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? 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? And where do you find the best, authentic quality coffee beans?
Read on to learn all about the coffee in Hawaii, where to get the real stuff, and why it’s not as commonly available as you might expect.
|Out Of The Grey Royal Kona Estate Extra Fancy||
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|Volcanica Kona Peaberry||
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|Keala’s Hawaiian Coffee 100% Kona||
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|Medium Roast Whole Bean Kona Coffee Tri-Pack||
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|Estate Medium Roast 100% Kona (Hawaiian Coffee)||
|Peaberry Medium Roast Whole Bean 100% Kona Coffee||
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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?
The Magic Is In The Soil
The Hawaiian islands are full of volcanoes. The volcanic soil (1) 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.
Hawaiian Coffee Tasting Notes:
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 True Tourist Crop
Without the fame and hype around Kona coffee, it’s likely the industry would not survive here.
NOTE: 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.”
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.
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. Ain’t nobody got time for that!
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.
So what are the best coffees from Hawaii?
Kona beans are the most popular. These coffee beans sell for a very high price and are adored by tourists. They grow on the Big Island of Hawaii (Kona is a district (2) on the Big Island, the island is not called Kona).
If you get TRUE KONA – you’ll understand why. It tastes like no other bean you’ve ever tried
Maui is a smaller island near the Big Island; producing much less coffee than the big island
Mokka (3) 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 as Kona coffee’s, be sure to try a Ka’u coffee on your next trip to the Aloha State.
We’ve featured Hawaiian beans (Kona, in particular) in our list of best coffee beans. You can see that article here: HomeGrounds.co/best-coffee-beans-bucket-list
The 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.
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 (4) was found even in Kona. Coffee farmers in places such as Central America might make only $2-$3 per day. (5)
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 (6), 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. (7)
It’s not a major player in the worldwide coffee industry and never will be. It’s a couple of very small islands.
Coffee is grown here primarily for 2 reasons; to be sold to tourists at high prices and to be sold for coffee blends. Thats why finding a well priced, pure coffee from the islands is hard, but it does exist, and we’ve found a few winners.
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 (manual or machine)
All of these characteristics point to the fact that Hawaiian 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.
The 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 The Best Hawaiian Coffee Beans (That Are NOT Blends!)
Well, if you ever visit Hawaii, that would be a great place to get some Hawaiian coffees!
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 these Hawaiian coffee beans:
Out of the Grey Coffee began as a small cafe but has now grown to include its own coffee roastery in the mountains of Virginia. Along with 179 in-house blends, the company offers 59 single-origin coffees, including these specialty beans.
This Royal Kona Estate coffee has achieved the Extra Fancy grade, which means the beans roast more evenly and consistently for a better flavor profile. And if you want flavor, these beans are full of it. The natural processing brings out juicy fruit notes, which you’ll experience here as strawberry and watermelon. Complexity comes from hints of dark chocolate and toasted nuts, but you’ll still find that syrupy body that Hawaiian coffees are known for.
These are certainly more expensive than your average coffee beans, but for extra fancy Kona coffee, it’s actually a very reasonable price.
Volcanica Coffee focuses exclusively on coffee beans grown in volcanic regions. These growing regions are often the world’s best thanks to the combination of high elevation and mineral-rich volcanic soils, and Kona certainly fits the bill.
The Volcanica Kona peaberry is more exclusive than most coffee from the Big Island, as peaberry beans make up only around 5% of any given crop. Peaberry beans are often said to be sweeter and more flavorful, which makes them an excellent vehicle for the natural tastes of Kona coffee. These beans have been wash processed and given a medium roast to develop a smooth, full flavor and aroma, but with a slightly lower acidity.
The combination of the exclusive certified Kona and the rare peaberry bean makes for some rather expensive coffee. But for the opportunity to taste some of the world’s best beans, you’re certainly getting your money’s worth. You also get a cool blue velvet bag with your premium purchase.
Founder of Keala’s Hawaiian Coffee, Sean Lee, grew up in Hawaii. And though the brand is based in Seattle, he retains a strong connection with his home country, sourcing directly from small farms to ensure long-term working relationships.
Keala’s makes the flavors of Hawaii more accessible with its carefully crafted blends, but if you want to tap into the true taste of the islands, reach for the 100% Kona. These specialty beans offer tropical flavors that you might find hard to believe aren’t artificial. There’s a sweet nuttiness that tastes of toasted coconut, and juicy fruit flavors of passion fruit. You’ll be transported to the slopes of Holualoa with every sip.
Keala’s Coffee is a proud member of the Kona Coffee Council, which helps to maintain the Kona brand.
A variety pack is an ideal way to experience all that Kona coffee has to offer, and we love this best-selling three pack from Koa Coffee. Each bag consists of a medium roast 100% Kona coffee grown at high elevation on the slopes of the Mauna Loa volcano. However, each contains Kona coffee beans harvested from different farms, so you can taste the effects of grades and growing environment.
Included in this pack are Koa’s Private Reserve, Estate, and Grande Domaine Kona Coffee.
The award-winning Private Reserve Kona Coffee is a proprietary blend of grades so delicious that Forbes once called it the “Best Coffee in America.” It’s a great way to taste the classic Kona flavors of sweet caramel backed by subtle fruits and florals.
The Estate Kona Coffee features only beans grown on a single high-elevation estate. If you enjoy single-origin coffees, this is about as single origin as it gets.
Lastly, the Grande Domaine Kona Coffee, a Kona Coffee Cupping Contest winner. This cream-of-the-crop bag includes a smattering of the rare and coveted Peaberry Kona beans. It’s given a medium-dark Vienna roast to best bring out its unique characteristics.
While this isn’t a full-blown Hawaiian coffee bean sampler like the Bean Box option, this sampler-sized bag of Estate Medium Roast 100% Kona Coffee from Hawaii Coffee Company gets you a taste of 100% authentic, top-of-the-line Kona coffee without spending a fortune on a full-size bag!
These beans are labeled “Extra Fancy”, and no wonder! Each 7 oz bag is filled with beans that have been grown at high elevations (8), which helps pack each bean with extra flavor. The coffee isn’t just single origin either – it’s single estate!
The beans are imbued with all of the exotic flavors and attributes of good coffee from the Hawaiian islands. A cup of coffee brewed with these beans has a “smoothly delicate flavor” that is very lively, clean, and bright.
When it comes to roasting, they are medium roasted with precision. Hawaii Coffee Company has a custom roast profile just for these beans – one that is on the lighter side of medium – in order to bring the best flavors to the forefront.
These are amongst the best of the best when it comes to gourmet coffees, and the size of the package helps keep things within an affordable price range.
Peaberry Kona coffee is often called the “Champagne of Kona Coffee” both because of its exclusivity and fine flavor. If you want to really taste how good Kona coffee can be, these beans are worth a splurge.
Only about 5% of coffee cherries have the natural mutation that causes them to have one bean instead of two. This rarity makes them expensive, bit for coffee-lovers, the cost is justified. This singular peaberry bean thus gets twice the nutrients and twice the flavor development of an average coffee bean.
The resulting coffee is a richly flavorful experience that really conveys the renowned smooth and sweet Kona profile. These medium roast peaberry beans have distinct flavors of caramel and milk chocolate, with more subtle notes of ripe tropical fruit and a floral aroma that will have you dreaming of island life.
How To Roast Hawaiian Beans
Roasting your own coffee? Hawaiian coffees 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.
Be careful of going to light or dark:
- Roasting too light will leave Hawaiian 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 – which 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.
Now you know a little bit more about our nation’s only coffee producing state. 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 experience with the coffee from Hawaiian regions.
- Growing Kona Coffee – Growing Magazine Retrieved from https://www.growingmagazine.com/growing-kona-coffee/
- Kailua Kona (Big Island): Beaches, Weather, and Things to Do Retrieved from https://www.lovebigisland.com/kailua-kona/
- (n.d.) MAUI MOKKA, MOKKA, MOCHA, MOKHA Retrieved from https://bigislandcoffeeroasters.com/blogs/blog/maui-mokka-coffee-history
- Brown, N. (2013, February 22). Hawaii Coffee Companies Charged with Widespread Labor Violations. Retrieved from https://dailycoffeenews.com/2013/02/22/hawaii-coffee-companies-charged-with-widespread-labor-violations/
- Zamora, M. (2013, July 17). Farmworkers Left Behind: The Human Cost of Coffee Production. Retrieved From https://dailycoffeenews.com/2013/07/17/farmworkers-left-behind-the-human-cost-of-coffee-production/
- Dible, M. (2018, November 1). Yield and profits down, prices up after coffee season cut short. Retrieved From https://www.westhawaiitoday.com/2018/11/01/hawaii-news/yield-and-profits-down-prices-up-after-coffee-season-cut-short/
- Imada, L. (2017, January 6). Coffee crop pest infestation found at Kipahulu farm. Retrieved from https://www.mauinews.com/news/local-news/2017/01/coffee-crop-pest-infestation-found-at-kipahulu-farm/
- Scott. (2015, May 23). How Does Elevation Affect the Taste of Coffee? Retrieved from https://driftaway.coffee/elevation/
- Davids, K. (2015, December 31). How Coffee Review Works. Retrieved from https://www.coffeereview.com/how-coffee-review-works/
- About Rusty’s Hawaiian Coffee. (n.d.) Retrieved from https://www.emerycoffee.com/pages/about-rustys-hawaiian-coffee