Frequently Asked Questions About Hawaiian Kona Coffee

If you are just learning about Kona Coffee, this is a good place to start. Find out what Kona Coffee is, how it tastes and what makes this coffee so desirable

  1. What is Kona Coffee?
  2. Where exactly is Kona Coffee grown?
  3. Is Hawaiian Kona Coffee well known?
  4. What is so good about Kona coffee?
  5. Describe the taste of Kona Coffee?
  6. What makes Kona Coffee so good?
  7. How does Kona coffee differ from other Hawai‘i coffee?
  8. What is a Kona Blend?
  9. What are the laws regarding Kona coffee?
  10. What is the Kona Coffee Cultural Festival?
  11. Where can I buy the best 100% Kona Coffee?

Kona Coffee is the variety of coffee called Coffea arabica and also Kona typica cultivated in the Kona district on the southwest coast of the Big Island of Hawai‘i.

Kona Coffee is cultivated in both the north and south Kona districts on the Big Island of Hawai‘i.  This coffee-growing region – which is known as the “Kona Coffee Belt” – is located along the cool, fertile, and green western slopes of the volcanoes Hualalai and Mauna Loa.  This prime coffee-growing area is about one mile wide by thirty miles long at elevations ranging from about 500 feet to 2,500 feet, and receives about 60 inches of rain during the rainy season.  Only coffee grown in this region may be called Kona Coffee.

Yes, and its worldwide reputation has made Kona Coffee among the world’s most sought after and expensive types of premium coffee.  Many gourmet coffee connoisseurs consider it to be the very best coffee in the world.

Kona coffee is a rich and uniquely flavored gourmet coffee that is considered by many people to be the best coffee in the world.  Hawaiian Kona coffee is often described as smooth, delicate, and full-bodied (sometimes called mild and light-bodied depending on the roast), and with a bright, clear flavor and rich aroma.  It is also described as robust, and usually with medium acidity.  Some also say it has a caramelly aroma and a slightly nutty flavor.

The taste of Hawaiian Kona coffee varies depending on how the beans are roasted (e.g., at what temperature and how long).  In addition, descriptions of the taste of Kona coffee are like peoples’ opinions about fine wine—they are subjective.  Nevertheless, there is a consensus that Hawaiian Kona coffee is among the very best gourmet coffees in the world. For you coffee connoisseurs who would like to know more specifically about the finer qualities of Hawaiian Kona coffee, refer to the tasting scale of the Specialty Coffee Association of America, which says that:

The Aroma of Kona coffee is classified as floral, fruity, nutty, caramelly, or chocolaty, depending on the particular roast.

The Taste of Kona coffee is considered sweet, and this sweetness may have various subtleties such as being mellow or piquant.

The Acidity of Kona coffee is also somewhat dependent upon the particular roast, though Kona coffee is generally considered bright and vibrant, yet mild.  The Acidity gives coffee the needed bit, as well as the Body, which is noticed in the lingering aftertaste.

The Body of Kona coffee is considered full, or even buttery on the palate.

“Coffee smells like freshly ground heaven.”
- Jessi Lane Adams

Many factors help to explain the high quality of Hawaiian Kona coffee.  One important factor is the ideal microclimate (local atmospheric climate) of the region—sunny mornings with afternoon clouds that provide shade and protection from the hot sun.  The misty (humid) and rainy afternoons also provide adequate moisture, and the nighttime temperatures never get too cold.

Overall the temperatures of the region are mild year round with seasonal tropical rains, and there is no frost that can damage the coffee crop.  Other important factors explaining the high quality of Hawaiian Kona coffee include: the rocky landscape has rich and well-drained, rich, dark volcanic soil which is porous and well-drained, and with a low PH (slightly acidic) and high nitrogen; there are very few diseases and pests that can harm the coffee trees; great care is taken in hand-picking only the ripest, reddest berries; and special care is also taken during the drying, milling, grading, and roasting.  These various factors – including the perfect combination of sun, soil, and water along with careful processing – all combine to create the world’s best gourmet coffee!

Virtually all other Hawai‘i coffee cultivated on other Hawaiian Islands (Maui, Moloka‘i, and Kaua‘i) is grown in clay soil that has been largely exhausted by decades of sugarcane production. The coffee plants are artificially irrigated and the soil usually has poor drainage. In contrast, the soils in the Kona Coffee Belt are generally comprised of rich and fertile, volcanic earth that is porous and well-drained as the coffee plants are naturally irrigated by the Kona rains.

A Kona Blend includes other types of coffee which are not from Kona (e.g., less expensive beans from Brazil, Africa, Indonesia, or Central America).  Most “Kona Blends” sold in Hawai‘i contain just ten percent Kona coffee.  Outside of the Hawaiian Islands a “Kona Blend” may be just one percent Kona coffee, or even less, which has generated much controversy among Kona farmers who would rather not see the reputation of their fine quality gourmet coffee tarnished by its association with inferior coffee products.  Technically, a “Kona Blend” may have just one bean of Kona coffee.  Unscrupulous companies have perpetrated just such fraudulent practices in the past by labeling their products as “Kona Coffee” or “Kona Blend” when in fact there was only a miniscule amount of Kona coffee in the “blend.”

Hawaiian law requires “Kona Blends” to state on the label the percentage of Kona coffee in the blend, and requires a ten percent minimum of Kona coffee.  This is not a federal law, however, so outside of the state of Hawai‘i a “Kona Blend” might have just a tiny amount of Kona coffee beans.  For pure Kona coffee, Hawai‘i state law requires the label to prominently display the words “100% Kona coffee.”

The Kona Coffee Cultural Festival, hosted by the Kona Coffee Council, is a celebration of Kona Coffee and the rich traditions of the region.  This year the Festival begins with the Aloha Makahiki Concert on Sunday November 1, 2009, and includes: Kona coffee workshops, cultural programs, coffee tastings and art showings, a Miss Kona Coffee Scholarship Pageant, a coffee picking contest, Kona coffee recipe contest, Living History Farm Tour, Kona Coffee Council Farm & Mill Tour, coffee cupping competition, bowling tournament, Kona Coffee Council Dinner & Benefit Auction, Talent Night, Coffee Label and Website Display, Kona Coffee Miracle Run, Kamehameha Schools Kona Coffee Grand Parade, Quilt Workshop, entertainment, and a Pioneer Farmer’s Luncheon.

We have reviewed a variety of Kona coffee and chosen our favorties. Here are the 10 best 100% Kona coffee roasts.

“Suave molecules of Mocha stir up your blood, without causing excess heat; the organ of thought receives from it a feeling of sympathy; work becomes easier and you will sit down without distress to your principal repast which will restore your body and afford you a calm, delicious night.” - Prince Tallyrand

Next: The Different Types of Kona Coffee Grades

Also see:

Coffee Prices 2011

Guide to Specialty Coffee, Coffee Makers and Espresso

See All About Coffee to learn more about coffee plants, coffee cherry, harvesting, processing, grading, roasting, grinding, packaging, storing, brewing, and the coffee beverage itself.

Organic Coffee, Fair Trade Coffee, Bird Friendly Coffee and Shade-Grown Coffee are also covered along with the fine points of gourmet coffee beans.

Coffee Makers and Espresso Machines

Also included are full details about Coffee Makers (Automatic Drip Coffee Makers, Single Serve Coffee Makers, Pod Coffee Makers, Coffee Pods, Coffee K-Cups, T-Discs, and French Press, (also see Best Coffee Makers), and Espresso Machines (including Pod Espresso Machines) as well as Instant Coffee and Decaffeinated Coffee.

Espresso Barista Guide and Espresso Drink Recipes

Check out the guide to espresso brewing and Pulling A Perfect Espresso Shot. Also provided are tips on Steaming and Frothing Milk and a detailed Barista Guide with a multitude of Espresso Drink Recipes.

Learn about coffee flavors and the fine points of body, aroma, acidity, bitterness, sweetness, and finish or aftertaste along with information about coffee cupping (professional coffee tasting). We have the biggest collection of coffee quotes and even provide a fun coffee quiz.

Glossary and Complete History of Coffee

To learn about coffee and espresso terminology see the Coffee and Espresso Glossary and you can read all about coffee’s rich past in the World’s Best History of Coffee.

Gourmet Coffee Lovers Bonus Information

See these final links only if you are a Gourmet Coffee Lover! and read these specialty coffee articles:

The Art and Science of the Roastmaster

A Foolproof Guide to Brewing the Perfect Cup of Coffee

The Perfect Grind for the Perfect Shot

Gourmet Coffee Tasting Tips

Coffee Makers - Best Coffee Machines

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