Kona Coffee: What You Need to Know

By Karen Rose

In 1932 Irving Berlin wrote, “Just around the corner, there’s a rainbow in the sky. So let’s have another cup o’ coffee, and let’s have another piece o’ pie.” If Mr. Berlin were on the Island of Hawaiʻi, he would most likely have been enjoying a cup of Kona Coffee with a big slice of lilikoi-macadamia nut pie.

What Makes Kona Coffee, Kona Coffee

Kona coffee plantation road. Photo: jai Mansson.

Kona coffee plantation road. Photo: jai Mansson.

In fact, Kona is known for producing some the best and most expensive coffee in the world. The leeward side of the island has beautiful, sunny mornings and rainy afternoons. This weather combination, along with the island’s rich volcanic soil and mild evenings, create a unique environment essential to producing the perfect coffee bean.

100% Kona Coffee

Grown on the slopes of Mauna Loa and Hualalai, coffee trees thrive in Kona’s ideal growing conditions. This world-famous “coffee belt” is only a mile wide and about 30 miles long. It consists of more than 4,000 acres and is considered small in comparison to the rest of the world’s coffee farms. Known for its well-balanced flavor, each Kona coffee farm has subtle characteristics that make it unique in quality. Coffee harvested exclusively from this “coffee belt” is considered Kona Coffee. In addition, there are some coffee farms able to produce their very own 100% Kona Coffee estate coffees.

What Makes for the Best Kona Coffee (Hint: Kona Coffee Beans Picked at Peak)

Photo: Malcolm Manners.

Photo: Malcolm Manners.

Hawaii is the only state in the nation with a commercial coffee industry. According the Kona Coffee Council, coffee cherries do not ripen simultaneously, and because of Kona’s rocky location, the coffee trees cannot be mechanically harvested. Every bean must be inspected upon harvest to ensure its readiness, resulting in the coffee cherries being harvested at the perfect time. Unlike mechanical harvests, which result in a combination of overripe and immature beans, Kona coffee beans are picked at the peak of perfection.

Kona Coffee Tours

royal kona coffee center

Photo: Prayitno.

Kona’s coffee industry is part of a proud heritage going back nearly 200 years. Kona coffee farmers work hard to preserve and perpetuate the cultural importance of coffee to the Island of Hawaiʻi through annual festivals, coffee farm tours and tastings. If you’re planning a trip to the Island of Hawaiʻi, be sure to visit one of the many coffee farms and experience the magic that goes into that perfect morning cup of brew. But beware – once you try Kona coffee, you may never go back to that regular cup o’ joe again!

“Our stop at the Royal Kona Museum & Coffee Mill was a lot of fun. After sampling several different flavors of coffee, we purchased a variety pack which made for a couple of nice Christmas presents to our favorite coffee lovers!” says Hawaii.com member Richard M.

Satiating Your Kona Coffee Craving

Ed Y.'s morning view of Lihue Harbor while he sipped his Kona Coffee. Photo: Ed Y., Hawaii.com member.

Ed Y.’s morning view of Lihue Harbor while he sipped his Kona Coffee. Photo: Ed Y., Hawaii.com member.

Once you’re hooked on coffee grown in Hawaiʻi, it’s hard to live without it. There are residents who never leave the islands without a bag or two tucked in their luggage. The aroma, when it escapes from the bag whatever your destination, is as much the scent of the islands as the salty smell of the ocean or the sweet fragrance of ginger.

While on vacation on the island of Kauaʻi, Hawaii.com member Ed Y. says, “A cup of Kona coffee, a cool morning breeze and a view of the harbor entrance into Lihue; this was how we greeted each morning on our Hawaii vacation.”

Most of the coffee you’ll find in Hawaiʻi will contain at least some percentage of Kona coffee. Blends are definitely good, but the real thing is, well, the real thing.

The Price of 100% Kona Coffee

The price of a pound of 100 percent Kona Coffee is directly related to the complex and meticulous process required to transform a bean into a full-bodied, aromatic brew. Seedlings are hand-planted and hand-picked. An estimated 4,000 beans are needed to produce a pound of coffee. Before roasting, Kona coffee is sun dried, then custom roasted. Roasting is considered an art form by many in the trade, and some say it’s the most important step in the process. Expect to pay at least $10-20 per pound for 100 percent Kona Coffee.

The Shelf Life of Whole Bean and Ground Kona Coffee

After it is purchased, coffee should be kept fresh in the freezer or in an air tight container. Whole bean coffee has a shelf life of about two months, while ground coffee will begin to lose freshness after about a month.

Kona Coffee Makes a Great Take-Home Item (and Gift)

Coffee is a good take-home item because it can be stuffed into corners of already over-stuffed bags, it doesn’t break or spill, and will pass the mandatory agriculture check at Hawaii airports. Best of all, when you open a bag at home, you’ll get a whiff and a taste of Hawaiʻi. Enjoy!

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