What is ‘Kona’ coffee and where does it come from? …
Any coffee enthusiast will tell you that a great cup of coffee starts with the beans.
And “Kona” coffee beans are among the most flavourful, royal and most sought-after arabica beans in the world.
Getting its name from being cultivated in the Northern and Southern ‘Kona Districts’ of Hawaii, Kona coffee is also some of the most expensive coffee in the world.
The combination of elevation, Hawaiian sun, cloud-cover, rain and wind combined with mineral-rich volcanic soil, all work together to create a uniquely balanced full-bodied, flavourful, smooth, even and aromatic coffee.
One that cannot be re-created under any other conditions.
It is also low in acidity and does not give you the coffee-jitters! It is a truly royal and luxurious coffee…
So why exactly does Kona coffee cost more than regular coffee? …
Besides the very specific requirements needed to produce Kona beans, they are also highly labour intensive to cultivate; resulting in a limited supply and high-demand.
Cultivating true Kona beans is a year-round; 12-month process.
It takes 3 years for a single Kona tree to bear fruit! … this adds to the high-cost and why it is important that you are not ‘duped’; paying more for a lesser bean…
The 12-month cultivation process:
- February to March: The Kona coffee blooms at this point, white flowers appear on the tree that are known as “Kona snow”.
- April: Green “cherries” appear. “Cherries” are the fruit that contain coffee beans.
- August: Generally late in the month, red or purple cherries appear; this means they are ripe or close to being ripe, (it takes an expert farmer to know the difference).
- Between August and January: Trees are hand-picked frequently as the cherries ripen.
**This meticulous process must be done by hand throughout the harvesting months because the cherries ripen at different times.
It takes a skilled eye to select only the ripe cherries based on size and firmness.
Once the cherries are picked, the coffee is processed within 12 -24 hours.
How’s that for freshness?!
A Brief History of Kona Coffee
The coffee plant was first brought to the Kona District of Hawaii in 1828 by Samuel Reverend Ruggles.
The first plant was planted in the District of Kailua-Kona.
Since then, the industry has grown to have over 800 farms across Hawaii producing approximately 16 – 30 million pounds of coffee cherries per year.
Spotting a Phony
When it comes to authentic Kona coffee from the volcanic soils of Hawaii, it takes a true coffee enthusiast to spot a “fake-news” Kona.
Watch out for companies using world phrases like “Kona-blend” or “Kona flavour”.
These are not true Kona coffee beans and only contain a small percentage – if any – of Kona coffee.
(A Kona-blend usually contains 1 – 10% Kona beans and literally has to only contain 1 Kona bean in the entire batch to be considered a ‘Kona-blend’).
A true Kona is described as light, sweet, fruity; with hints of spice and nuts. What makes it special is its:
- Flavours: brown sugar, milk chocolate, honey
- Undertone: hint of fruity flavour
- Body: medium, slightly syrupy body
- Aroma: floral
- Texture: Rich but not overpowering
Often imitated but never duplicated:
Much like a fine Cuban cigar or bottle of authentic French champagne, the authenticity of Kona beans comes from their location.
Traditional Cuban cigars are made from a Cuban technique of rolling tobacco and must be authentically hand-crafted to be deemed a true ‘Cuban cigar’.
Sparkling wine should not be – but often is, incorrectly – called ‘Champagne’ unless it is made using grapes from Champagne, France.
Hawaii’s got your back…
Not all of us are experts, and tasting coffee for authenticity is not always accurate or practical because – let’s be honest – taste is subjective.
Before Kona coffee beans can be labelled ‘Kona’, they must first pass an inspection and be ‘graded’ by the “Hawaii Department of Agriculture.”
Grading Kona Beans:
Kona Coffee beans are graded using 4 major indicators of quality
- Size – The bigger the better, and larger beans are considered to have more flavour.
- Shape – Uniformity is key, and you want all your beans to be a nice, flat shape in order to roasts properly to create the most flavour.
- Moisture content – Moist and dense coffee beans often create a strong tasting and bold coffee.
- Defective percentage – Some beans come out of processing deformed; sometimes chipped or hollow inside. This lack of uniformity can affect the roasting process and produce less flavourful coffee.
Buying your Kona; what to look for:
When purchasing Kona coffee, you will see grading indicators displayed on the packaging or in the product details (if ordering online).
All the grading is done by the Hawaii Department of Agriculture and prior to the beans being roasted.
There 5 grades used to categorize – or grade – Kona coffee beans. The grades are:
- KONA SELECT: Also referred to as ‘Estate Grade’, this grade of bean has not been sorted for size or shape and contains all but ‘off-grade’ beans. These are the least sought-after, of the Kona beans. They can come a from a mixture of different farms and have a defect rating of 15%.
- KONA PRIME: These are the smallest of the Kona coffee beans. They still make a great coffee, but are not as flavourful or smooth as the better grades. These can have a defect rating of up to a 20% but are usually all from the same farm.
- KONA NUMBER 1: Medium sized beans. They are smooth and bold.
- KONA FANCY: Large beans that are bold and have a nice, smooth consistency.
- KONA EXTRA FANCY: These are the largest and rarest of the Kona beans. They make up about 20% of a normal crop and are widely considered the truest Kona coffee.
- PEABERRY: A rare, mutated and round – pea shaped – bean. These beans are very small in size but make up for it with great – almost twice and flavourful – and robust coffee. These make up around 5% of the entire seasons harvest! **They are not on the grading scale because they are an anomaly and are produced via mutation).
Clearing up Kona-confusion:
Like many of us, if you’ve taken the time to research Kona coffee beans on the internet, you’ve most likely encountered some confusion and contradictory articles.
So, let me clear up some of confusing – and frankly sometimes pretentious – buzz words that may have left you…well, confused…
Peaberry: Coffee fruit or “cherry” is what contains the actual coffee bean. A cherry usually contains two beans.
Coffee beans are generally flat in shape. Sometimes a bean will naturally mutate into small, rounder shape.
This occurs in about 5% of coffee beans and makes them denser than normal beans.
This results in different tasting coffee with a different body. The Kona ‘Peaberry’ is considered to be a delicacy to some, although the debate on their true quality is still rages on.
Off Grades: These beans that don’t make the cut of ‘Kona Select’ beans, they have a defect rating of 35% or higher.
They can sometimes be black or moldy and have too many imperfections to be labelled ‘Kona’ even though they come from Kona trees.
Defect Rating: This can be a confusing aspect of the grading system.
The ‘defect rating’ is a percentage of tolerance measured by total the weight of the beans.
Defects are determined by the “Hawaii Department of Agriculture”. An exact description of what determines a defect is listed here: http://hdoa.hawaii.gov/wp-content/uploads/2012/12/AR-143.pdf
**All information regarding Kona bean grading and defect ratios were cited from the “Grading Standards for Hawaii Green Coffee” http://www.hawaiicoffeeassoc.org/page-1771566 (Hawaii Coffee Association)
Buying Kona coffee as a gift…
First off, I must say… You are one good friend.
With ‘100% True Kona Coffee’ going for an average of $35 – $75 (USD) per pound, kudos to you!
Although there are cheaper alternatives like “Kona-blends” out there, if your friend is someone that loves coffee enough to enjoy Kona coffee as a gift… stick to the good stuff!
100% pure Kona coffee from the volcanic soils of Hawaii!
Kona for k-cups or pods…
Yes, they do make Kona coffee for use at home with your coffee or ‘Nespresso’ maker.
Although, a coffee fanatic will tell you fresh coffee is always best…and they are probably right.
But for a great, smooth, low-acidic, bold and powerfully delicious cup of world-renowned coffee – and if you have the option – sure!
Load your Keurig, single-cup or Nespresso machine up with a Kona-pod have at it!
If you love all the best things in life, are fortunate enough to afford them or are flat out willing to spend a fortune in order to enjoy great cup of world-renowned coffee at home, then Kona coffee is the choice for you!
Kona Gold Coffee Whole Beans
Here we have, at the top of our list, the 2016 ‘Kona Crown Competition’ runner-up champions.
A medium-dark roast Kona coffee with the highest possible grading: ‘Extra Fancy’.
Not only that, but it is “Single Origin Single Estate 100% Pure Kona Coffee” meaning that these beans were all grown on a single farm!
Because of the uniformity of the growing conditions these beans produce an extra clear body and bright flavour.
This is exactly what you want when you are spending top dollar for Kona Coffee. This right here ladies and gentleman, is the real deal!
If you are looking for the purest of the pure and wish to find out what all the Kona-buzz is all about, look no further.
“Kona Gold Coffee Co.” has you covered!
Kona Coffee Beans by: Imagine
“Imagine” that, an obscure and rare, Peaberry coffee being second on our list!
I assure you it is up here for good reason.
Being considered – by some – to be the “holy grail” of Kona coffee, ask yourself how rare must it be to be able to enjoy a breathtaking cup of Kona coffee at home, every morning.
If you said anything similar to “pretty rare” or “yea, rare” then you are correct! …
But even rarer, is enjoying PEABERRY Kona Coffee at home every morning…
Even rarer than that? Peaberry Kona coffee that has been graded ‘EXTRA FANCY!’ A uniquely – even to Kona – full bodied and amazingly tasty coffee that is a rare treat for Kona lovers.
Could you even imagine?!
Well, with this pack you don’t have to.
Whole Bean ‘Kona Bloom’
This is what I like to see. The Pure stuff.
Good simple packaging, because good roasters know that it’s what’s inside the package that really counts.
For true coffee enthusiasts, this is the thing Kona coffee-dreams are made of.
This coffee is graded ‘Extra Fancy’ and comes from “The Big Island Coffee” company; a well-known and authentic Hawaiian coffee roastery.
Their traditional and long-standing growing / roasting techniques result in smooth, bright, buttery and consistent Kona coffee!
Mulvadi 100% Pure Kona Peaberry Whole Bean
Gold packaging; not my favourite, but! … if any Kona beans should be covered in gold it could quite possibly be these ones.
Peaberries are as rare as can be and among some of the best coffee beans out there! When you are paying extra for special beans (you want to feel special) and the gold-packaging – complete with a freshness vent – that keeps your cute little deformed coffee beans fresh, does just that.
When it comes to Peaberries, you want to buy them in their whole-bean form to admire their shape and density; this only adds to their mystique.
“Mulvadi” knows this and provides some great Peaberry coffee, royally packaged and in all their round, mutated and deliciously unique glory!
Crema de Kona
The “Crema de KONA” is the crème of one man’s crop!
This particular Kona coffee slides in, and finishes off our top-five list mainly due to the company’s traditional coffee growing practices.
“A one-man operation” delivering every Kona bean to you – for free I must add – from the same 10-acre farm in Honaunau, Hawaii.
It is grown, handpicked and roasted by the same farmer; which is a nice touch to know each bean has been handled with the same love and care as the next.
This accounts for its even and uniform taste and when buying from this company, you have the option for custom roasting as well! …
Plus, who doesn’t like helping out the little guy?
Mountain Thunder French Roast
Accurately named for its authentic origin and overall Kona-authenticity, we bring to you 100% true Kona “Mountain Thunder” coffee from the mountains of Kona, Hawaii.
A ‘Private Blend,’ offering a smoky tasting, medium-dark coffee with slightly less caffeine than that of a lighter roast.
But don’t let the word ‘blend’ scare you away, this coffee is made with 100% Kona beans.
The word blend refers to that of various grades of Kona beans. These beans have been intensely – thunderously, you could say – roasted for a great smoky flavour, but lose some of the caffeine content in the process.
It doesn’t offer that same kick as a lighter roast, but is a great coffee to taste and appreciate the flavour (maybe not for world domination).
And although this coffee comes pre-ground, it is promised to be “freshly” ground and “shipped to you within a few days.”
A truly royal coffee such as Kona, deserves royal packaging – “Royal Kona” delivers this, – although, again… gold packaging – a pretty straight-forward Kona coffee. This nice medium-roast, private blend, 100% Kona bean derived Coffee from Kona, Hawaii is not for the ultra-picky or ‘Kona snobs. It is a great run of the mill, pure and true Kona Coffee at a true Kona-price.
Kona Pure Ecstasy
So, you want Kona coffee, but you have a coffee machine that takes k-cups? Life’s hard!
Well, thankfully you’re in luck because “Hawaii 1st Coffee Store” has you covered.
Offering what I call a ‘Medium-Fancy’ grade Kona coffee bean, this particular roast is comprised of half ‘Kona #1’ graded beans and half graded ‘Kona-Fancy.’
Although there is still debate on the taste of coffee these beans produce – due to the use of nitrogen to seal and store the coffee in k-cups and pods – you probably won’t get the true authentic Kona-flavour.
You won’t get the highly sought-after texture and flavour-combination of a freshly ground, freshly brewed Kona coffee, but you will get a great and luxurious coffee – ready in a jiffy – that is sure to amaze and appease your taste buds!