Love Coffee? Discover Java Kai

I was surprised to learn that people didn’t know about Java Kai in Old Town Kapa’a. Every time I go, there’s a group of coffee junkies clustered around the counter placing and waiting for orders, or sitting at tables with their laptops tapped into the free Wi-Fi.

For those of you who don’t know, it’s right next to Mermaids Cafe, with big red doors opening into an artsy coffee shop.

“There’s a lot of people who don’t even know we’re here,” says owner Sean Garcia. “Or that we have ample parking in the back,” adds his wife Xochitl (her name is Aztec and sounds like so chi).

“There are people who haven’t been here in years,” Sean says. “And when they come in, they’re surprised at how it looks, and the quality of the food,” says Xochitl, finishing Sean’s sentence. She continues, “The previous owners didn’t really do food, and there was a four-person staff.”

Xochitl’s mother originally bought Mermaids Cafe and Java Kai in 1989. The coffee shop was too much, so she sold it. Since taking over three-and-a-half years ago, the Garcias have bumped up the staff to 17 employees, and have created a menu that goes beyond coffee and includes fresh-squeezed juice, smoothies, baked goods, and made-to-order hot breakfast and lunch.

A giant chalkboard lists 50 coffee drinks, smoothies, Italian sodas and the “word of the day.” Barista Carrie Daniels grinds beans that are roasted locally and delivered weekly.

There’s something for everyone: omnivore, vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free. Apples, ginger, carrots, local greens and beets are freshly squeezed into juice ($4 to $7.50), and for those who want something a little more filling, the juice can be added to smoothies with frozen bananas, coconut milk and dates ($6.50 to $9.50).

Every morning at 4, baker Niki Knutson heats the ovens and makes mountains of homey pastries ($2.95 to $4.50). If you get there when they open, the rich and tender muffins and scones are warm from the oven, and the aromas of cooked sugar and melted butter fill the air.

The tricky part is choosing among cream cheese-frosted cinnamon buns, vegan and gluten-free espresso brownies, bacon Cheddar croissants, raspberry scones, coconut muffins, caramel macadamia nut sticky buns, chocolate dipped macaroons, or shortbread cookies dipped in chocolate and sprinkled with Hawaiian sea salt. For me, the coconut muffin usually wins.

These guys are cooking real food here, so if you can’t wait 10 minutes, grab breakfast or lunch from the cooler. If you have time, place your order and browse the local merchandise or sit at an outside table.

Java Kai sells bags of local and organic coffee, as well as blends including its house coffee, “Ohana.” You’ll also find locally made Da Cha tea, Garden Island Chocolate bars, Kaua’i Honey, locally made body spray and lotion, Java Kai clothes that Xochitl designed, water bottles, Kaua’i Cigars and sea glass jewelry.

The Surfer Girl Sandwich ($10.50) is designed with a hungry person in mind. A smear of pesto aioli is spread on the bottom half of a fat bagel. Next comes fluffy eggs, fresh spinach and sauteed onions that are folded together and topped with smoky strips of bacon and slices of tomato. It comes with a side of fresh pineapple, papaya and banana salad, topped with toasted coconut.

A new item on the lunch menu is the Chicken Papaya Mac Nut Salad. You can have it on a sandwich ($10.95) with a side salad, or skip the bread and just have the salad. Either way, it’s thick with chunks of tender chicken, bits of crisp onions, crunchy macadamia nuts and flecks of papaya.

The Chicken Papaya Mac Nut Salad ($10.95) features a scoop of the chicken salad on a bed of crisp and tender local baby lettuces, and is surrounded with slices of local papaya and cucumber. A zippy house-made citrus vinaigrette is served on the side. It’s a fresh, light and filling lunch.

“We like to think of Java Kai as a quick break from running around the island,” says Sean. “Whether you’re working or adventuring,” says Xochitl. “Yeah, it’s a little oasis where you can rest and refuel and then get back out there,” Sean concludes.

Java Kai
4-1384 Kuhio Hwy., Old Town Kapa’a
Sunday-Thursday, 6 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Friday and Saturday, 6 a.m. to 8 p.m.