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 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.
Deluxe Hawaiian Sample Box (BeanBox)
BeanBox has put together this beautiful sampler box from the islands to make life easier: a 100% kona, a 100% Oahu, and 2 custom Hawaiian blends.
All high quality, all roasted after you order, at great prices. If you are not confident on which coffee to choose, start here.
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 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 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.
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 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 these Hawaiian coffee beans:
||100% Kona (Wailiku Coffee)||
||Deluxe Hawaiian Sample Box (BeanBox)||
||Estate Medium Roast 100% Kona (Hawaiian Coffee)||
||Green Hawaiian Coffee Beans (Sweet Maria’s)||
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.
#2 – The Deluxe Hawaiian Coffee Sampler (Bean Box)
Sampler box allows you to “bulk taste” at an affordable price
- 4 different kinds of Hawaiian beans and blends
- Includes 100% Kona and 100% Oahu beans
- Bean Box roasts after you place your order, for optimal freshness upon arrival
If you’re unsure how to start your Hawaiian coffee adventures, we have a solution for you: The Deluxe Hawaiian Coffee Sampler from Bean Box.
Samplers are the best way to try Hawaiian coffee en masse, by getting a variety of beans and flavors all at once to help gauge your preferences.
When it comes to this sampler, in particular, there are two options: a “Standard” version with 4 sampler bags, and a “Deluxe” version with 8 bags. (We recommend the Deluxe version because it comes in a bit cheaper per sample.)
Each sampler comes with 1.8 oz of beans, giving you what you need for a pot or two of coffee.
As far as the coffees themselves, Bean Box provides four different options: a 100% Kona option, a 100% Oahu option, and two Hawaiian coffee blends.
This smorgasbord of choices will give you a chance to get a feel for both the similarities of the islands’ coffees in general, and the differences between their individual beans and blends.
The sampler box is roasted in Seattle after you place your order (which means it should get to you quicker if you’re in the States), and even comes with tasting notes and brewing tips!
BEST SUITED FOR: This sampler is ideal for the undecided adventurer. If you’re sold on Hawaiian beans but don’t know where to start, this is an option you’re going to want to consider.
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.
BEST SUITED FOR: These beans are the ideal option for anyone wanting to drink coffee like a king for a day. If you want to try some of the best beans in the world, you may want to consider starting here.
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 (9). 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 (10). These islands farms must be doing something right.
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.
How To Roast 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.
Be careful of going to light or dark:
- Roasting too light 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 – 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/
- Maui Mokka Peaberry Retrieved from https://www.rustyshawaiian.com/products/maui-mokka-peaberry
- 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