Hawaiian Coffee: Everything You Need to Know

Aloha. Did you know Hawaii is the only state in the United States that grows and sells coffee beans?

Yeah, you probably already knew that.

When have you ever walked into a coffee shop and asked for a cup of the California or Texas?

Probably never.

Unfortunately, it’s actually not very common to see Hawaiian coffee in today's coffee shops, even here in America.

So why aren’t we seeing more of it?

Read on to learn all about growing coffee in Hawaii and why it’s not as commonly as you might expect.


Facts about Hawaiian Coffee

Coffee from Hawaii can be quite delicious. Because labor in America is so expensive compared with other regions, coffee producers on the islands do their best to only grow the highest quality coffees to sell to high paying consumers.

What goes into producing great coffee on the islands? What are the best coffees from here? Read on!

Facts About Hawaiian Coffee

The Hawaiian islands are full of volcanoes. The volcanic soil is highly beneficial to growing coffee because it is full of rich minerals that encourage healthy coffee trees.

Rain is a common occurrence on the islands, producing not only water for the plants to survive, but shade from the sun for periods of time. There seems to be the perfect balance of sun, rain, low winds and mild nights.

Typically, coffee grown at higher elevations will be better, more unique, and more flavored than coffees grown at lower elevations. But even at it’s highest, the coffee farms of Hawaii don’t compete with the elevations of many other coffee growing regions.

This is why even some of the best coffees from Hawaii are quite mild in taste and acidity.

Flavor Characteristics

For a cup of Kona coffee, you can expect to taste brown sugar, milk chocolate, honey, and a hint of a bright fruit flavor. These coffees are bright, crisp and clean.

They are smooth with a slightly syrupy body.

Other coffees from around the islands might have brighter floral notes, such as rose, and fruit notes such as orange and blackberry, as well as molasses-like sweetness.

A Tourist Crop

Hawaiian coffee fun fact: Coffee farms in Hawaii, especially Kona, make a lot of their money by selling their coffee to tourists on the island, as they are more inclined to spend big dollars on the “Kona coffee experience.”

Coffee farms in Hawaii, especially Kona, make a lot of their money by selling their coffee to tourists on the island, as they are more inclined to spend big dollars on the “Kona coffee experience.”

Without the fame and hype around Kona coffee, it's likely the industry would not survive here.

It needs to be able to sell its coffee for an extremely high price to keep it going.

You might expect to pay between $30 and $50 for a pound of Kona coffee. Is that coffee 2-3 times as good as coffee from, say, Costa Rica or Ethiopia? Maybe, maybe not.

But when you are visiting Hawaii for the first time, falling in love with the island life, it's absolutely 2-3 times better than any other coffee.

What’s great, however, is how easy it is to visit coffee farms while you are in Hawaii.

No matter what island you are on, you can easily find yourself on a tour experiencing a beautiful coffee farm. 

The deception of the Kona Blend

When you walk into a grocery store, it’s pretty common to find coffee labeled “Kona” or “Kona Blend.” What these labels fail to mention is that a coffee needs to only contain 10% Kona coffee beans to be labeled as a Kona blend.

That means that these companies can literally add the cheapest coffees to fill the other 90% of the blend, and still sell for a significant retail price because consumers believe they are getting fancy coffee.

When you drink this blend however, you will not taste the Kona in it. You will taste the other 90% of the coffee.

To get a true Kona coffee, you need to find a label that says 100% Kona coffee. This shouldn’t be any less than $20/lb, but will probably be much more than that.

Honorable Mentions

So what are the best coffees from Hawaii?

Kona beans are the most popular. These beans sell for a very high price and are adored by tourists. They grow on the Big Island of Hawaii (Kona is a district on the Big Island, the island is not called Kona).

Maui is a smaller island near the Big Island.

Hawaiian coffee fun fact: Maui produces much less coffee than the Big Island.

Mokka is a varietal that is difficult to produce, so not many people try. However, if you can find a Maui Mokka, try it. It might just be one of the best coffees you ever taste.

Ka’u is another district on the Big Island, opposite to Kona. It produces a lot of the islands coffee and is another award winning region.

With coffees just as good, if not better than Kona coffee’s, be sure to try a Ka’u coffee on your next trip to the Aloha State.


Current state of the Coffee Industry in Hawaii

Hawaii is the only state in the United States that grows and sells coffee on a commercial level. 

There are people who have grown coffee in places like California and Florida, but due to the lack of ideal growing conditions, those coffees will never taste exceptional and will not grow on a massive scale.

Hawaii has the ideal conditions naturally.

Hawaiian coffee fun fact: What makes growing coffee in Hawaii unique is the fact that farmers on the islands will make significantly more money than any other coffee farmer in the world.

Because it’s an American state, farmers need to make at least $9.25/hour, which is the minimum wage (though exploitation was found even in Kona). Coffee farmers in places such as Central America might make only $2-$3 per day.

Hawaii produces about 0.04 percent of the world's coffee supply.

1999 was it’s peak production of about 10 million pounds, but it has now fallen to about 7 million pounds per year.

The island state is prone to many of the same problems that occur in any coffee growing region.

Some years there isn’t much rain, which drastically affects the amount of coffee produced. Another major issue is the coffee borer, a tiny beetle that digs into the coffee cherries, ruining potential beans.

It’s not a major player in the worldwide coffee industry and never will be. It’s a couple of very small islands.

Hawaiian coffee fun fact: Coffee is grown here primarily for 2 reasons; to be sold to tourists at high prices and to be sold for coffee blends.

Coffee is grown here primarily for 2 reasons; to be sold to tourists at high prices and to be sold for coffee blends.

Coffee will continue to be produced as it is one product that can actually be grown on the hilly, volcanic slopes on Hawaii’s islands.


Best Brew Methods for coffee from Hawaii

Coffees from Kona or Maui are going to taste very clean, bright and sweet.

The tasting notes will range from brown sugar and milk chocolate to citrus and berry. The best island coffees will be very balanced.

The coffees can also be very mild.

Drip

All of these characteristics point to the fact that these coffees would taste excellent as a drip coffee.

Whether brewed on an automatic drip machine or as a pour over, a drip style brew through a paper filter will produce the best result.

It will maintain the balance of body, acidity and sweetness and highlight the coffee's flavors. Due to the sometimes subtle nature of the islands coffee, a drip brewing method is going to treat these coffees the best. 

Brew with a drip method especially if the coffee is a lighter roast.

The lighter roast will really shine when brewed through a paper filter.

French press

Because these coffees are not overly acidic, they have the potential of making an excellent french press coffee as well.

 This will produce a smooth, well rounded cup of coffee.

It will produce a cup with a full body and a nice sweetness.

This will do best if the coffee is closer to a medium-dark roast, because if it’s too light, this coffee will be very light bodied and mild, potentially even sour.

A medium-dark roast will give you the optimal french press experience, highlighting the coffees full body and sweet, chocolate notes and brown sugar flavor notes of the coffee.


Where to buy Hawaiian Coffee beans

Well, if you ever visit Hawaii, that would be a great place to get some coffee!

If you’re in Maui, head to Maui Coffee Roasters or Wailuku Coffee Company for some Maui grown beans.

If you can’t quite make it to Hawaii just yet, order some from one of the websites below.

Wailuku Coffee Roasters 

Wailuku Coffee Company is located on the Island of Maui.

If you head to their online store however, you can order Maui grown coffee as well as 100% Kona, and get free shipping across the United States.

If you are ever on the island, their coffee shop is only minutes from the airport. They’ve got great coffee and food and occasionally have live events.

Bean Box

Want to try a few different coffees from the islands? Check out Bean Box to get 4 different samples.

This would make a great gift for that family member that can’t stop talking about their trip to Hawaii.

The coffee comes freshly roasted. Each of the 4 samples is 1.8 ounces (nearly half a pound of coffee). It’s not a ton of coffee, but it gives you the ability to taste a few different islands.

Rusty’s Hawaiian

The roaster produces coffee in the Ka’u District on the Big Island, but they also roast and sell coffee from the rest of the Hawaiian islands. They are a family owned farm and roastery, winning awards left and right for their coffee and their practices.

Rusty's is known as one of Hawaii’s best coffee roasters.

It has received a coffee score upwards of 95 by Coffee Review. You can order both roasted and unroasted coffee from Rusty’s.

Their coffee made it in the top 10 coffees of the year in 2012, one of the highest honors a coffee producer can achieve.

2 other coffees from the Hawaiian island also made it in the top 10. These islands farms must be doing something right.


Most suitable roast type for Hawaiian beans

Roasting your own coffee? Coffees from Hawaii tend to be best at a medium roast.

These are very well balanced coffees with a medium body and a medium acidity, which will do great as a medium roast.

A light roast will help to highlight the natural flavors of the coffee. If you want to experience the true taste of the Hawaiian volcanic slopes, opt for a light - medium roast profile.

Roasting too light, however, will leave these coffees underdeveloped and lacking in flavor and body.

Roasting too dark will cover up the coffee’s sweet, smooth flavors. You are removing moisture and oil from the beans, which ultimately removes much of the natural flavor of the coffee.

You will be tasting the roast itself.

This doesn’t make much sense as coffees from Hawaii are quite expensive.

Stick to a light-medium roast for your Hawaiian beans, and save the dark roasts for beans that are a little bit more affordable.

Sweet Maria's, one of the best sources for green coffee beans, carries beans from Hawaii on occasion (though, it’s hard to come across a great coffee for a reasonable price).

Check back every now and then to see if they are offering any. Otherwise, check Rusty’s as mentioned above, or try Blue Horse Kona.


Mahalo

Now you know a little bit more about our nation’s only coffee producing region. It’s a place that produces some darn good coffee, as there just isn’t enough land to grow bad coffee.

Have you had coffee from Hawaii before?

Will you be traveling there soon to try some for yourself? Let us know in the comments below, we would love to hear about your Hawaiian coffee experience.

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