Puna Coffee Farmer Earns Distinguished Accolades

July 18, 2017, 9:01 AM HST
* Updated July 17, 11:57 PM
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Kelleigh Stewart is now one of six Hawai‘i residents with a Q Grader license. Photo courtesy of Big Island Coffee Roasters.

Big Island Coffee Roasters co-founder Kelleigh Stewart has earned a distinguished industry license from the Coffee Quality Institute and has been named one of Hawai‘iʻs top young business leaders.

Stewart was recently licensed as an Arabica Coffee Q Grader after training in the program which teaches people to identify subtle and specific characteristics of various coffees. Licensed Q Graders are qualified to judge cupping competitions and classify a coffee as specialty or commercial grade. Through the use of a universal scoring system, Q Graders can help farmers improve the quality of their coffee and effectively communicate a coffee’s attributes to buyers.

The Mountain View resident earned her license through a rigorous series of tests at Atlas Coffee Lab in Seattle, Wash. These tests included blind identification of 32 scents found in coffee, green coffee grading, cupping tests, defect recognition and others.

According to the Coffee Quality Institute, there are only five licensed Q Graders in the State of Hawai‘i. Stewart is the sixth Hawai‘i resident to earn a license.

Stewart began her career in the coffee industry when she and her husband, Brandon von Damitz, bought a coffee farm in Puna in 2010. Since then, the couple has built an internationally recognized company.


In 2013, Stewart received a grant to purchase coffee grading equipment that helped improve the quality of Puna-grown coffee. Given her dedication to improving the coffee industry as a whole, Stewart was recently named one of the top business leaders in Hawai‘i and honored as one of Pacific Business News’ prestigious “Top 40 Under 40.”


“This has been such a surprise and gift,” said Stewart about her Top 40 Under 40 award. “I love finding solutions to problems, and to me, this honor means I’m on the right track. It’s been a privilege to work in this community and celebrate Hawai‘i through coffee. I look forward to growing relationships within the business and agricultural communities in the coming years.”

Stewart is the youngest member on the statewide Hawai‘i Coffee Association board of directors. She works to improve the sustainability of Hawai‘i’s coffee market by uniting local farmers under a shared mission, providing guidance on best practices, and building a reputable name for speciality coffees in Hawai‘i.


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