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Kona Coffee

Kona coffee sign

Kona coffee sign, Big Island [Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA) / Tor Johnson]

The Big Island of Hawaii’s tropical climate consists of sunny mornings and often damp, stormy afternoons. This creates a unique weather pattern perfect for nourishing coffee beans in the volcanic and mineral-rich soil. The result is an intensely flavorful kind of coffee known as Kona coffee, named for the region in which it is grown.

Originally brought to the district of Kona by Samuel Ruggles and later farmer Henry Nicholas Greenwell, the region was soon recognized for its coffee plantations by the 19th century. Since 1845 when the first records of coffee production were made, there have been more than 800 Kona coffee farms established.

Kona coffee is considered one of the most rare and costly coffee brands. This is because of the low volume of beans and the level of work that goes into harvesting, processing, drying, roasting and packaging the product. Kona coffee beans are gathered during the months of August to January, yielding roughly 15 pounds of the fruit or “cherry” of the tree. Inside the cherry are the coffee beans which will determine how the coffee product will be labeled. For example, there is Type I or Type II coffee, which is based on the shape, number of beans in the cherry, the moisture content, size and purity of the bean. Once the coffee beans are properly processed and roasted, they are packed and ready for distribution based on this bean classification.

Since Kona coffee is an elite brand with an expensive price tag, many companies label their product as “Kona Blend” which is a combination of Hawaii-grown Kona coffee, mixed with cheaper brands imported from elsewhere in the world. A brand may mix 10% of Kona coffee in its packaging, with up to 90% of the coffee sourced from foreign brands, while still being able to label the coffee Kona Blend or “Kona Style.” However, to receive full recognition of producing authentic Hawaiian-grown Kona coffee, brands must print on the package label “100% Kona Coffee.”

kona coffee

Kona coffee cherries, roasted beans, hot cups of coffee [Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA) / All images courtesy of Tor Johnson]

Visitors to Hawaii can attend a variety of culinary tours; however, visiting the actual locations where Kona coffee was first developed, ought to be a top priority to any genuine coffee devotee. Visitors can enjoy tours of Kona coffee farms on the Big Island or meander through the erstwhile Greenwell Store, which has become the museum in Hawaii about Kona coffee. Here there is a plethora of scrumptious coffee products like:  coffee flavored chocolates, nuts, spices and honey, chocolate covered coffee beans as well as coffee-infused lotions, balms and fragrances.

Another popular location to visit is the Kona Coffee Living History Farm.  It was first owned by Henry Nicholas Greenwell in 1870’s, then operated by Japanese coffee farmer Daisaku Uchida from 1913. Guests can explore the area by taking self-guided tours through the coffee orchard, the coffee mill and the farmhouse for a small fee.

Kona coffee is considered one of the greatest treasures of Hawaii, and every year in November, Hawaii residents and visitors join together to celebrate the delicious beverage together at the Annual Kona Coffee Cultural Festival in the first two weeks of November. This is the oldest food festival in Hawaii, having been celebrated on the Big Island for almost 50 years, providing special events, coffee tastings and historical tours. Some of these traditions include:  hosting a coffee sampling from over 30 farms, community coffee-picking excursions, coffee making seminars, coffee recipe contest, tours of coffee farms, a coffee tasting competition, a beer, wine and Kona coffee pairing event, coffee quilting show, a Kona coffee labels display, local art walks and even a Miss Kona Coffee Pageant. Whatever event guests decide to attend, each day will certainly be infused with a taste of Kona’s finest.

Devoted coffee lovers should consider adding the Annual Kona Coffee Cultural Festival as one of their memorable activities while on vacation in Hawaii.


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