Not Your Average Beverage: Why Kona Coffee Must Be in Your Next Cup

Kona coffee has become known around the world, recognized by coffee drinkers and non-coffee drinkers alike. It’s synonymous with Hawai`i and, more specifically, the district of the Big Island, where specialty coffee trees are grown, and famous coffee beans are produced. Learn where Kona coffee originally came from, what makes it so special, and how you too can experience this iconic taste of Hawai`i.

It’s Bean Awhile

The story of Hawaiian Kona coffee started in the early 1800s when the agriculturist John Wilkinson and the governor of the island of O`ahu purchased (and imported to Hawai`i) about 30 coffee trees during a trip to Rio de Janiero. A few years later, Reverend Samuel Ruggles visited the governor’s home and took some coffee tree cuttings back to the Kona district on the Big Island where he lived.

By the 1830s, coffee was a commercial crop on the Big Island. In the 1890s, the Guatemalan coffee variety, now known as Kona Typica was introduced into the district, coinciding with a coffee boom in Europe and other parts of the world.

There’s a long, fascinating history of Kona coffee and agriculture here in Hawai`i, and this is just the first drop. You can visit the Kona Coffee Living History Farm online and see how coffee was cultivated in the early 1900s. There’s also the Uchida Farm House, which showcases “living snapshots” of what life was like for the Uchida family, immigrants from Japan who became integral farmers on that land. Plus, you can learn more about the Kona Nightingales, the indispensable animals who helped with various tasks on the coffee farm. (FYI, they’re not birds; think burros.)

On the same property as the Kona Coffee Living History Farm is the H.N. Greenwell Store. Once run by Henry Nicolas Greenwell and his family, it was where others in the area could pick up necessary goods and supplies. The grounds (No pun intended.) are located along the Kona coffee belt, or Hawai`i Belt Road (Mamalahoa Highway), in Kealakekua on the western side of the island of Hawai`i.

In Its Nature

What helps make Kona coffee so special is due, in part, to its environment. The Kona district is primarily along the slopes of Hualalai and Mauna Loa. It claims a certain microclimate that helps coffee trees thrive: sunny mornings, afternoons with cloud coverage and/or rain, minimal wind, and cooler evenings. What lies beneath the trees is beneficial as well. Porous, volcanic soil rich in minerals helps set the foundation for the coffee crops to flourish.

What’s Your Type?

Kona coffee trees begin to bloom in the spring. Green berries form in April, and by late summer, red berries, called cherries, are ready to pick. Within 24 hours, the coffee cherries are put into a pulper machine to extract the beans, which undergo a fermentation process overnight. This helps contribute to the beans’ rich flavor. After they’re rinsed, they’re dried over about two weeks to make sure moisture levels are within a certain range.

There are different classifications applied to Kona coffee beans:

  • Type I is when there are two beans (or half-beans) in the cherry.
  • Type II is when one round bean is in the cherry (peaberry beans).

Each type is further classified into different grades, depending on, for example, size and the moisture-level percentage. For Type I, you may see terms like:

  • “Fancy”
  • “Extra Fancy”
  • “Number 1”
  • “Prime”

Type II are referred to often as “Peaberry Prime” or “Peaberry Number 1.”

That’s Rich

Kona coffee has a wonderfully distinct aroma and features a smooth, simple, yet full-bodied richness and low acidity. Many have noticed various fruit notes, a nutty quality, perhaps a slight licorice taste. Even hints of chocolate! And with different roasts come the likelihood of different flavor profiles on the palate.

With 100% Kona coffee now available in grocery stores and wholesale retail chains, you could over time have your own taste test: Start with a light roast, then move toward a medium roast, and finally a dark roast. Take notes to keep track of your tasting experience, and if you typically have a certain food with your coffee, write down which roast you liked best with that item.

From the Isles to the Aisles

As mentioned earlier, the coffee aisle at your grocery store will likely include 100% Kona coffee and Kona coffee blends. Even shopping online for Kona coffee will bring up no shortage of brands and options. The phrase “Kona Coffee Blend” on packaging refers to a mixture of Kona coffee (usually the minimum allowed 10%) and another coffee type. To convey authentic Kona coffee, its packaging is required to state: 100% Kona Coffee.

Rather than stroll the aisles or scroll through the web, get your Premium 100% Kona Coffee easily through Big Island Candies. Our home is Hilo, Hawai`i, and we feature 100% pure Kona coffee from right here on Hawai`i Island. It’s already ground and vacuum-packed in 5 oz bags to help preserve its freshness and flavor. Brewing our 100% Kona Hawaiian coffee is like the essence of Hawai`i in a cup: warm, aromatic, full of flavor, and you’ll want to keep going back for more.

A “Fancy” Gift

If you’re asking yourself, “Why is Kona coffee so expensive?” The short answer: Its high quality is reflected in its price. Also, the labor-intensive cultivation, harvesting, and production processes here in Hawai`i make it a truly special cup of coffee—and a special gift too. If you’re looking for a “fancy” or “extra fancy” treat for the coffee lover you know, we have some advice on how to build an epic coffee lover’s gift basket right here.

Brew News

Remember that coffee tasting we mentioned? Instead of your standard eggs and toast or cereal, try pairing your next cup of Kona Hawaiian coffee with our Macadamia Nut Biscotti. And opt for some additional reading material, like:

With each sip, may your cup runneth over with even more interesting information about this legendary Hawai`i coffee.

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