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A taste of Pacific paradise

North America

Honolulu - There's a rattle and a hiss from the depths of the small metal drum - and just like that, the aroma of freshly roasted coffee slowly wafts across the room.

Peggy Stevens, manager of the Ushema Coffee Company in the mountains on Hawaii, has a magnificent view of thousands of coffee bushes - the bushes where the very beans being roasted were grown.

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Keith de la Cruz is the leader of a cooperative farm in the hills of Hilo, on the eastern side of the island, and is responsible for breathing new life into the farmers market.

Hawaii is a well-loved destination for those seeking sun, sea and sand. But the island paradise's climate means it has a lot to offer foodies as well.

Hawaii island - known as Big Island locally - is the largest of the eight islands in this archipelago US state and is home to a diverse range of local produce, from nuts to fish to home-grown coffee.

The Kona area on the west side of the island has gained a reputation as a hotspot for coffee lovers in the last few years. There are multiple coffee farms, and the volcanic earth, the sun and the comparatively heavy rainfall provides the best condition for the beans to thrive.

“Coffee plantations are nothing new here,” says Stevens. Coffee cultivation was already happening in Kona early as the 19th century.

Keith de la Cruz is the leader of a cooperative farm in the hills of Hilo, on the eastern side of the island, and is responsible for breathing new life into the farmers market.

Now you can get mangoes, papaya, pineapples, lychees. And of course, “mac nuts” - the local nickname for macadamia nuts, which are being grown in farms across Hilo.

“We have just the right climate here, because the nuts only grow in latitudes of between 10 and 20,” explains Jicky Mebane, who runs a farm on Hallelujah Hill. Rain, sun, and earth - this is just the environment needed to grow mac nuts.

Nuts, tropical fruits and fish - on Hawaii, this is the fresh produce available in stores or from roadside vendors like James Collins. He set up a simple wooden stall on Mamaloha Highway in Kona, close to his home, and sells whatever fruit is ripe for picking.

“Why should we let the fruit rot?”

Collins uses a small box for the money he takes for the papaya, mangoes, citrus fruits, avocados and bananas. “And it doesn't matter if you have money - you can help yourself regardless.”

The pricing system at the Honolulu fish market works in a slightly different way. Every morning - except on Sundays - the market is buzzing with fishermen who have come directly from the harbour with their catch of the day to auction it off to the highest bidder.

On Saturdays tourists are also welcome to come in and watch the show.

But not everyone gets to the market early, explains Ed Kenney, who has worked as a chef in Honolulu for many years - primarily cooking Hawaiian cuisine.

“I know my fishermen. And if one of them has had a really good catch, they call me directly,” he says. The catch of the day determines Kenney's menu. “The land and the sea have sustained us for centuries. Why should I work with ingredients that come out of a plastic bag?”

And he isn't the only one who thinks this way, as his success shows - Kenney has just opened his third restaurant.

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