From Fodor’s: Kona’s award-winning coffee has gained popularity worldwide for its full-bodied flavor. Hawaiian coffee is more diverse than just Kona Coffee; the crop is grown across five islands in eight different regions across the state. Hawaiian coffee stands out due to its mineral-rich volcanic soil and ideal climate for growing coffee plants.
Visit Maui Coffee Attic on Maui, which is a cozy mom-and-pop café with a stage and performance area in addition to fantastic drinks. Honolulu Coffee Co. now features multiple locations but has humble origins as a small kiosk in downtown Honolulu dating back to 1992. In addition to the plethora of artisanal cafes across the islands, visit Four Seasons Resort Maui at Wailea to try Hedonic, a revolutionary, terroir-driven sensory-focused coffee brand partnered with the property to offer two meticulously sourced, custom-roasted signature blends proprietary to the destination.
My personal favorite in Hawaii is Kauai Coffee. We always make a visit to their plantation, about a half hour outside of Lihue on the southern coast, just past Koloa. Their flavored coffees are a nice addition to our Peet’s French Roast coffee.
It was not all that many years ago when coming to Hawaii and finding Kona coffee was a big deal. Back in 1828, Reverend Samuel Ruggles planted the very first coffee tree in the Kona District of Kailua-Kona, watching it grow from a piece of a tree originated in Oahu into a coffee empire. By 1899, nearly 3 million coffee trees had grown throughout the region. 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.
Kona coffee trees bloom each January and May. The small white blooms of the coffee tree, which locals call “Kona Snow”, 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 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 color. This process does not happen all at once—pickers will return to the trees a dozen times until they are satisfied with their ripeness. The coffee is then naturally sun dried and raked on hoshidanas (large decks). After the beans have dried, they are ready to be milled, sorted, graded, and sent off to behand-roasted right at the plantation.
Kona coffee — and Hawaiian coffee in general — went through several periods of growth and contraction in conjunction with major events like the Klondike Gold Rush, the annexation of Hawaii by the US, and the two World Wars of the 20th century. During these years, most of the Kona region was farmed in small family holdings by migrant workers when they weren’t contracted to work on the much larger, more lucrative sugar and pineapple plantations. But through it all, the Kona coffee varieties continued to quietly develop and improve.
Finally, beginning in the 1980s, Kona coffee began to experience its long-awaited resurgence, along with the rest of specialty coffee all around the globe. As sugar and other cash crops declined, and the coffee enthusiasts of the world turned to better tasting and more ethically sourced coffees, Kona was able to reclaim its earlier fame. Now, it is one of the most sought-after origins!
Hawaiian geography and climate also play a significant role in the quality of Kona Coffee. Altitude is vital for quality coffee since the best coffees tend to grow in slightly cooler conditions. Compared to global coffee production, coffees in Hawaii are grown at a lower relative elevation. But because Hawaii is so much farther north of the equator than many other coffee regions, smaller changes in elevation have a larger impact on the coffee’s quality by allowing access to cooler air and the necessary blend of sunlight and moisture. The climate in Hawaii’s Kona region, and the mineral-rich volcanic soils of Mauna Loa’s steep slopes, ensure exceptional conditions for growing some of the world’s best coffee.
Well, I for one am happy about this. But I do miss some of the sugar cane and pineapple farms on Kauai.