want. And that is what we want, is coffee for the people.”

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Do you have any memories to share about Pavaraga, or about any other Hawaiian coffee you've had? Let us know in the comments section below, or contact us here to be exclusively featured on GCC.