While some of us see coffee as a tool best utilized to get us through the day, others obsess over it and rightly so. At least, if the beans are grown in the right conditions and processed with care.
When it comes to the higher end of the coffee spectrum, coffee from Kona trumps any of the options you have at your local supermarket Isle and rivals any specialty brew you've heard of too.
So what makes 100% Kona coffee so great, and where can you get your hands on some to try?
What is Kona Coffee?
Kona, located on the Big Island in Hawaii, is famous for a few things. From deep-sea fishing right through to producing some of the most premium coffee beans on the planet.
More specifically, the fuss around these beans centers on the volcanic slopes of Mauna Loa and Hualalai. This area is known as the Kona coffee belt. Providing some of the most fertile, volcanic soil combined with a microclimate, which makes growing exceptional quality coffee easier than most places on earth.
Within this small region, the beans grow slowly and are sun shade-grown, allowing for the beans' sugars to develop. Consequently, Kona coffee is associated with producing some of the most flavorful espresso beans, which are ranked near the best in the world.
History Of Coffee In Kona
While Hawaii only exports less than 0.05% of global coffee volumes, coffee has been grown in the region since the early 1800s.
The beans, now known as Kona coffee, are said to originate from Guatemala. These are said to have been imported onto the Big Island in 1892. While the industry's takeoff wasn't immediate, it's flourished since the 1960s and grown aggressively to approximately 900 farms across the small district of Kona.
Why Coffee From Kona Is Famous
Kona beans are known as a type of specialty coffee. The use of premium 100% arabica beans, coupled with the volcanic elevation and soil providing the perfect inputs for coffee beans prized for their flavor.
Additionally, the Hawaii Department of Agriculture grades beans based on their visual appearance, number of defects in each bean, moisture levels, and overall shape. There are 8 degrees of grading, of which the highest class called extra fancy are some of the rarest and premium coffee beans.
These factors combined mean that any coffee destined for export is grown with exceptional care, and buyers can rest assured of the quality of the beans they buy based on the grading system.
Tips to enjoy a visit to Kona coffee growers
While buying coffee directly from Kona is excellent, visiting the farms where these little bags of wonder are grown is an even more surreal experience.
Luckily, most of the farms are open to visits and host regular coffee tours along with tastings. The tours show you the plantations where the coffee is grown and highlight critical processes in the growing, harvesting, and post-processing stages. Obtaining this familiarity means you can walk away from your tour fully briefed on Kona coffee, even if you're not usually big on the topic!
Most of the tours end with a free tasting of the different types of beans grown there. As the taste of a brew is subjective, it is great to see which flavors you enjoy the most before buying something to take home with you.
Note - if you want to see the coffee cherries ripen, the best time to visit for a tour is between August to January. The visiting window is wide because the crops' varying elevation means that the cherries ripen at different times instead of all at once.
Other activities to see and do when visiting the Kona district
While coffee is a highlight, it isn't the only thing to see or taste around Kona!
A few other exciting things to be aware of and check out are as follows:
Deep-sea fishing. Hundreds of tours go out every week to the ocean for tourists to experience the thrill of deep-sea fishing, or if you'd prefer charter a boat yourself and go in your own time!
Snorkel or night scuba. The sea life in this part of the Island is fantastic, just being offshore snorkeling is a real beauty. One of the most favored spots is Kealakekua Bay, located on the Kona coast. If you're brave or a scuba fan, check out the night scuba tours to find sea life that is otherwise difficult to see during the day!
Hike to the summit of Mauna Kea. Hike to the top within 8 hours or drive in around 2. Either way, the view is beautiful! Remember to take a fleece as it can be windy up there.