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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 if you’re 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.

TOP PICK
Sea Island Coffee Ka'u Coffee Mill

Sea Island Coffee Ka’u Coffee Mill

The idea behind Sea Island Coffee, and the name, is that some of the best coffees in the world come from tropical islands. That’s why you’ll see specialty beans on offer from St Helena, Jamaica, New Caledonia and Hawaii, as well as rare beans from around the world. Coffee is roasted to order in small batches to ensure you get the best possible flavour. 

Facts About Hawaiian Coffee

Coffee from Hawaii can be quite delicious. Because labour 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?

Facts about hawaiian coffee

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 flavoured 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 flavour. 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.

Hawaian coffees flavor profile

>>> Click Here To Try The Best Hawaiian Coffee Beans

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 labelled “Kona” or “Kona Blend.” What these labels fail to mention is that a coffee needs to only contain 10% Kona coffee beans to be labelled 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.

>>> Read this article for an in depth look at Kona Coffee

Honourable Mentions

what you can expect from hawaiian coffees

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.

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 its peak production of about 4.5 million kilograms, but it has now fallen to about 3.2 million kilos 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. That’s 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.

Ideal brewing methods for Hawaiian coffee beans

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 flavours. 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 flavour 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:

IMAGE PRODUCT DETAILS
Best Overall Best Overall Sea Island Coffee Ka'u Coffee Mill Sea Island Coffee Ka’u Coffee Mill
  • Medium roast
  • Plum, tangerine, chocolate
  • Whole bean or ground
See on Amazon
Best Value for Money Best Value for Money Hayman Coffee Hawaii Kona Hayman Coffee Hawaii Kona
  • Medium roast
  • Caramel
  • Whole bean or ground
SEE ON AMAZON
Budget Pick Budget Pick Fresco Hawaiian Kona Coffee Fresco Hawaiian Kona Coffee
  • Medium roast
  • Nuts, milk chocolate, berries
  • Whole bean or ground
SEE ON AMAZON
Best Splurge Best Splurge The East India Company Hawaiian Kona Estate The East India Company Hawaiian Kona Estate
  • Medium-dark roast
  • Macadamia, grapefruit
  • Whole bean
SEE ON AMAZON

1. Sea Island Coffee Ka’u Coffee Mill – Best Overall

Specifications

  • Roast level: Medium

  • Tasting notes: Plum, tangerine, chocolate
  • Whole bean or ground: Either

Ka’u coffee is something of an undiscovered gem among Hawaiian coffees. Although coffee has been cultivated on this part of the island since 1894, it was historically sold under the Kona coffee umbrella. It was only in 2007, when it was entered into the Specialty Coffee Association of America Awards, that it developed its own identity. 

Ka’u coffee benefits from the same amazing growing conditions that have made Kona coffee so sought after, but the unique microclimate on the south of the island gives it a different flavour profile. Ka’u coffees tend to be rich, full-bodied and sweet, with a smooth aftertaste. With Sea Island’s Ka’u Coffee Mill you’ll get a floral aroma to start, with sweet notes of stone fruit and chocolate in the cup.

The idea behind Sea Island Coffee, and the name, is that some of the best coffees in the world come from tropical islands. That’s why you’ll see specialty beans on offer from St Helena, Jamaica, New Caledonia and Hawaii, as well as rare beans from around the world. Coffee is roasted to order in small batches to ensure you get the best possible flavour. 

2. Hayman Coffee Hawaii Kona – Best Value for Money

Specifications

  • Roast level: Medium

  • Tasting notes: Caramel
  • Whole bean or ground: Either

The Hayman Coffee brand only deals with the world’s best specialty coffees, so an exclusive bean like 100% Hawaiian Kona fits right in with their selection. All orders come in an elegant blue gift box, which only adds to the sense that you’re something special. 

Just one sip and you’ll understand why Kona coffee is so highly regarded. What you get is an incredibly smooth drinking experience. It’s well balanced with no hint of bitterness and offers a sweet caramel flavour with a velvety mouthfeel.

Hayman Coffee roasts all coffees to order, shipping the same day for maximum freshness. However, if you want to extend the shelf life of the beans, or test out different roast levels, this Hawaii Kona is also available as green unroasted beans.

3. Fresco Hawaiian Kona Coffee – Budget Pick

Specifications

  • Roast level: Medium

  • Tasting notes: Nuts, milk chocolate, berries
  • Whole bean or ground: Either

There’s no such thing as cheap Hawaiian coffee, but Fresco Coffee offers a slightly more accessible option for anyone wanting to try the genuine stuff on a budget. 

These 100% Kona beans will provide you with the true Kona experience, with a smooth and balanced finish. You can expect creamy chocolate notes that are mixed with a hint of spices like cinnamon, with some sweetness of berries. This medium roast coffee is an ideal choice for brewing with a cafetiere, to be served without milk.

Fresco Coffee is a small family-run roastery that specialises in flavoured coffees. But alongside the Cookies and Cream and Banoffee Pie coffees, they offer a select range of specialty beans including Jamaica Blue Mountain, Galapagos Island coffee and kopi luwak. 

4. The East India Company Hawaiian Kona Estate – Best Splurge

Specifications

  • Roast level: Medium-dark

  • Tasting notes: Macadamia, grapefruit
  • Whole bean or ground: Whole bean

If you’re looking for a brand with pedigree, The East India Company is hard to beat. Its history goes all the way back to the 1600s, and it was the biggest importer of coffee during Britain’s coffeehouse boom of the 17th century. Today the company has a focus on fine foods and drinks, with specialty teas and coffees on the menu. 

These beans have been sourced from a single family-run estate in the Kona region. This is an example of how a single-origin coffee can be more specific than just a particular growing area and provides a greater consistency from bag to bag.

The East India Company’s Hawaiian Kona Estate beans have been given a roast that’s on the slightly darker side of medium, but they still offer the full flavours that Hawaiian coffees are known for. A cup brewed with these beans will be smooth and creamy, with a prominent flavour of roasted macadamia nuts. The medium body is elevated by citrusy notes of grapefruit.

How To Roast Hawaiian Beans

good roast types of hawaiian coffees

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

Mahalo

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 travelling 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.

  1. Growing Kona Coffee – Growing Magazine Retrieved from https://www.growingmagazine.com/growing-kona-coffee/
  2. Kailua Kona (Big Island): Beaches, Weather, and Things to Do Retrieved from https://www.lovebigisland.com/kailua-kona/
  3. Maui Mokka Peaberry Retrieved from https://www.rustyshawaiian.com/products/maui-mokka-peaberry
  4. 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/
  5. 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/
  6. 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/
  7. 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/
Alex Mastin
My world consists of coffee, travel, water sports and dogs...sometimes all at the same time! I spent years traveling and working in various coffee establishments, and it was on my travels that my love affair with coffee began. I've been involved in every part of the coffee production process from farm to cup and love nothing more than sharing my knowledge of my favorite morning brew with the world.

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