Crazy for Kona Coffee
Many coffee roasters boast about the coffee they buy from Ethiopia, Guatemala, Colombia, or Sumatra. However, you rarely hear coffee roasters talk about the Kona Coffee from Hawaii.
IMAGE: Christopher Michel via Wikimedia Commons
Kona Coffee is one of the most expensive coffees on the market and if you don't know how to roast coffee, it is easily ruined. Our Master Roaster has been roasting for over forty years.
Where does this coffee come from, and why is it so admired compared to other coffees?
The Sad History of Kona Coffee
The history of the coffee crop in Hawai’i is complicated, and hard to trace.
In 1723, coffee was brought to Brazil from England and production quickly spread across Latin and South America. Flash forward 100 years, to 1824 when Hawaiian King Kamehameha II and his Queen Kamāmalu, along with Governor Boki of Oahu and his wife went to England to meet with King George IV in England. They were forced to conform to English standards of dress and to disregard their own culture to appease King George IV. However, they both fell ill with the measles and despite best efforts to keep them alive, Queen Kamāmalu died July 8, 1824 and a heart broken King Kamehameha II died six days later on July 14, 1824. Governor Boki and his wife also fell ill but recovered in England. When they brought the bodies of the King and Queen back to Hawaii, the ship stopped in Brazil, and Boki picked up several Arabica coffee trees which he brought back to Hawaii with the intent of planting them on the island of Oahu.
IMAGE: Governor Boki and his wife Liliha. Printed by C. Hullmandel; drawn on stone from the original painting by John Hayter. London 1824
However, the coffee trees did not grow well on the island of Oahu, and it was Reverend Samuel Ruggles who took the coffee trees off Oahu and planted some of them on the western slopes, Kona Side, of the Big Island of Hawaii, where the coffee trees thrived in rich volcanic soil.
English native and merchant Henry Greenwell quickly moved to the area to establish a coffee company to capitalize off the coffee trees. His original plantation, the Greenwell Store is now a museum where they give Kona Coffee tours.
Ironically, most of the original farmers of Kona Coffee were neither Hawaiian nor English. Japanese immigrants who had been brought to work on sugarcane farms quickly took up the coffee plantation work.
The Perfect Environment
If you have the privilege of travelling and get to visit a coffee plantation in Kona, from January to May, you will get to see “Kona Snow” which are the tiny, fragrant white blooms on the coffee trees. After May, the flowers start to die off and unripe and green coffee cherries start to show. By August, the coffee cherries are turning bright red and are ready to be picked.
Part of what makes Kona Coffee so special is that it has a long history of being meticulously picked and processed, something that other farms across the world did not pick up until later. Some coffee farmers were known for picking only certain shades of the red coffee cherries to ensure the quality and taste for cup perfection.
However, besides the dedication to perfection, Kona has the perfect environment for the coffee trees. The rich volcanic soil allows the plant to retain water in times of drought but is loose enough for the roots to grow without becoming waterlogged. While every volcano is going to have different soil, most volcanic soils contain phosphorus, potassium, calcium, magnesium, zinc, iron and boron which are essential nutrients for the maturing plants.
Kona also has perfect weather (and that is coming from a native Californian), with mild mornings and warm afternoon rains. The average weather on Kona is about 70F, perfect for the coffee tree.
Why is Kona Coffee Expensive?
Kona Coffee is expensive for the following reasons:
Coffee farming is tedious, hard, and relentless work. Have you ever wondered why imported fruits from Mexico and Asia are so much cheaper at the grocery store versus the same fruits at your local farmer’s market?
Kona Coffee producers have to pay coffee workers a living wage. That wage is a lot higher in Hawaii than the living wage of coffee farmers in other parts of the world. The average cost of producing a pound of 100% Kona coffee can range from $45 to $80.
Note: If you are ever buying Kona coffee, make sure it is 100% Kona. Many coffee brands will sell you high priced “Kona Blends” which contain only about 10% Kona coffee and 90% other coffees.
IMAGE: Christopher Michel via Wikimedia Commons
However, besides the cost of labor, Kona is only about 40 square miles. (San Francisco itself is only about 49 square miles) This means that compared to other coffee producing regions, Kona is very small. Since coffee trees need to grow for several years before they start producing coffee cherries, there is considerably less coffee that can be produced in the area at a time versus larger scale production in places like Ethiopia and Guatemala.
In the 1990s, Kona farms were plagued by root-knot nematodes. The parasite lives in the soil of hot climates with short winters and makes its home in the roots of plants. The plant can continue to grow for several years (if it is lucky) before dying, making it hard to catch. Instead of using pesticides, however, Kona Coffee farmers took a natural approach. Coffee trees were grown in greenhouses, and when they were a few weeks old they were combined – a process called grafting – to resistant seedlings that were then planted so the trees could grow to maturity.
Which Kona Coffee is Best?
Kona Coffee beans have a unique flavor profile. We suggest trying all types of different coffees to see what coffee you like best.
Weaver’s Kona Reserve Coffee is a single-origin coffee, made from 100% Kona Coffee beans. It is medium bodied with a delicate but sweet finish. Weaver's Kona Coffee is beautiful, and you will be pleased with the flavor profile and the smooth, clean finish.
Read the review below from Kana A.
“Being native Hawai'ian, I've had my fair share of crap imitation Kona coffee. Weaver's Kona is the best I've ever had. Perfect roast, perfect acidity level... I couldn't ask for a better taste of home in my wakeup cup!” Kana A.
Kona Reserve Coffee: A Hawaiian Heritage by Angelica Galland. December 18, 2018https://weaverscoffee.com/blogs/blog/the-history-of-kona-coffee-beans-in-hawaii?_pos=1&_sid=b4780e01e&_ss=r
The history of Hawaii’s famous Kona coffee beanshttps://blog.ihg.com/hawaii-kona-coffee-history
The Kona Coffee Guidehttps://www.lovebigisland.com/kona-coffee-hawaii/
Why Do Some Producers Grow Coffee Near Active Volcanoes? By Dr. Alexander Steele for Perfect Daily Grind. August 7, 2020.https://perfectdailygrind.com/2020/08/why-do-some-producers-grow-coffee-near-active-volcanoes-volcanic-coffee-tephra-eruptions/
The History of Kona Coffeehttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3SavZ_gEazE
History of Measles in Hawaii, Stanford T. Shulman, MD, Deborah L. Shulman, MA, and Ronald H. Sims, MA. Volume 28, Number 8, August 2009http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.730.4012&rep=rep1&type=pdf