Are you curious as to what’s so special about Kona coffee? Kona coffee beans are considered specialty coffee grown on the Big Island of Hawaii. The ideal conditions of the Kona District produce high-quality beans regulated by the standards of the state.
Kona coffee can be a little pricey, but it’s internationally recognized for a reason. We’re here to give you a run-down of everything you need to know about these special beans and give you suggestions for authentic Kona coffee brands to try.
What is Kona Coffee?
Kona coffee is a type of coffee that’s grown in a specific district on the Big Island of Hawaii. It’s typically more expensive than coffees found in other parts of the world because of the way it’s picked.
It’s considered a special type of coffee because it’s defined by standards and grades set by the state of Hawaii.
Coffee grown in other parts of the Big Island or other Hawaiian islands isn’t classified as Kona coffee. Kona is located on the western side of the island and includes the Mauna Loa and Hualālai volcanoes.
The climate of Kona is perfect for coffee growing. It gets more than 150 cm of rain each year and shifts from sunny mornings to cloudy afternoons. The volcanic soils provide coffee plants with rich minerals and nutrients.
Kona coffee plants typically grow green coffee cherries around April and ripen to a vibrant red in late August. The red coffee cherries are hand-picked once they’re ripe. Harvesting lasts from late August to January.
Kona Coffee History
Coffee seeds were initially introduced to Hawaii in 1817, but the coffee plants didn’t grow. A few years later, seedlings were brought to Hawaii from Brazil. Coffee plants managed to grow this time around.
Coffee was introduced to other regions of Hawaii, including Kona in 1828. Hawaiian coffee plants went through a series of troubles over the next few decades, which led farmers to turn to other crops like sugar. However, coffee plants in Kona continued to thrive.
Kona coffee didn’t immediately take off as an internationally-known coffee. It would take about 50 years for these special beans to receive international recognition.
Types of Kona Coffee
There are different types of grades that Kona coffee beans are scaled to represent their quality. These quality grades are separated into two categories: Type I and Type II.
Type I Kona coffee varieties consist of four different tiers, including:
- Extra Fancy
- Kona #1
Extra Fancy is the highest grade of Kona coffee you can get. Fancy is still considered high-quality Kona beans. Kona #1 is the middle level between high and low grades. Prime is at the bottom, but it’s still considered higher-quality coffee than other beans.
All Kona beans in the Type I grade come from normal coffee cherries that include two half beans.
Type II coffee beans are separated into another category because they are peaberry beans. Peaberry coffee means that there’s only one whole coffee bean within the coffee cherry.
Peaberry beans can be found in other types of coffee around the world, and are a little pricier than regular beans.
Only two grades fall under Type II. These consist of Peaberry #1 and Peaberry Prime. Peaberry #1 is of the highest quality, while Peaberry Prime is of lower quality.
Peaberry beans are considered rare, so both of these beans are still of higher quality than most.
What to Look for When Buying Kona Coffee
Kona coffee is a market name, and it’s highly desired by many coffee lovers. This leads some coffee brands to advertise Hawaiian coffee beans as Kona coffee. There were several points in time when Kona coffee became a legal issue amongst coffee farmers.
Many coffee brands will use the Kona coffee name to sell their coffee, but sometimes it’s not 100% Kona coffee. Pure Kona coffee is labeled as “100% Kona Coffee”.
The label is a certification mark that’s only allowed to be used by coffee brands selling 100% authentic Kona coffee beans. Other labels, such as “Kona Blend” or “100% Hawaiian Coffee”, aren’t certified Kona coffee beans.
Kona Blends is coffee that only has to contain a minimum of 10% Kona coffee, with the rest being beans from other parts of Hawaii or other countries. Hawaiian regions that grow coffee use the “100% Hawaiian Coffee” label.
To ensure you’re getting authentic Kona coffee beans, it’s important to look for the “100% Kona Coffee” certification label on bags. If this label isn’t presented on the bag, it’s likely another type of Hawaiian coffee or a small percentage of Kona coffee mixed with other types of beans.
The Top Kona Coffee Brands
It can be hard to find Kona coffee brands that are genuinely 100% Kona beans. Many Kona coffee labels can be a little misleading. The following Kona coffee brands have the “100% Kona Coffee” label stamped on the packaging.
- Mountain Thunder Vienna Roast
- Domain Kona Gourmet Coffee – 100% Kona Peaberry Coffee
- Greenwell Farms 100% Kona Coffee
- Hawaii Selection 100% Kona Coffee Aloha Breeze
- Royal Kona Coffee For Royalty
Mountain Thunder Vienna Roast
Mountain Thunder is a coffee grower and roaster with a plantation located on the volcanic slopes of Hualālai. The beans are grown at 914 meters above sea level, which is right above the High Grown level.
Their Private Reserve 100% Kona Coffee is one of their most popular coffees. This is a Vienna Roast, which is your classic medium roast. Other roast options are also available through Mountain Thunder.
This Kona coffee brand also offers a number of other Kona coffee beans, including peaberry, espresso roast, decaf, and organic. The beans are hand-picked and small-batch roasted to ensure quality.
The Vienna Roast consists of nutty flavors, complimented by a sweet fruitiness. Together these flavors make a smooth cup of coffee. The beans are quite acidic for a medium roast.
- Smooth body
- Balanced flavors
Domain Kona Gourmet Coffee – 100% Kona Peaberry Coffee
Domain Kona Gourmet Coffee is a coffee producer with a farm located in the heart of Kona. Their coffee plants consist entirely of Kona trees of the Typica variety.
They offer a wide variety of 100% Kona beans, including this specialty peaberry coffee. It’s an almost dark roast, which is a little darker than a medium roast. The darker roast compliments the deep plum and pear tasting notes that give it a slightly earthy taste.
Domain Kona also offers a variety of roasts and Extra Fancy Kona beans.
- Grown on a single estate
- Lower acidity
- High-quality, rare peaberry beans
- Earthy flavor (depending on preference)
Greenwell Farms 100% Kona Coffee
Greenwell Farms is a coffee farming and processing company located in Kona. The Greenwell farm has been around for over a century, shortly after coffee came to Kona. It’s one of the oldest Kona coffee brands in the region.
Its Kona coffee plants spread throughout 85 acres of land, making it one of the largest Kona coffee farms.
They have flavored Kona coffees, along with regular roasts, decaf, and specialty and estate Kona beans. This 100% Kona Coffee is their classic medium roast.
It has a brilliant acidity thanks to its complex citrus flavors, accompanied by sweet caramel tasting notes. You might enjoy this coffee if you’re looking for a sweet and bright cup that you can enjoy black or with little sugar or creamer added.
- Wide variety of flavors and roasts
Hawaii Selection 100% Kona Coffee Aloha Breeze
Hawaii Selection is a gourmet brand that offers a number of products local to Hawaii, including Kona coffee. If you’re looking for a quick Kona coffee fix, you might enjoy the instant coffee offered by this brand.
There are a few instant options including Kona coffee instant single-serve pouches and instant coffee served in a jar. This is their 100% Kona freeze-dried coffee in a jar.
You can mix up this coffee into a cup of hot water for an instant Kona medium roast. Since it’s instant coffee, it’s not as flavorful as fresh Kona beans. But if you’re looking for a quick way to enjoy Kona coffee, this just might do the trick.
- Dissolves quickly
- Low in acidity
- Not as flavorful as regular Kona coffee
Royal Kona Coffee For Royalty
Royal Kona Coffee is sold by a larger brand called Hawaii Coffee Company. They offer a mix of 100% Kona coffee, Kona Blends, and coffee from other Hawaiian regions.
Their Kona estate coffee is grown on a single-estate farm at high elevations, resulting in beans that make a clean and bright cup of coffee. You might like this coffee if you’re looking for a lighter medium roast.
- Wide variety of 100% Kona and Kona Blends is available
Overview – Best Kona Coffee Brands
Kona coffee is a special type of coffee grown in the Kona District on the Big Island of Hawaii. Its long history of surviving coffee crises has made Kona a prime coffee-growing region.
Pure Kona coffee can be hard to come by. If you want 100% authentic Kona beans, you’ll want to look out for the “100% Kona Coffee” certification label on the bag. Kona Blends are common, but they consist of beans that are grown in other parts of Hawaii or other countries.
The downside to Kona coffee is its price. These beans are highly desired and can have a pretty steep price tag. It’s pretty common for a 12 oz bag to be more than $20.
If you want to try this specialty coffee from the Big Island of Hawaii, we recommend trying the Domain Kona Gourmet Coffee brand. They offer several different types of roasts, peaberry beans, and also sell the highest grade of Extra Fancy Kona coffee.
Even though 100% Kona coffee is considered the best, Kona Blends can also be great. It ultimately depends on your preferences of flavors and how much you’d like to spend to have a taste of Kona beans.