Honolulu’s New Milkman: Grok Delivers Coffee Amidst Pandemic

Food & Drink

I was never a turn-on-the-coffee-pot-when-I-wake-up kind of person. As a freelancer, I got my fix at whichever coffee shop I chose that day for my office. 

When the coronavirus shuttered these shops, I started buying beans for the first time so I could whip up afternoon lattes while working from home. 

Local companies are making this easier for their customers. Grok Coffee will start delivering beans next month to homes in Honolulu. Like an old-school milkman, founder Shawn Steiman will drop fresh jars of coffee on your doorstep and then will collect the used jars. 

Steiman, a local coffee scientist who holds a doctorate in tropical plant and soil sciences, owns Coffea Consulting and co-founded the former Daylight Mind Coffee Company, is an authority on coffee. He has done everything from helping companies design coffee farms, select and roast beans and train staff to authoring books to giving talks around the world. 

His pop-up tent at the Saturday Kakaʻako Farmers Market keeps shoppers caffeinated and entertained as they pick up their weekly groceries. Coffee connoisseurs flock to Steiman, who makes learning about coffee fun and easy to understand. 

“Grok” means to understand something so completely that it becomes one with your entire being, showing how smitten Steiman is with his work. Customers appreciate his experience, knowledge, and curation of some of the finest beans in the world. 

But Steiman doesn’t just want to geek out on coffee. He is also on a mission to increase consumption of locally grown and roasted coffee in Hawaiʻi. 

“Honestly, one of the biggest reasons I’m doing this is because people just don’t buy from local roasters,” he said. “And, as someone who used to be a local roaster, it drove me crazy.”

Ordering will be as simple as hopping on the website, selecting how many ounces of coffee you want, and deciding whether you want to pick up at the farmers market or have your beans delivered. Varieties will rotate every week and will feature one local and one nonlocal option to please all palates and budgets. 

“Some roasters have non-Hawaiian coffees,” Steiman said, “and I’ll have one of those. But I’m hoping people will be really excited about Hawaiian coffee. So, I’m both trying to help our farmers but also help our roasters who are just trying to do what they do. And everybody would love to roast only Hawaiian coffee if the demand could fulfill that, but, honestly, it doesn’t, so we’re just making it work.” 

Your coffee will arrive in mason jars with stainless-steel lids that have a silicon valve to release the gases and to retain freshness. Zero plastic. Zero waste. 

Quarantine living is changing our habits, routines and spending behaviors. More people are supporting local, demand for delivery services has increased, and online sales are soaring.

If there was ever a time to start an online coffee delivery business, this is it.

With coffee a necessity for most people, it is no surprise that purchases remain steady while most are tightening their budgets. “U.S. sales of ground coffee at grocery stores and similar channels jumped 11% in the four weeks to May 2, according to research firm Nielsen,” reported The Wall Street Journal.

The flaws of industrial food production have been glaring, pushing consumers to support local. The more our national food supply chain weakens, the more consumers are depending on small, local businesses to keep them fed. This pandemic has proven how fragile our food distribution chain is, as Hawaiʻi relies on imports for 85% of its food

Grok Coffee will support many local coffee farmers and roasters to keep more money circulating in Hawaiʻi’s economy. Including Big Island Kona Coffee & Tea Company, Mountain Thunder, Big Island Coffee Roasters, Paradise Coffee Roasters, Origin Coffee Roasters, ChadLou’s Coffee Roasters and Honolulu Coffee. These companies’ proximity and frequency of shipments will make Grok’s beans fresher than anything you will find in a grocery store. 

The rise of local food and beverage delivery is a sign that Oʻahu is ready for bean-to-doorstep. Nielsen research company reports that companies that can use technologies to address changing consumer demands, to provide delivery service, and to enhance consumer experience online will fare the best both during this time and afterward as we cautiously re-enter a pandemic-changed world. 

Online delivery services on Oʻahu already are seeing amazing results. Farm Link, a home-delivery service that connects consumers all over the island with local ingredients, has seen about a 300% increase in sales since March. The company was forced to grow quickly to keep up with demand. 

“We’ve rented three refrigerated vehicles, driving thousands more miles per week, hired 10 employees, and [will start] leasing a 7,000-square-foot warehouse space starting May 22,” founder Rob Barreca said. 

Of course, more sales means more expenses. 

“We’re banking on continued support from local consumers and to reach break-even as things get more streamlined,” he said.

The increase in online ordering has helped many local businesses survive over the past couple of months.

Since the closure of hundreds of restaurants, local venders who relied heavily on wholesale business are grateful that online retail sales have picked up. 

“We’ve noticed two times as many e-commerce coffee orders from Hawai’i and California residents since March,” said Kelleigh Stewart, co-founder of Big Island Coffee Roasters. “Based on current e-commerce sales volume, we’ve seen a 110% increase in online orders, which is 25% over our Black Friday sales last year and 215% over last April.” 

Grok Coffee’s estimated launch date for delivery is June 15. Orders can be placed at www.GrokCoffee.net. The delivery fee is $5.99.

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