Aloha! Fellow coffee lovers. In this article, I have donned my favorite Hawaiian shirt and I’ve spent the past week researching, tasting, and experimenting with Kona coffee beans – all whilst sipping on an oversized cocktail.
If you love coffee and have yet to try Kona, you’re in for a luscious treat! There’s definitely something special about Kona coffee which makes these premium beans stand out from the rest. So If you’ve ever wanted to know more about Hawaiian coffee beans look no further because in this comprehensive guide I have all of the answers and the perks of this premium bean.
Plus, after my week of tasting, I have some recommendations, and where to buy them, that not only taste great but are the real 100% Kona coffee beans. There are a lot of fakes and blends that aren’t the real deal – more on that later.
So what are you waiting for – run, quick, grab a coffee, and let’s crack on.
What is Kona Coffee?
Okay, before we get ahead of ourselves let me explain a little bit more about Kona coffee.
First of all Kona coffee beans are only grown in one area of the planet – just one, if it’s not grown in Kona it’s NOT the real deal! The Kona name only applies to beans grown in this region, and coffee that’s grown elsewhere in Hawaii cannot be called Kona coffee.
The growing region on the west coast of Hawaii (also known as The Big Island) (1) is located on the volcanic rock slopes of Kona. It’s this volcanic, mineral-rich soil where the Kona beans thrive and grow to produce a medium-bodied, slightly acidic, deliciously rich, coffee that offers a superior spicy and winey taste profile.
What’s Special About These Hawaiian Coffee Beans?
Well, apart from the unique growing region (2) the climate and the volcanic soil have the perfect conditions for the Kona coffee beans. The mineral-rich western slopes of the Kona Mountains offer shelter from the elements and the sunny mornings combined with daily light afternoon rain provide natural irrigation. As I mentioned previously – there is nowhere else like it, these coffee beans are one of a kind and their premium price reflects that.
Where To Buy Kona Coffee
So now you know a bit more about Kona coffee which beans are the best to buy? To be honest, buying Kona coffee can be a bit of a minefield.
There are so many companies using the Kona brand name but they’re selling a bag that is a blend of other beans from around the globe and may only contain 10% of real Kona (more on Kona coffee blends and what to look out for further down the page).
Best Kona Coffee Brands
To make it easier to find that perfect taste of Hawaii I have done my homework and all of the coffee beans below are 100% Kona. you can’t go wrong with any of these – trust me they taste awesome!
Koa Coffee Triple pack (Grande Domaine, Private Reserve & Estate)
If you’re looking for a truly authentic Kona coffee brand look no further than Koa. The Hawaiian Koa coffee company has been in business since 1997 and since that time they’ve already picked up numerous awards for their coffee; CCA Coffee of the Year and winner of the Gevalia Cupping Competition – to name just a few.
This triple pack includes 3 of their most popular coffee offerings and it’s a great way to sample what they have to offer before you decide on a favorite and sign up for their coffee club. The coffee club also rewards loyalty by offering exclusive discounts and special bulk buy deals.
Included in this tri-pack are 3 8-ounce bags of premium Koa coffee, you’ll get 1x Grande Domaine, 1x Private Reserve, and 1x Estate.
Let’s take a closer look at each of these coffees
The Grande Domaine: These premium coffee beans have been cultivated from shrubs that were planted more than a century ago (I suspect these are some of the original plants). Once brewed you can expect a rich, smooth coffee that comes with hardly any bitterness.
Private Reserve: The next bag previously won the “Best in America” award by Forbes. The handpicked coffee beans are all rated “extra fancy” which means your getting some of the best coffee from their plantation. If you’re looking for the best Kona coffee you will be hard-pressed to find anything as good as this – it’s truly something truly luxurious.
Estate: Finally, the Estate is a premium Hawaiian blend that contains three of the top-rated Kona coffee grades. This coffee blend is ideal for those of you with a limited budget but still, want the authentic Kona coffee – albeit a blend.
If you’ve never tried Hawaiian Kona beans before this a great place to start. Click here to see the best prices on this triple pack deal.
Another of my recommendations are these whole beans from the Volcanica Coffee company. Volcanica are experts when it comes to growing coffee at high altitudes (3,000 to 7,000 meters) and in the volcanic soil – simply put, it’s what they do best!
This offering contains a selection of beans that have been graded at “extra fancy” (basically the best) like most of the coffees on this list and they’ve been slowly roasted to a medium roast (but other roast levels are available).
The Volcanica Kona coffee beans have been cultivated in the shade which contributes to the mellow, full-bodied, low acidity flavor profile. The perfect growing conditions in this Hawaiian microclimate really have made this selection of coffee beans excel. They’re perfect for any coffee lover who enjoys a quality bean.
Hawaii Coffee Company Royal Kona Estate
Another well-established and respected coffee brand are known for producing great tasting beans are the Hawaii Coffee Company. With a long history dating back to 1968 with its precedent Royal Kona brand, you can bet that they know a thing or two about producing great tasting Kona coffee.
All of the beans have been cultivated from their own decade’s old plantations, meaning that the beans are not outsourced from different locations and they’re in full control from start to finish or more aptly “seed to cup”.
The Royal Kona Estate is one of their most popular bags of Kona. the flavor profile is clean, bright, with fruity notes. If you enjoy lighter roasts the Royal Kona Estate might be just for you.
KonaRed 100% Kona Coffee
My final recommendation is KonaRed. KonaRed coffee is an all-natural, non-GMO 100% certified Kona coffee that has been grown in the nutrient-rich lava soil that can only be found in the Kona growing region.
KonaRed beans are handpicked and slowly roasted in small manageable batches which ensures that special attention can be given to each and every bean. The end result is light-bodied coffee with mellow rounded flavor making for a good option for those of you that are trying Kona for the very first time.
The History of Pure Kona coffee?
Here’s the shocker – Kona isn’t native to Hawaii.
In fact, Brazil is the original location of these coffee beans.
The coffee bean plant cuttings were first introduced to Oahu from Brazil in 1828. The climate and the mineral-rich soil proved to be ideal for Kona coffee crops to flourish. Towards to end of the 1800s, the Brazilian variety was replaced with plants from Guatemala, from which all modern Kona crops are descended.
Due to increasing labor costs, pricing, and global market demand in the 1960s the production of Kona coffee began to slow. However, towards to end of the 1980s, gourmet coffee began the gain popularity once again mainly due to an increasing presence of specialty coffee shops sprouting up on American high streets.
How is Kona Grown?
It takes the Kona coffee bush 3 years to reach maturity and to be able to bear quality fruit. At this stage, the growing season for Kona beans is a full 12 months.
- February and March – coffee bush blooms and pollinates.
- April through August – fruits begin to develop.
- September through January – fruits are then harvested.
All of the Kona coffee is harvest by hand at peak maturity – which is another reason for the premium price this specialty coffee bean demands.
Why Are The Kona Berries Hand Picked?
Due to the unique climate in the Hawaii mountains, the ripening times of the beans can vary and the only real way to know if the fruit is ready to be cultivated is with the human eye.
Not only that, but the hilly and rocky landscape make cultivating using machines almost impossible. Therefore, all of the planting, cultivating, and harvesting is carried out by hand making Kona cultivation among some of the most labor-intensive in the coffee industry.
Why Does Kona Cost More Than Regular Coffee?
I’m sure you’ve already come to the conclusion as to why Kona coffee demands a premium price. Apart from the unique volcanic growing location, the labor-heavy production, combined with the expenses, high demand, and the limited supply also drives up the price of Kona.
That why many retailers are sourcing Kona bends which they can sell at a lower cost – but, not all is what it seems, let’s take a closer look.
Stay Away From “Kona Blends”
Simply put a Kona blended coffee is just that – a blend. That in itself would be okay, right? But, the problem with these coffee blends is that they are almost always mixed with less expensive beans; this type of blended coffee basically only has Kona in the name, nothing else!
Because there is only a limited amount of 100% real Kona coffee beans to go around, and not forgetting the premium price many companies produce “Kona blends” mixed with cheap coffee (that could be sourced from Africa, Brazil, Central America, or Indonesia) at a more affordable price.
What amazes me is that these retailers can legally get away with it, in fact, as per Hawaiian law a Kona blend is required to contain only 10% of certified Kona beans. You might be totally unaware that the Kona coffee beans you’ve just purchased aren’t the real deal unless you take a close look at the small print on the label.
Outside of Hawaii, a blend could, in reality, contain only 1 percent or less of Kona. In fact, technically, a blend can have merely one Kona bean! Do the math – you’re not be getting much Kona in your coffee cup.
So you can now see how it can be hard for the average coffee drinker to determine if what he or she is drinking is actually Kona coffee or if it ever even originated in Hawaii. For this reason, you should only buy coffee that is 100% certified Kona coffee. Thankfully this is easier to determine and the label will be proudly displayed.
But due to the high price of the “real deal” can be pretty costly but you can enjoy a blend.
But wait didn’t you just say that blends aren’t good?
I sure did.
But, you can buy a Kona blend produced in Hawaii that will contain at least the stated amount of Kona stipulated by local law and mixed with other beans from the region.
The bottom line: it doesn’t matter how fancy the packing is or how big the Kona lettering is on the bag stay clear from Kona coffee blends produced outside Hawaii – they’re basically a scam. Blends that have come out of Hawaii are perfectly fine if you’re on a tight budget but if you can afford it I highly recommend that you source the real 100% certified Kiona coffee beans – if only once!
Kona Coffee Beans Aren’t All Equal – Check The Grade
The Kona coffee growing region is small but even in this small area, the quality of the coffee can differ greatly. What might be a great-tasting bean in one location might have flaws in another area just a few meters away.
Due to the vast difference in the batches of coffee produced, the Hawaii Department of Agriculture (HDA) and stepped in and grade each batch. To be frank, the Hawaiian Kona coffee possibly goes through some of the most meticulous testing (3) in the world.
The grade of each batch is based on strict criteria and special attention is paid to the shape, size, moisture content, and any flaws that might be present in the beans.
If you’re going to buy Kona coffee you should be paying attention to the HDA grade. Remember, these beans are not cheap so make sure you’re getting the best Kona coffee you can.
How Are The Kona Beans Graded?
When the coffee is graded the Kona beans can be separated into two distinct types –
- Type I – two beans per cherry (normal).
- Type II – one bean per cherry (peaberry).
A typical coffee cherry will contain two beans that are flat on either side (type I). However, in rare situations, only one of the seeds becomes fertilized leaving just one oval seed known as a “peaberry” (type II).
Want to learn more take a look at this article – What is Peaberry Coffee?
Kona peaberries make up only 5% of the bean grown in the region. Simply put, out of every 100 bags of Kona coffee beans, just 5 of those bags are going to be Peaberry!
What Are The Kona Grades?
The coffee beans can be brown down into 5 distinct grades with “extra fancy” being the highest quality of the bean.
Kona Extra Fancy: Best of the bunch derived from the largest coffee beans and come with superior flavor.
- Kona Fancy: Excellent, derived from slightly smaller coffee beans.
- Kona Number 1: Medium-sized beans that have a nutty yet mild flavor profile.
- Kona Select: Slightly smaller coffee beans that have up to 5% defects.
- Kona Prime: The smallest graded coffee beans that can have up to 20% defects.
If you were to try Kona coffee for the very first time and only once I highly recommend that you spend a bit more and buy the “Kona Extra Fancy”. This is the highest quality of bean from this region and will give you the full flavor profile and what is expected from a premium coffee bean-like the “Kona”.
(1) Hawaii.com. https://www.hawaii.com/big-island/
(2) Kona Coffee Council. http://www.kona-coffee-council.com/page-692163
(3) The Hawai‘i Department of Agriculture. https://hdoa.hawaii.gov/qad/files/2013/01/QAD-HI-GROWN-COFFEE-LBLS.pdf
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