What Is Kona Coffee? What Makes The World’s Leading Coffee Brand?

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Although located at the top of the most expensive coffees globally, Kona is always the first choice of coffee lovers. So, what is Kona coffee that makes people willing to spend so much money for it? The following article will help you find the answer.

What is Kona coffee?

Kona coffee is a brew for gourmets because its price is always among the most expensive in the world. It is an Arabica coffee variety grown on the slopes of Mauna Loa and Hualalai.

People call it “Kona” after the name of this area – Kona county on the Big Island of Hawaii (USA). Since it is not a generic term, only coffee trees here are allowed to use this name.

Kona County has more than 600 independent coffee farms. Most of these are small-scale, in the range of 1.5-3ha, and are usually households. Thanks to the better taste than many other types of beans, the industry is also receiving much attention.

Now, Kona is famous for brew production and has also become an attractive tourist destination for followers of this drink. The coffee factories here are always a favorite place for tourists to visit. 

If you have the opportunity to set foot on this island, it will be extremely missed if you do not visit the Royal Kona Coffee Center. When you come here, you will have the opportunity to learn more about this coffee and enjoy the free samples.

History of Kona Coffee

Coffee trees have been present in Hawaii since 1817, thanks to the gardener Don Francisco de Paula Marin. However, it was not until 11 years later that Samuel Reverend Ruggles was the first to introduce this plant to the Big Island successfully; At that time, this drink was still relatively unknown to the whole island.

After seeing the Ruggles’s success with a new cultivar in Kona, the other planters began to move as well. But unfortunately, pests and inclement weather destroyed most of the plantations here in the 1850s.

In 1892, when Hermann Widemann brought Guatemalan coffee (Kona Typica) to Hawaii, coffee production had positive changes. Not long after, English merchant Henry Nicholas Greenwell established Kona coffee as a brand at the end of the century.

By World War II, coffee farming on the island also flourished. In the 1960s, production and tourism were the sectors with the largest workforce in Kona.

In the years that followed, even with a bit of volatility, Kona cafe kept its position. It didn’t take long for this unique coffee to reach the world and become a luxury drink for many people.

What Does Kona Coffee Taste Like?

You will feel the rich flavor of Kona coffee right from the moment you sip your lips. Overall, Kona is very light and smooth, but it tastes like a fruity brew that is not quite. It’s discreetly sweet, not overpowering, and has a hint of sourness to whet your taste buds right away.

Some people even think that Kona carries the “taste” of the sun and wind in Hawaii. Of course, this taste is not always the same. It will vary depending on the beans’ state, for example, how ripe the beans are. 

The green seeds offer a bit of a difference from the traditional flavor of freshly-ripened seeds, while the overripe seeds will ferment.

Another point that also affects the taste of this coffee is the freshness of the beans. Thanks to this, gourmets can distinguish what is new and what is old.

In addition, the taste of Kona will also change according to the way it is prepared. 

What Makes Kona Coffee Special?

If you’re a fan of coffee, you’ve probably come across very attractive advertisements about it somewhere. However, all the hype about this coffee is not overrated at all. So what makes it achieve this?

The Weather Where It Grows

Although the coffee farms in Kona have a lower elevation than the leading Arabica farms globally, the trees here still grow well. The weather on Mauna Loa and Hualalai slopes is favorable for beans to taste better than usual.

The climate here changes several times a day. Sunny in the morning, cloudy in the afternoon, and rainy in the afternoon. Sunshine is an important factor for the growth of coffee trees, so the western area of ​​Kona is a paradise for this plant because it has plenty of sunshine and steady rainfall. 

In addition, the western slopes also have plenty of shade to avoid sunburned crops. The mildness at night is also a bright spot for the coffee growing process.

Volcanic soil

Apart from the weather, there is still another factor that contributes to Kona coffee’s heart-warming reputation. 

Mauna Loa and Hualalai are both volcanic ranges. Therefore, most of the land on the island is new soil erupting from the ground. It is characterized by being very porous, rich in minerals, and essential minerals for plant growth. This ideal soil condition helps coffee trees grow faster and have a better taste.

How Is Kona Coffee Harvested?

Farming has never been easy, and neither has growing coffee on the island. The process of caring for a tree from flowering to harvesting includes many stages.

Kona begins to flower in the first months of the year, usually around February. If you visit Hawaii during this time, you may notice the small white flowers covering the farms here. Locals fondly call them volcanic snow.

And come April, replacing the snowflakes on the tree are bunches of berries – usually green. And by August, the green berries start to turn red like cherries, which signals that the harvest season has arrived. An interesting thing about harvesting is that you can pick a tree from August to January next year. The reason is that the ripening time between coffee clusters is not the same, even if they are on the same tree.

On average, each tree produces about 15 pounds of fruit, but the actual yield after roasting is only about 2 pounds. You can understand why Kona coffee is so expensive when looking at its finished output.

What Are The Steps Of Harvesting Kona Coffee?

To get delicious packages to consumers, coffee growers in Kona also need to prepare many other important steps.

Ferment

Most farmers in Kona used to sell fresh cherries, but recently a new trend has emerged that farmers process their own and sell them as dried, green, or roasted beans. There are more than 100 private brands of 100% Kona coffee in Hawaii.

First, the workers will put the beans into the grinder. This needs to happen within the first 24 hours after harvest because the longer it is left, the more the flavor of the finished coffee will change. 

Then comes the stage of separating the grounds for beans before fermentation. Fermentation takes 12-24 hours. This gives the coffee a light color.

Most of the coffee is then sun-dried on large cheese plates and raked frequently to dry evenly.

Dry

Wash the fermented beans, then dry them on a dedicated drying rack. This is when the essence of the tree during 7-8 months appears! 

Typically, up to 14 days of drying is required, and don’t forget to rake frequently to dry evenly. The quality standard for dryness is 9% – 12.2%. 

However, the Hawaii Department of Agriculture has made a few adjustments better to suit the characteristics of the region’s coffee.

Specifically, experts confirm that Kona beans with high humidity can be a danger to human health. This is because the ochratoxin A in coffee will thrive in the presence of water vapor, and unfortunately, this is a poison.

Storage

Once Kona has completely met the moisture standards, it is time to preserve the products before they reach the consumer. Here, you can either roast the seeds or sell them raw.

That is the whole process of harvesting brew at Kona, very sophisticated and delicate. The farmers take every step carefully and meticulously to ensure that the coffee they create meets the strictest standards in the region and the world. It is this mindset that has contributed significantly to the success of the industry here.

How To Serve Kona Coffee?

For those who love the sweet taste, a little sugar and a little cream will make the cup of beans more attractive; But for lovers of the original taste, only a cup of pure coffee will help them find all the flavors hidden in that hot brown color.

Why can’t you once drink black Kona because it is a bit sweeter than traditional ones? It will help you get the most authentic experience of the taste of this most expensive coffee in the world.

What could be better than being able to enjoy a delicious cup like this every day, right? But its price makes this more difficult for some people. Compared to other Arabica coffees, Kona is much more expensive. 

But if you choose to make your own at home instead of going to a coffee shop, you will save a considerable amount of money.

Alternatively, you can also look at Kona blends instead of 100% pure brew.

Final Thoughts

Although the price is quite high, many followers of coffee still cannot deny the appeal of this product. Kona brew is special compared to other commercial drinks because it results from the meticulous care process of the island’s farmers. 

It is an exclusive brand of the Kona region – with its delicate taste and intense aroma – a product well known among the global coffee connoisseur.

Hearing is not equal to seeing. If you are still curious about the question “what is Kona coffee?”, and why it is so expensive, try it once.

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Almost 20 years already spent committed to coffee and more than 3 years of experience as a barista at Starbucks. Madelyn Doyle graduated with a Bachelor’s Degree in Nutritional Science from the University of California and finished the Coffee Skills Program at the Specialty Coffee Association (SCA).