The 5 Best Kona Coffee Brands (And Why You’re Being Ripped Off)
Ever tried Kona coffee? There is no wonder its in such high demand - and after your first mouthful of this tropical bean, you'll understand why. Once that silk-smooth brew hits your tastebuds, you'll experience tropical flavours with hints of chocolate and hazelnut....with no signs of acidity.
WARNING: Most of the beans sold as Kona simply don’t live up to their name. i.e. you're being ripped off...taken advantage of.....maybe even lied to.
Because they’re so expensive, Kona beans are frequently mixed with cheaper beans to produce more affordable blends. Its like someone is serving you a fine wine....but watering it down to sell more of it.
This guide will help you stay away from the crap and buy the only Kona worth buying - the real deal.
What Makes Kona Beans So Special?
A close up of that Kona Goodness. Source: Mike Petrucci - Flickr
The unique environment it grows in is what makes Kona special. Similarly to champagne, coffee beans can only be called Kona if they are cultivated in the Kona district of Hawaii.
The Kona Belt is located on the coast of Hawaii’s Big Island, where the microclimate is extremely favourable to coffee-growing. The gentle, green slopes are fertile, and the coffee plants are nourished by both sun and rain in equal measures. The soil is rich and volcanic, providing the coffee trees with plenty of nutrition.
The coffee grown in these conditions has a mellow, smooth but robust flavour profile. Each Kona farm produces a distinct type of Arabica bean depending on its microclimate, but all are equally praised as the best coffee in the world by Kona connoisseurs.
Because Kona is so highly valued, it should not come as a surprise that plenty of people are hoping to make money off it. This has led to an abundance of falsely marketed products on the market. If you want to try this highly sought after blend, you should make sure you’re getting the real thing - otherwise there’s no point.
So then......the question is:
How do you tell what's real, and what's a scam???
RED WARNING FLAG #1: Stay Away From “Kona Blends”
Because there is only a limited amount of 'the real deal' available, and it’s very expensive, many companies produce “Kona blends” at a more affordable price. However, you should know that these blends basically contain Kona in name only.
According to Hawaiian law, any blend labeled as a “Kona blend” must contain at least 10% of certified Kona beans. Companies wanting to make a buck will, naturally, use the 10% and not one bean more. 90% of these blends will be cheap coffee from elsewhere in the world. Do the math - you will not be getting much Kona in your cup.
Even worse, some companies go full-on scammy and don’t use any certified Kona at all. While the Hawaiian law is strict on this, many places don’t care if companies are using the Kona name merely for marketing purposes. In many countries, so-called Kona beans might contain only a tiny fraction of Kona beans, or none at all.
For this reason, you should buy Kona that is from Hawaii and labelled 100% Kona coffee. If that’s simply out of your budget, your second-best bet is a Kona blend produced in Hawaii, because it will at least contain the tenth of Kona stipulated by local law. But no matter how attractive the packaging might be, just stay away from “Kona blends” produced outside Hawaii - they’re basically a scam.
RED WARNING FLAG #2 - 'Kona Beans' That Are NOT from the Kona Region
Like Champagne in France, the Kona Belt of Hawaii is prized for its excellent microclimate. However, this doesn’t apply for all of Hawaii. In fact, most other islands of Hawaii, including Maui and Kauai, are poorly suited for coffee farming.
Because of a long history of sugarcane farming, the soil of most Hawaiian islands has been exhausted and stripped of nutrition. The clay soil type is much less fertile than the rich volcanic earth of Kona, and the climate isn’t as favourable for growing coffee.
The term “Hawaiian coffee” is sometimes used on packaging to denote high quality, but this is simply misleading advertising. Don’t be fooled, because not all Hawaiian coffee is first-class. There may be individual non-Kona-coffees from Hawaii that are excellent in their own right.
As a general rule, Hawaiian coffee from outside Kona is not any better than, say, the average coffee from Brazil.
BONUS TIP: Don't Make The Common Mistake Of NOT Checking The Grade...
Even within the small region, there are different types and qualities of coffee. Hawaiian coffee possibly goes through the most meticulous testing in the world, with each batch of Kona receiving a grade from the Hawaii Department of Agriculture (HDA).
If you want to make sure you’re getting the best of the best, you should pay attention to the HDA grade of the Kona. The grade is based on criteria including the size, shape, moisture contents and possible flaws in the beans.
“Extra Fancy” is the highest quality of bean, although any of the first 5 categories can be considered a high-class bean.
Grading is affected by qualities like bean size and rarity, which doesn’t really affect the taste of the coffee. You should only really avoid the No. 3 coffee, because it has the highest allowed rate of defective beans at 35%.
Extra Fancy beans are the most celebrated for their good and uniform colour, large size, and almost no defective beans. They’re the most luxurious Kona beans you can get - and you’ll be paying a premium for it! But for Kona lovers, it’s worth every single penny.
The 5 Best Kona Coffee Brands....That WONT Rip You Off...
Now you know how to recognise the good from the bad and the ugly.
Avoid 'blends', go for beans grown in the right region, and pay attention to the grade band.
To make it even easier to find that perfect taste of Hawaii, we’ve found a few options for you. You're in good hands with any of these:
Best Hawaiian Coffee Brands - Comparison Table
Click For Best Price
#1 - Extra Fancy
$23 for 8 oz
#1 - Extra Fancy
$62.99 for 16 oz
(Our #1 Pick For Value and Quality)
#1 - Extra Fancy
$48 for 24 oz
Hawaii Coffee Company
#1 - Extra Fancy
Medium - Light
$20.95 for 7 oz
#1 - Extra Fancy
$50 for 16 oz
Keala’s Hawaiian Coffee - 100% Kona
Keala’s Hawaiian Coffee is pure Kona, roasted by a Seattle company. The Extra Fancy grade beans are bought directly from farmers on the Holualoa slopes of Big Island and roasted in small batches.
Keala’s medium roast produces a pleasant and balanced flavour profile. Bright and fruity flavours are complemented with sweeter notes of toasted coconut, while Keala’s claims the main flavour is passion fruit. The medium roast allows you to experience the different nuances of high-grade Kona without any flavour overpowering the others.
Keala’s price is competitive for freshly roasted Extra Fancy beans. Naturally, it’s more expensive than your regular Brazilian coffee, but won’t break the bank.
Traveling all the way from the lush volcanic soil of Holualoa to your favourite coffee cup, the Keala beans are a good all-rounder introduction to this lovely blend.
- Medium roast produces a balanced flavour profile
- Extra Fancy grade beans bought directly from farmers
- Ships freshly roasted
Volcanica Coffee - Hawaiian Kona Coffee Extra Fancy
Volcanica Coffee is a company specialising in coffee that has been grown at altitudes of 3,000 to 7,000 metres and in volcanic soil - so it only makes sense to see them selling this bean
Volcanica’s Hawaiian Kona Coffee Extra Fancy is another solid medium roast. Their offering has a slightly fuller body than Keala’s, giving a rich but mellow flavour low in acidity.
Volcanica’s Kona is shade-grown, contributing for its mellow, easy-drinking flavour profile. These beans are really making the most of their unique microclimate. Like most coffees on this list, the Volcanica beans have also received the coveted Extra Fancy grade.
The Volcanica Kona beans are another good all-rounder that is easy to enjoy. With a fuller body, they will satisfy those coffee lovers who like a rich flavour but also enjoy mellow brews low in acidity.
In addition to whole beans, Volcanica also sells these beans ready-ground according to your preferences, which is a plus if you don’t like home grinding. The beans are only roasted after being bought, so you can be sure they are as fresh as possible.
- Another balanced medium roast with mild sweetness and low acidity
- The beans are roasted only after order to ensure freshness
- Volcanica can also grind the beans according to your preferences
- Steep price - but you know you’re getting the good stuff
Koa Coffee - Tripack (Grande Domaine, Private Reserve & Estate)
The Hawaii-based Koa Coffee has been in the business since 1997, and their K-coffee has been rewarded with titles like PCCA Coffee of the Year and winner of the Gevalia Cupping Competition.
With Koa Coffee, you know you’re buying from a well-established and popular brand....they have a huge reputation to live up to.
Koa Coffee also reward loyalty with special discounts for people in their coffee club, and well-priced multibuy packages.
The Kona Coffee Tripack Medium is an especially good deal, including three 8-ounce bags of Kona for a bundle discount price. This tripack includes three types of Kona: the Grande Domaine, the Private Reserve, and the Estate.
The Grande Domaine is produced from trees that were planted a century ago. It is a rich, smooth coffee with minimal bitterness. Grande Domaine is an ideal easy-drinking coffee for any time of day. Private Reserve was once awarded the “Best in America” by Forbes. It is made exclusively with hand picked Extra Fancy beans. When you want something truly luxurious, it’s hard to go wrong with this one. Finally, Estate is a rich and fragrant blend of the three highest-quality Kona grades.
Best suited for: Those looking for The best Kona at the best price. You get 3 packs, but you get the best deal. Click here to see the best price on this deal.
- Award-winning company
- The tripack bundle is very economical yet extremely high quality
- With three different coffees, it’s the perfect introduction to Kona
- High quality beans picked by hand
- Based in Hawaii, Koa grows its own beans
- They only offer one ground option and full beans
Hawaii Coffee Company - Royal Kona Estate Kona Coffee
The Hawaii Coffee Company is another well-established brand based in Hawaii. It has a very long history, with its precedent Royal Kona being established already in 1968. They source their beans from their own plantations, like Koa Coffee.
Their Royal Kona Estate Kona Coffee is another high-class option. It has a clean, bright flavour profile, due to being a lighter roast than most Kona roasts. The Royal Kona distinguished from other brands on this list by its fruity and clear taste. If you prefer lighter roasts, you might find this one particularly appealing!
The Hawaiian Coffee Company offers this coffee in whole bean or “all purpose grind”. The beans are medium-roasted only after being ordered, so they should be as fresh as possible.
- Brighter flavour profile than the others on this list, good if you like lighter roasts
- Roasted to order
- If you like smoother, richer flavours, this might not have enough body
- With the medium roast and “all purpose grind”, it might be too middle-of-the-road for some
Koa Coffee - Peaberry Kona
The Peaberry Kona is another very strong offering from Koa Coffee. “Peaberry” is a type of coffee beans which many people consider the most delicious of them all. Smaller and packing more flavour, these beans are a created by a natural mutation inside the coffee plant.
Of the yearly Kona harvest, only a fraction are peaberry-shaped. According to Koa Coffee, only about 3-5 out of every 100 coffee beans are peaberries. Their Peaberry Kona is a rare delicacy, with demand often exceeding supply.
Even smoother and sweeter than regular Kona, the Peaberry Kona might just blow your mind. While Koa Coffee is not the only company selling peaberry coffee, their expertise means you can trust the beans are hand-picked and treated well before making it to your cup. The Peaberry Kona doesn’t come for cheap, and has limited availability, but it might just be the fairest of them all!
- Peaberry beans are regarded as a rare delicacy
- The smoother and sweeter flavour profile suits K-coffee especially well
- A reliably high-class Koa Coffee offering
- Limited availability
- Some people say peaberries are too hyped and not that different from regular
The Verdict: Where To Get The Best Kona Coffee Beans?
All of the Kona brands on this list are worth their premium price, with expert coffee companies treating these luxurious beans with care and respect.
However, one offering is a head above the others: the Koa Coffee Tripack, which represents amazing value for three bags of top-class Kona.
WINNER: Koa Coffee Tripack
The closest competition to Koa Coffee comes from the Hawaii Coffee Company, another time-tested brand offering some of the best blends of this bean on the market.
However, if you’ve never tried Kona before and want to see what all the fuss is about, the Tripack is also great for offering three distinct types and flavour profiles.
Like some aloha in your cup? Let me know what’s your favourite Kona!