What is the best Kona coffee? Is it worth the high price tag? It is everything it is chalked up to be? What does it taste like? And where can you purchase 100% Kona coffee beans from? These are a few of the questions that we will seek to answer in this article.
I wonder how much is the most you have ever paid for a cup of coffee? Mine so far is $16 for a single cup of filter coffee. By the time you are paying those sorts of prices, you know it is expensive, you wonder if it is worth it, and yet there is something about drinking a cup of coffee knowing that it is made from rare geisha beans from Panama or Ethiopia that makes you fork out the cash.
And really that is the appeal that Kona coffee has held for over a century now. Kona coffee beans are expensive, they can be hard to get your hands on, and you wonder if the experience will justify the price, and yet there is something about a cup of Pour Over or French Press made from Kona coffee that seems to make it all worth it.
For a long time now Kona coffee has been regarded as some of the most premium coffee beans in the world. In fact, as early as 1866 the literary luminary Mark Twain commented that
Kona coffee has a richer flavor than any other, be it grown where it may and call it by what name you please.Mark Twain
What is Kona Coffee?
Kona Coffee is coffee beans that are grown, harvested, and processed on the slopes on Mauna Loa and Hualālai in the North and South Districts of Hawaii’s big island. These beans take their name from the Kona district on which they are grown and which is a mere 30 miles long by 2-3 miles wide.
The majority of Kona coffee is the Typica varietal of Coffea Arabica and is associated with the highest quality. This coffee is mostly grown on small farms and handpicked to ensure premium and consistent quality.
It is also worth noting that the name Kona Coffee is carefully guarded by the Hawaiian government as the result of a range of counterfeits that have popped up. In fact as late as 1996 a coffee company in California was found guilty of selling beans from Costa Rica as ‘Kona Coffee.’
What Makes Kona Coffee So Special?
So what is it that makes Kona coffee so well regarded and so sought after? Well basically the answer comes down to the fact that it has long been the only coffee beans grown on American soil as well as the near perfect growing conditions.
There has long been an almost romantic appeal to buying coffee that is proudly grown under the stars and stripes. In fact for a long time Kona was the only coffee producing region in a First-World country. And whether this looks like going on one of the famous Kona coffee tours as part of a holiday to Hawaii or paying the big bucks to get the beans sent to you, there is a long and rich history of American love for Kona Coffee. There is something in the American psyche which is rightly proud of coffee grown in one of its own states.
But, I hasten to add, Kona coffee is more than just a pretty face and a national icon. What really sets Kona Coffee apart is the near perfect microclimate in which the coffee is grown.
What Makes The Kona Coffee Belt Perfect For Growing Coffee?
As mentioned earlier Kona coffee is grown on the picturesque slopes of Mauna Loa and Hualālai in Hawaii. If you have ever visited the big island of Hawaii you will know that this is a stunning location with vibrant green hills and dark soil against the backdrop of beautiful beaches. Kona coffee companies enjoy near perfect growing conditions with nutrient and mineral rich volcanic soil, a climate with regular rain and sun and little wind, and an ideal balance of shade and sunlight.
And interestingly it is really only this small section of Hawaii that boasts these ideal growing conditions. Most of the other islands of Hawaii including Maui and Kauai are actually poorly suited for coffee farming.
The superb quality of the beans can be attributed to these near perfect conditions for growing coffee plants as well as generations of perfecting the coffee growing and harvesting practices.
What Does Kona Coffee Taste Like?
So the million dollar question, what does Kona coffee actually taste like? And as always this will be in part determined by how light or dark roasted the beans are, your chosen brew method, and the freshness of the beans. Similarly, different farms will showcase slightly different flavor profiles.
However, caveats aside, Kona Coffee is regularly associated with a number of different characteristics. One of the first things that you will notice when using Kona beans is the sweet and complex aroma that it produces. Similarly, depending on brew method the first sip will usually be a mix of sweet, rich and mellow flavors that is reminiscent of caramel, butter, cocoa or fruit. It is usually quite a clean and bright flavor with a medium body. Finally, it comes with a pleasant aftertaste with hints of nuts and citrus.
It is the mix of these different characteristics that has given Kona Coffee such a positive reputation and an almost cult following among certain people. If you are a purveyor of Coffee then Kona coffee really does need to be on your bucket list.
It is also worth noting that Kona Coffee is typically known to be lower in acidity and so gentle on the stomach. We recommend that for light roasted Kona Coffee you try a drip brewing method such as pour over or a drip coffee maker. And the darker roasts tend to perform particularly well on French Presses as well as espresso of course.
Why Is Kona Coffee So Expensive?
Finally, before we compare beans, the elephant in the room; why is Kona coffee so expensive in comparison to other beans? And the answer basically comes down to three factors; harvesting conditions, high demand and low supply, and minimum wage laws.
While the high and rocky volcanic slopes of Mauna Loa and Hualālai are mineral rich and fantastic altitude, this also makes it incredibly labor intensive to harvest the coffee trees. The rocky nature of many of these farms means that mechanical cultivation and harvesting is impossible. Consequently, the beans must be selectively hand-picked by the workers in September through January. Similarly, the physical location of the Kona district means that everything has to be shipped by ocean barge which is less than ideal.
Similarly, as is usual in the world of economics, the mixture of high demand and low supply drives the price up. In the Kona district there are only around 700 mostly small kona coffee farms which produce the sum of the world’s Kona Coffee.
Finally, the price of Kona Coffee is reflective of the reality that these rare and delicious beans are grown and harvested by Americans. The minimum wage laws in America means that it is simply far more expensive to grow coffee on American soil than say in Ethiopia or Brazil.
The Best Kona Coffee 2021
Koa Coffee- Medium Roast Tripack
Koa Coffee is thought by many to be perhaps the go to company for sourcing the best Kona Coffee. This company was started in 1997 and has won various awards over the years for excellence. This particular pack is perhaps the ideal way to try the best Kona Coffee on offer. It consists of 8 ounce sample packs from three of their most popular flavors; the Grande Domaine, the Private Reserve, and the Estate.
The Grande Domaine is a rich and smooth coffee produced from coffee plants that were planted a century ago. The Private estate has been titled the “Best in America” by Forbes in the past. It is a medium roast that is associated with being luxurious. The Estate beans were grown on a private estate nestled high on the Mauna Loa Volcano and were carefully cultivated, hand picked and sorted. These beans are medium-roasted and again a popular favorite among customers of Koa.
This is perhaps the ideal way to experience the best Kona Coffee. But be warned, to get three different packs of premium Kona Coffee beans does entail a hefty price tag.
Koa Coffee- Peaberry Kona
If you have been around the coffee world long enough you have probably heard of the rare peaberry. It is a coffee bean that has a unique shape, having only 1 single oval-shaped bean instead of 2 flat beans due to a rare mutation. Only about 3-5% of beans are peaberries which makes them a rare delicacy. Peaberries are known to have a sharp, light, and fruity flavour which is why they are sometimes referred to as ‘the champagne of coffee.’
These particular beans from Koa Coffee are a medium roast that is on the light side and low acidity. However, due to how rare Peaberries are, if you do opt for this gourmet brew be prepared to be patient as they do often go out of stock due to demand. But nonetheless they are some truly delicious coffee beans that are packed full of flavor.
Hawaii Coffee Company- Royal Kona Coffee
The rather audacious tagline for this particular brand of Kona Coffee is ‘coffee for royalty.’ And by all records it is not just an empty claim. The Hawaii Coffee Company have been growing and roasting coffee since 1968 and are now well recognized as one of the premium companies for sourcing authentic Kona beans. The beans used are the highest grade, are 100% Kona Coffee, and are hand picked from a single estate. In fact, this company only roasts the beans you order after you have placed your order to ensure the optimal freshness.
In terms of taste these particular beans are often described as a medium roast that tastes like a light roast. It has a flavor which is light and bright, with a mixture of fruity and earthy notes. We highly recommend these royal kona coffee beans.
Volcanica coffee, as the name suggests, intentionally highlights the nutrient rich volcanic soil in which the beans were grown. Volcanica in particular specializes in high altitude coffees that are shade-grown for optimal growth and harvesting. As with the Hawaii Coffee Company the grade is Extra Fancy and the beans are only roasted following purchase to ensure maximum freshness. This company even offers free shipping on orders over $60 and returns within 30 days.
These beans have a very rich and mellow flavor, are low in acidity, and are fairly full-bodied. These beans have a solid reputation for delicious tasting brews. The beans are available as whole bean or ground according to your preference.
Keala’s 100% Kona Coffee– via Beanbox
These Kona Coffee beans are a little unique on this list as the only ones that are not roasted in Hawaii. These beans are grown on the Honolulu slopes of Big Island and are shipped to Bean Box who roast them in small batches for prime freshness out of Seattle. These are very mellow tasting beans with a mix of bright and fruity as well as more toasted notes. As with many of the Kona Beans they are low in acidity and medium roasted. Those who like real kick out of their morning brew might find these particular beans a little too mellow for their liking. But overall, another solid offering with little bitterness and nice body.
Understanding Kona Bean Sizes
You might have noticed that many of the above Kona beans bear the rather ostentatious title of being ‘Extra Fancy’ grade. The grading of coffee beans changes from country to country and is often determined by either size or quality. The particular grading system used for Kona beans is exclusive to the Kona region and doesn’t even reach to the other Islands of Hawaii. The grading system is determined by the Hawaiian Department of Agriculture and is very carefully guarded and regulated.
The grading system is as follows:
Type I (Normal Coffee Beans)
Type II (Peaberry)
The beans are graded on the basis of size, shape, defects, moisture content, and rarity. The Most premium Beans are both the Extra Fancy and Peaberry Number 1 both of which are excellent quality but will make a decent dent in your wallet. There is also an additional grade under Type I which is Number 3 or Triple X which cannot be advertised as Kona coffee but must be branded as Hawaiian coffee.
Checking The Authenticity Of Your Beans
The high reputation of Kona coffee has unfortunately led to its exploitation through the mislabeling of coffee. According to Hawaiian law any coffee which bears the name Kona must contain at least 10% of certified Kona beans. However, many of the less scrupulous companies consequently sell ‘Kona Coffee’ that is actually 10% Kona and 90% something Brazilian or Colombian or something else. This isn’t strictly illegal but it is an absolute waste of your money if you are looking to try Kona Coffee.
So if you see Kona Coffee beans in the aisle of your local grocery then chances are it will be a Kona blend coffee that is far from fresh and a waste of your money. For this reason unless you happen to find yourself on the slopes of Big Island Hawaii (in which case definitely check out one of the different Kona Coffee tours!), the best option for attaining beans is usually to buy Kona Coffee online.
Here are a few of the most reliable ways to make sure that you are get the real deal Kona beans:
However, all of the above Kona Coffees are certified Kona Coffee so any of them is a safe and reliable option.
The History of Coffee Growing in Kona
Kona Coffee in many ways has a history that is as rich as its high-demand flavour. Coffee was first brought to Hawaii in 1817 although these initial plantings were unsuccessful. The first real step towards the Kona Coffee of today occurred in 1823 when Hawaii’s King Kamehameha II travelled to Britain with his wife and the governor of Oahu, Chief Boki. Both the King and his wife died, but Chief Boki survived and picked up some coffee plants from Brazil on his way home.
These plants thrived in the rich climate of Hawaii. The bourbon coffee plants were probably brought to the Kona district of Big Island in 1828 by a man named Samuel Ruggles. The first commercial Kona coffee plantation starting in 1836. No wonder they know how to grow and process beans when they have been doing it for close to 200 years! In the late 1800’s this growing industry attracted a range of both Filipinos and Japanese immigrants who worked on the farms.
However it was only in the 1980’s that coffee became significantly important to the island economy as a result of the end of sugar production. There are now around 700 coffee farms in the Kona district, many of which are family owned and passed down from generation to generation.
A recent threat to this industry was the discovery of the Coffee berry borer in Kona coffee plantations in 2010. This has been combated with some success over the last decade but remains a threat to be aware of.
The Final Verdict- The Best Kona Coffee?
Well we hope this article has been helpful and informative guide to the best Kona Coffee. If you are unsure what brand to try we recommend the As always, we would love to hear from you in the comments below! What do you think is the best Kona coffee? How do you like to brew your kona coffee? Have you tried the Kona Peaberry?