What is Kona Coffee?
Kona Coffee grows in a recognized “terroir” on the west side of the Big Island of Hawaii. A “terroir” is a geographic location with a variety of environmental factors, such as rainfall, average temperature, mineral content in the soil, humidity and oxygen levels, that impart flavors and aromas to the fruit.
The Kona Coffee Belt
The “terroir” that Kona Coffee grows in is called the “Kona Coffee Belt” and it is roughly 35 miles long, a mile and a half wide, and has an elevation between 500 to 3,200 feet. Here you’ll find well-drained, slightly acidic volcanic soil. The climate that surrounds the Kona Coffee Belt includes seasonal, daytime-nighttime temperature shifts of no more than 30 degrees, rainfall of 70-plus inches, and micro factors that change the taste of the fruit on the tree. With these conditions, the result of coffee grown in the Kona Coffee Belt is a light, fruity and naturally sweet coffee.
If coffee beans are grown within the Kona Coffee Belt and meet certain grading requirements, they can be sold as Kona Coffee. If coffee beans do not meet these guidelines, they absolutely may not be sold as 100% Kona Coffee.
The Quality of 100% Kona Coffee
We are such big proponents of the try-before-you-buy philosophy, because not all 100% Kona Coffee is equal. The state law regulates defects and bean size into general quality categories, but Kona has no formal grading system to indicate the quality of final flavors. Without knowing it, you may pay the same price for really great 100% Kona Coffee that you would for inferior 100% Kona.
A leader in the Kona Coffee world for over 150 years, the fifth-generation Greenwell Family has maintained a legacy of quality and integrity through meticulous farming practices, varietal developments and gourmet milling technologies. We pride ourselves on hand picking beans at the peak of freshness, processing them with care and precision, and small batch craft roasting them to ensure you’re drinking the finest 100% Kona Coffee available.
Other Factors of 100% Kona Coffee
While the origin is key in classifying coffee as 100% Kona Coffee, the origin region is not the only factor revealed in the final cup flavor. Adding to the complexity and variety of coffee you can taste under the 100% Kona Label is the variety of tree, the elevation where it grows, the farmer’s ability to grow healthy trees, the care involved in hand-picking only the ripest fruit, the processing of the seed (washed, natural, honey), and the mills ability to clean, size sort and remove defective coffee from the mix. Similar to the way that a chef elevates a dish, the final factor in differentiating 100% Kona Coffee types is the roaster’s ability to highlight the unique characteristics of the coffee. Quality levels vary widely from farm to farm and we are big advocates of the try-before-you-buy model. That’s why our complimentary farm tours come with samples of Greenwell Farms 100% Kona Coffee for you to sip on the farm!
A Brief History of Kona Coffee
The Origin of Kona Coffee
Hawaiian Coffee Today
Every Hawaiian Island grows coffee now. In the last 30 years growers in regions state-wide have put great effort into amending soil, introducing compatible varieties and adjusting farming techniques to allow their trees to thrive. This rise in quality state-wide is a positive thing, even for Kona Coffee farmers as it has brought more awareness to the coffee industry in Hawaii and requires the industry to be better.
If you ever hear the term “Hawaiian Coffee” as opposed to “Kona Coffee,” think about it like this. Coffee that grows within the designated Kona Coffee Belt can be called Kona Coffee. Coffee that grows in Hawaii, but outside of the Kona Coffee Belt is generally referred to as Hawaiian Coffee. Quality varies greatly and no two regions are exactly the same. So go out and explore! Try this and try that. Order a Maui, Kauai and Kona and try them side by side. You will be amazed at the subtle differences between each Hawaiian origin.
What’s Next for Hawaiian Coffee?
The industry may move toward a French style appellation system, or certification to denote coffee’s place of origin, quality and style in the future, but for now it is up to the consumer to understand all of the subtle and complex differences in the world of Hawaiian-grown coffee. The ability for farmers to send their freshly roasted coffee around the world directly to the consumer has started a new chapter in the ongoing story of 100% Kona Coffee.
Continuing Your Kona Coffee Education
The story of Kona Coffee to which you just read a bit of is always in transition. It is an ongoing tale of a local agricultural crop that earned a global reputation. As the specialty coffee movement continues to grow and we as consumers continue to meet new varieties and origins of coffee, there is some pressure on us to be better consumers.
Within the “at-home” market, only 1 billion is represented by whole bean coffee drinkers. Meanwhile, 16 billion dollars a year is spent on ground coffee and half of that is in individual coffee pods. SCA concludes that most Americans still prefer low cost and convenience to quality and caffeine to flavor, and don’t yet have an appreciation for what makes specialty coffee so different.
With that, there is a growing surge in awareness for one of the world’s most-consumed beverages. We as consumers need to have a better understanding of the nuances in the products we see. There is still a long way to go, but if you love a good cup of coffee, please spend a few hours Googling and YouTubing your way into a new understanding. Recommendations for searches include the following:
- How to make a great cup of coffee?
- What makes specialty coffee special?
- How does roasting affect coffee?
- Different ways to extract coffee
- The complexities of caffeine in coffee