Growing Kona Coffee

Kona Coffee is grown on the Big Island of Hawaii in the North and South Kona districts know as the “Kona Coffee Belt”.

  1. How is the Kona Coffee Belt protected from inclement weather?
  2. When were coffee plants first brought to Kona, and who brought them?
  3. How many coffee farms are there in the Kona region?
  4. How much coffee can a three to five acre Kona coffee farm produce?
  5. How big are the coffee farms in Kona?
  6. Who are the Kona coffee farmers?
  7. How much coffee is produced in Kona?
  8. How old do coffee trees have to be before they produce fruit?
  9. Are coffee plants bushes or a trees?
  10. How would you describe the coffee plant?
  11. How tall do coffee trees get?
  12. What other work needs to be done to maintain a Kona coffee orchard?
  13. Are tours offered at any of the Kona coffee farms?
  14. Also see: Best Coffees In the World


Easterly trade winds move across the great expanses of the Pacific Ocean before reaching the Hilo side of the Big Island where they are tempered after rising up the eastern slope of Mauna Loa which rises to 13,000 feet. The breezes that make it over the top of the volcano to Kona on the leeward western slope are gentle enough to leave the delicate Kona coffee flowers there unharmed.


The first coffee plants were brought to Kona in the early 1800s by American Protestant missionary Reverend Samuel Ruggles.  These coffee plants were from Brazilian cuttings. (See History of Kona Coffee section.)


There are more than 700 estate and commercial coffee farms in North and South Kona.


About 20,000 to 40,000 pounds of cherry may be produced on a three to five acre Kona coffee farm.  In other places an acre of coffee trees has produced more than 10,000 pounds of cherry, which reduce to about 2,000 pounds after milling.


Most Kona Coffee Farms are about two to seven acres in size.  The average size of a Kona Coffee farm is less than five acres, and most of these Kona coffee farms are family-run operations.  In all about 4,000 acres in Kona are farmed in coffee.  As an example, one of the larger farms is 30 acres and grows nearly 20,000 coffee trees.


The multi-ethnic heritage of Kona coffee farming over the last century has included many Japanese, Hawaiians, Caucasians, Chinese, Japanese, Portuguese, Koreans, Filipinos, Samoans, Puerto Ricans, and others.  In the early years of coffee farming in Kona, the Japanese quickly became the most prominent group, and at one point four out of five Kona coffee farmers were Japanese (see History of Kona Coffee section).  Today many Kona coffee farmers can claim to be fifth generation descendants of the original Kona coffee farmers.


Production varies with climate and other factors, but about two million pounds of (green) coffee were produced in Kona in 1997 on about 2,300 acres of land.  Today about 3 million pounds of green coffee beans are produced in Kona each year, from about 15 million pounds of cherry (about 19% by weight) and then this weight will be reduced another 20% by roasting.


Coffee trees begin to bear fruit after three years.


Coffee plants are classified botanically as bushes or shrubs, although in the coffee-growing industry they are commonly called trees.


Native to subtropical Africa and southern Asia, the Coffea plant is an evergreen shrub/small tree in a genus of ten species of flowering plants of the family Rubiaceae.  The coffee tree has dark, green, glossy leaves and clusters of fragrant, white flowers that bloom simultaneously.  The fruit berry is oval, about 1.5 centimeters (0.6 in) long, and green when immature, ripening to yellow, crimson, and finally dark red/black when it dries – it takes about 8 months for the berries to ripen.  Berries usually contain two seeds, but in about 7.5% of the berries, there is only one seed – these are known as peaberries.

The two main cultivated coffee species worldwide are Coffea canephora (Robusta) and Coffea arabica (Arabica).  Arabica coffee is considered more suitable for drinking than Robusta, which tends to be more bitter and with less flavor.  About three-fourths of coffee cultivated worldwide is Arabica. Robusta, however, is less susceptible to disease and can be cultivated in some environments where Arabica does not grow well.  Robusta coffee also contains about 45% more caffeine than Arabica.

“I have measured out my life with coffee spoons.” - T.S. Eliot


Coffee can grow to more than thirty feet tall, but the trees on Hawaiian Kona coffee farms are pruned on a regular basis to encourage cherry production and to make harvesting easier.


A variety of tasks are required to maintain the orchards including fertilization and also suckering, which involves removing young branch starts from the limbs and trunks of the coffee trees.

“Black as the devil, hot as hell, pure as an angel, sweet as love.”
- Talleyrand


Numerous Kona coffee related tours are offered, including tours of Kona coffee farms, mills, other processing areas, and visitor museums. There are also numerous shops set amidst the historic old coffee towns and estate farm plantations.

Next: Harvesting Kona Coffee

Also see:

Coffee Prices 2011

Coffee Prices Rise 2011

For great coffee information see All About Coffee and learn about coffee plants and coffee cherry as well as the world’s best gourmet coffee beans.

Learn about coffee flavors and qualities including the coffee’s body, aroma, acidity, bitterness, sweetness, and finish or aftertaste).

Brewing Perfect Espresso

Learn about espresso brewing beginning with Pulling A Perfect Espresso Shot and also Steaming and Frothing Milk. Then check out the Barista Guide to Perfect Lattes and Cappuccinos which includes information about Espresso Drink Recipes.

Also see the best Coffee and Espresso Glossary along with the World’s Best History of Coffee.

Also see:

Gourmet Coffee Lover!

The Art and Science of the Roastmaster

Coffee Makers - Best Coffee Machines

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