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The Best Kona Coffee Brands (and avoid the scams)

Have you ever tried coffee beans from the Kona coast? There’s a reason its held in such high regards in the coffee community.

I bought 6 months worth of ‘Kona’ before realizing that something terrible had happened. I’d been buying a fake blend. So before you buy Kona beans online, be warned: Most of the beans sold as ‘Kona’ don’t live up to their name. ‘Kona beans’ are often mixed with cheaper beans to produce affordable blends…but this isn’t obvious.

It’s 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.

At a Glance: Top 5 Picks for Kona Coffee

What is Kona Coffee?

Kona coffee is simply Arabica coffee that is grown, harvested and processed in the Kona region; the Hills of Mauna Loa and Hualalai in the Northern and Southern Kona districts of the big island of Hawaii. Simply put: they get their name from the region in which they grow.

Only beans growing in this region can be dubbed as ‘Kona’ but as you’re about to see, the industry if full of loopholes and scams that are hard to catch unless you know what to look for (and we’ll show you)

What does Kona Coffee Taste Like?

The best Kona coffee has a unique, amazing flavor profile and aroma which is why its on the world coffee map.

As always, the taste of your coffee will be affected by the roast, the brew method and freshness. But if you do the right thing by your Kona beans you can expect to taste hints of brown sugar, milk chocolate, honey, and a hint of a bright fruit flavor. In general, its described as bright, crisp and clean. Expect a very pleasant, lingering aftertaste, with hints of nuts and citrus on your pallet.

The Aroma is one you’ll never forge; a unique, sweet mix of aromas that’s reminiscent of caramel, butter, cocoa or fruit.

Its not so much the flavor, the aroma or the aftertaste alone, but the combination of all 3 which make Kona so unique, addictive, and beautiful.

The Kona Industry and Its Scams

Unfortunately, many opportunists hope to make money in this space. This has led to an abundance of falsely marketed Kona products.

How do you tell what’s real, and what’s a scam?

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. Stay away from these. You want pure Kona 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 contain low quality dark roast and city roast crap.

Do the math – you will not be getting much Kona in your cup.

An information about why we need to avoid Kona Blends
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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 the island of Hawaii and labelled 100% Pure Kona coffee. Stay away from all “Kona Blends” unless you are fully aware of what you’re buying.

Stay Away From ‘Kona Beans’ That Are NOT from the Kona Region

Like Champagne in France, the Kona Belt of Hawaii is prized for its excellent micro-climate. 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 (1).

This does not mean that other coffee beans from Hawaii is terrible, but it should only be labelled as Kona if it was grown in the correct region. Here’s a guide to the best Hawaiian coffee.

facts about hawaiian coffee and kona brands
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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.

Always Check The ‘grade’

Hawaiian coffee beans go 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 content and possible flaws in the beans.

Hawaiian coffee is divided into eight grade bands (2) which are:

  1. Extra fancy (the highest quality)
  2. Fancy
  3. No.1
  4. Select
  5. Prime
  6. No. 3
  7. Natural Prime
  8. Mixed Natural Prime (The lowest quality)

“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.

Extra Fancy grades are uniform in colour, size, and contains almost no defective beans. They’re the most luxurious Kona beans you can get – and you’ll be paying a premium for it!

But it’s worth every single penny.

Coffee Farm in maui growing the best Kona coffee beans
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A kona coffee plantation

Best Kona Coffee Brands: The Top 5

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 Kona coffee grade band. To make it even easier to find that perfect taste of Hawaii, we’ve found a few options for you.

BEANSNAMEDETAILS
Best IntroductionBest Introduction
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Koa Coffee TRI-Pack
  • 3 different types of authentic Kona
  • Voted “best coffee in America” by Forbes
  • Amazing Value for Money
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Highest Quality KonaHighest Quality Kona
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Koa Coffee PEABERRY Kona
  • Best beans from the best Kona Plants (top 5%)
  • Smooth and unique flavor
  • Rare Offering, often out of stock
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Keala 100% Kona (by Bean Box)
  • Medium roasted, shipped fresh
  • Bought directly from farmers
  • Well balanced flavor
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Hawaiian Kona Extra Fancy (By Volcanica)
  • Another balanced medium roast with mild sweetness and low acidity
  • Freshness Guaranteed (roaster after ordering)
  • Ground according to your preference
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Royal Kona Estate Kona Coffee – Hawaii Coffee Co
  • Light roast (bright flavour profile)
  • Subscription option available
  • Ground or whole bean
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Lets take a look at some options to buy Kona beans online in more detail. In no particular order, the following options are the top picks (if you’re based in the USA) based on our research team, and customer feedback:

1. Koa Coffee Tripack – Best introduction to Kona

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.

Specifications:

  • Grade: 1 (Extra Fancy)

  • Customer Service: Excellent
  • Shipping time: 1-2 business days

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 (3). They feature as the number one Kona on our list of best coffee beans here.

“Best Coffee: Koa Plantation…This stuff is wonderfully smooth and its lack of a bitter aftertaste makes you think nothing of having that second cup, or third…”

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 multi-buy 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.

Their Grande Domaine is produced from trees that were planted a century ago. It is a rich, smooth coffee with minimal bitterness; ideal easy-drinking coffee for any time of day.

The 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, Their Estate is a rich and fragrant blend of the three highest-quality Kona grades.

PROS

  • 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

CONS

  • They only offer one ground option or whole beans

2. Peaberry Kona Beans By Koa Coffee – Highest Quality

Specifications:

  • Grade: Only sells the top grades of Kona

  • Customer Service: Excellent
  • Shipping time: 1-2 business days

The Peaberry Kona coffee beans 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.

NOTE: Both flat rate and expedited shipping options are offered within the U.S. Very affordable Flat Rate prices are offered during the holiday season on all orders as well.

PROS

  • Peaberry beans are regarded as a rare delicacy
  • The smoother and sweeter flavor profile suits K-coffee especially well
  • A reliably high-class Koa Coffee offering

CONS

  • Limited availability

3. Keala 100% Kona (Via BeanBox)

Specifications:

  • Grade: 1 (Extra Fancy)

  • Roaster: BeanBox
  • Customer Service: Excellent
  • Shipping time: 1-3 days

Keala’s Hawaiian Coffee is pure Kona beans roasted by Bean Box – a high-quality Seattle based coffee roasting and subscription company. These Extra Fancy grade beans are bought directly from Kona coffee farms on the Honolulu slopes of Big Island and roasted in small batches before being shipped for full freshness.

Keala’s medium roast produces a pleasant and balanced flavor profile. Bright and fruity flavors are complemented with sweeter notes of toasted coconut, while Keala’s claims the main flavor is passion fruit. Their medium roast allows you to experience the different nuances of high-grade Kona without any flavor overpowering the others.

Traveling all the way from the lush volcanic soil of Holualoa to your favorite coffee cup, the Keala beans are a good all-rounder introduction to this lovely blend.

PROS

  • Medium roast produces a balanced flavor profile
  • Extra Fancy grade beans bought directly from farmers
  • Ships freshly roasted

CONS

  • If you prefer a dark roast these might not have enough body
  • Low acidity also offers limited kick – although can be increased by Aeropress brew

4. Volcanica Coffee – Hawaiian Kona Coffee Extra Fancy

Specifications:

  • Grade: 1 (Extra Fancy)

  • Roaster: Volcanica Coffee
  • Customer Service: Excellent
  • Shipping time: 1-2 days

Volcanica specializes in coffee beans that has been grown at altitudes of 3,000 to 7,000 meters and in volcanic soil – so it only makes sense to see them selling this bean. Their 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 flavor low in acidity.

Volcanica’s Kona is shade-grown, contributing for its mellow, easy-drinking flavor 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. With a fuller body, they will satisfy those coffee lovers who like a rich flavor 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.

Volcanica is committed to a policy of roasting your coffee beans fresh and shipping it out the next day. They offer U.S., Canada, military, and even international shipping options + free shipping on orders over $60.They even accept returns within 30 days.

PROS

  • 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

CONS

  • Steep price – but you know you’re getting the good stuff

5. The Hawaii Coffee Company – Royal Kona Estate Kona Coffee

Specifications:

  • Grade: 1 (Extra Fancy)

  • Customer Service: Excellent
  • Shipping time: 1-2 business days

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 light roasts, you might find this one particularly appealing (perfect for pour over coffee).

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.

NOTE:Both flat rate and expedited shipping options are offered within the U.S. Very affordable Flat Rate prices are offered during the holiday season on all orders as well.

PROS

  • Brighter flavor profile than the others on this list, good if you like light roasts
  • Roasted to order

CONS

  • If you like smoother, richer flavors, this might not have enough body

THE VERDICT: Which is the best kona coffee?

All of the Kona brands on this list are worth their premium price but one offering is a head above the others: the Koa Coffee Tripack, which represents amazing value for three bags of top-class Kona.

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 flavor profiles.

FAQs

The brand of Kona coffee that is best is the brand that sells you true, single origin Kona coffee beans that have the stamp of approval. As mentioned above; stay away from Blends unless you can see exactly the amount of Kona coffee in the blend. The Koa Coffee Brand is the best brand of Kona Coffee, in our opinion.

The exotic taste, aroma and body of a cup of kona coffee is whats so special about it. The unique combination of growing conditions, weather and soil result in a unique flavored coffee bean that coffee lovers absolutely love.

Yes, Starbucks does sell Kona Coffee. Starbucks announced that they would be selling 100% unique Kona coffee on the 6th of March, 2012, until supplies last (4). At the time of writing, this was a limited release.

Kona Coffee is so expensive when compared to other coffee’s due to the limited supply and high demand for the crop each year. The beans are in limited supply due to the small growing region, and costs are affected by the difficult logistical costs of exporting the beans via ocean, in combination with the wages of local coffee farmers (5).

  1. J. Deenik and A.T. McClellan, Soils of Hawaii, retrieved from: https://www.ctahr.hawaii.edu/oc/freepubs/pdf/SCM-20.pdf
  2. State of Agriculture Hawaii, STANDARDSFORCOFFEE, retrieved from: https://hdoa.hawaii.gov/qad/files/2012/12/Summary-of-Chapter-4-143-7.14.pdf
  3. Koa Coffee Company, The Story of Koa, retrieved from: https://www.koacoffee.com/pages/about-us.html
  4. Starbucks Coffee, Limited Release of Starbucks Reserve 100% Kona Coffee at Select Retail Locations, retrieved from: https://stories.starbucks.com/stories/2012/limited-release-of-starbucks-reserve-100-kona-coffee-at-select-retail-locat/
  5. Royal Kona Coffee Company, Kona Coffee – Why So Expensive?, retrieved from: https://www.royalkonacoffee.com/kona-coffee-expensive/
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I can sum up myself in a few words: Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu aficionado, food lover, historian, traveler, and coffee drinker. Unless I’m doing multi-day backpacking hikes, I always travel with a portable espresso maker…and there have been a few multi-day hikes where I’ve snuck it into my pack anyway. Starting my day with an espresso or three after sleeping on the ground is the best way to feel human again.

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