• Cher Dayrit

Hawaii Kona Coffee

Updated: Mar 26



Back in 1817, horticultural experimenter don Francisco de Paula Marin attempt to grow coffee in Hawaii. He introduced several plant species to the Hawaiian Islands but failed to do so for coffee plants. In 1828, in the Kona District of Kailua-Kona, Samuel Reverend Ruggles planted the very first coffee tree. He brought the cuttings from Brazil, although it was not until much later in that century that it became a consistent and worthwhile crop. From a piece of a tree originated in Oahu, he watched it grow into a coffee empire.

By 1899, nearly 3 million coffee trees had grown throughout the region. This caused plantation owners to have to lease out their land to their workers. Most of these workers were originally from Japan, and they worked their leased land parcels of between 5 and 12 acres as family concerns, producing large, quality coffee crops. Today, there are around 650 farms responsible for coffee cultivation in the Kona district. Hawaii Kona coffee accounts for about 95% of all coffee produced on the Big Island.

Since the early 1800’s, Kona on the west coast of Hawaii island (also known as The Big Island), has produced coffee continuously. The Kona name only applies to beans grown in North and South Kona, and coffee that is grown elsewhere in Hawaii cannot be called Kona coffee.

The Hawaiian islands are full of volcanoes. The volcanic soil is highly beneficial to growing coffee because it is full of rich minerals that encourage healthy coffee trees. In Hawaii, the Kona Coffee belt produces near-perfect growing conditions for a few coffee varieties. The Hawaiian word Kama’ainia means “child of the land,” representing all residents born the island. Carrying on tradition and authenticity, most of the coffee plants in the Kona district are still owned by Kama’aina families.


Coffee is successfully grown in only a limited number of locations in the world. Coffee requires a very specific combination of sun, soil, and water. The cycle of bright sun and humid rain create perfect growing conditions for exotic plants to blossom. Coffee trees grow on the volcanic rocky land, and mild frost-free temperatures. Rain is a common occurrence on the islands, producing not only water for the plants to survive, but shade from the sun for periods of time. There seems to be the perfect balance of sun, rain, low winds and mild nights. Usually, coffee grown at higher elevations will be better, more unique, and more flavoured compared to coffees grown at lower elevations. But even at its highest, the coffee farms of Hawaii don’t compete with the elevations of many other coffee growing regions. This is the reason why even some of the best coffees from Hawaii has characteristics that are quite mild in taste and acidity.


“Kona” is the market name for coffee produced on the slopes of the Hualalai and Mauna Loa Mountains in the North and South Districts of Kailua-Kona. Do you know only coffees cultivated in the Kona region of the Big Island can be titled as Kona coffee? Hawaii Kona Coffee has a unique advantage over most other types of coffee grown in other countries such as Brazil and Columbia by growing the coffee in rich volcanic soil at a high elevation in the area’s characteristically wet and dry tropical climate. Kona coffee trees bloom each January to May. The small white blooms of the coffee tree, which is called “Kona Snow” by the locals emit a sweet aroma. After several months, the blossoms melt away, leaving behind a green cherry that holds the coffee bean. These green cherries ripen over the warm summer months and coffee harvest season runs from August to December. The coffees are picked by hand once they reach the perfect shade of red. This process is a very meticulous, and expertly trained pickers will not harvest the coffee beans until they have reached a dark and rosy colour. This process does not happen all at once. They will return to the coffee trees a dozen times until such time that they are satisfied with their ripeness. The coffee then undergoes washed processing method. After the beans have dried, they are ready to be milled, sorted, graded, and sent off to be roasted right at the plantation.


The tradition of running family farms has continued throughout Kona. The Japanese-origin families have been joined by Filipinos, mainland Americans, and Europeans – all of who strive to keep their farms productive, their crops as perfect as can be, and their family lifestyle peaceful. This family orientation has produced a close sense of community, with care and compassion to spare, and a friendly welcome for all who come to visit.


Kona coffee beans are found in only one part of the world: Kona, Hawaii. Bean farmers grow them at high elevations above sea level across hundreds of coffee bean plantations. The villagers and farmers of Kona celebrate their rich coffee history each year during the Kona Coffee Cultural Festival. People come from all over the islands to celebrate this incredible product that results from elevation, humidity and moisture, as well as the volcanic infused soil. The combination of location and care help to make this coffee bean one of a kind in a world of millions of coffee bean choices. Kona Coffee is a specialty coffee. The use of special beans, perfect growing conditions and special ways of processing the beans sets itself apart from any normal coffee. All these factors has a big contribution to the taste of the final cup of coffee, and gives a flavor that can be savoured and enjoyed!


Compared to other coffees, Hawaii Kona coffee is relatively expensive. Do you know that the main reason for this is the cost of labour? Coffee picking is a very labour intensive process, and a farm worker in Hawaii gets paid a lot more than a farmer in Guatemala or Ethiopia. However, given the high demand and excellent reputation of Kona Coffee, despite the high price, the quality is definitely worth the price.

Today, there are some of the original plantations that have been converted into museums that are open to the public like the Greenwell Store and the Kona Coffee Living History Farm. These museums give people especially tourists the chance to discover the stories of the millers, roasters, and Kona coffee pickers who have been harvesting coffee for years. The level of care and attention to detail has been passed down from generation to generation resulting in the notoriously flavorful and aromatic cup.


You can obviously find Kona coffee on the islands of Hawaii. You can also learn about the culture and history of the coffee plantations first hand while visiting Hawaii. If you want to learn more, you can check out the Kona Coffee Festival, it is an annual festival that happens every year around November. This tradition celebrates and promotes the heritage and culture of behind Kona’s famous coffee for 46 years. The festival has created a map to help tourists discover coffee plantations along the South Kona District.

Kona beans are the very popular, and are adored by tourists. For a cup of Kona coffee, you can expect to taste brown sugar, milk chocolate, honey, and a hint of a bright fruit flavor. This coffee has low acidity and medium, smooth with a slightly syrupy body. This has also buttery qualities with subtle notes of nut and fruit, intensely sweet and floral aroma, and with a great aftertaste/finish.

Every year limited amount of Kona coffee are exported to the world, most of them (about 80%) go to Japan. A very small amount go to the rest of the world market. We hope to be able to share these fine coffee beans with coffee lovers in Asia.

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