Kona coffee is a premium gourmet Arabica coffee grown in the Kona district on the western side of the Big Island of Hawaii in the United States. The area where it is grown is known as the Kona Coffee Belt, and also Kona Coffee Country.
Kona Coffee Flavor Characteristics
Hawaiian Kona coffee is known for its simple yet rich flavor, typically light, delicate and mild with a complex aroma and taste.
A good Kona coffee is clean and well-balanced with a medium body and cheerful, bright acidity yet classically balanced and often exhibiting spicy and also buttery qualities with subtle winey tones, intensely aromatic, and with a great aftertaste/finish.
The finer Kona coffees are purchased from single estates rather than a mix of Kona coffees pooled for general market sale.
Kona Coffee Growing Region
Though the elevations of Kona coffee farms are lower than the elevations of some of the world’s top Arabica coffees, when it comes to coffee bean quality a bigger factor than elevation is how fast the coffee cherry (fruit) mature on the coffee plant, and the Kona region’s growing conditions provide for a long maturation period.
Grades of Kona Coffee
The primary grades of “Type I” Kona coffee beans are:
- Extra Fancy (the highest grade)
- Fancy (also a high grade)
- Kona #1, a mid-grade coffee bean often sold in bulk and used in many restaurants; and
- Prime (the lowest grade)
All Hawaii Kona Peaberry Coffees are classified as “Type II”, and these are in turn divided into Peaberry Prime and Peaberry #1.
The Kona Coffee Belt
Kona coffee is grown within Hawaii’s Kona district in the prime coffee-growing area known as the Kona Coffee Belt, which is about 30 miles long and only about one mile wide at elevations ranging from about 500 feet to 2,500 feet along the cool and fertile western slopes of the volcanoes Mauna Loa and Hualalai.
Most of the coffee plants grown in Kona are the coffee plant varietal called Typica (Coffea arabica var. typica). Also grown in the Kona region, though much less extensively, is the Blue Mountain coffee plant varietal (Coffea Arabica var. blue mountain).
Kona Coffee Farms and the Pioneering Kona Coffee Farmers
Within the Kona Coffee Belt are some five hundred Kona coffee farms, most of them less than five acres in size. Kona’s coffee mills and coffee farms are mostly family-owned ventures.
In the early years of Kona coffee farming a century ago, Japanese immigrants were the most numerous Kona coffee farmer – at one point four out of five Kona coffee farmers were Japanese. Today many Kona coffee farmers are fifth generation descendants of these original Kona coffee farmers.
Harvesting and Processing Kona Coffee
Kona coffee is hand picked at peak ripeness, with the farmers returning up to eight times per season to pick the cherry.
Once the coffee cherry are picked they are wet processed (washed) and this includes fermentation, washing the coffee beans, then drying, milling, and grading, resulting in green coffee beans that are milled but not yet roasted. The Kona coffee beans are then ready for roasting and packaging for sale.
The Kona Coffee Belt provides optimal growing conditions including the climate as well as the soil making Kona coffee a wonderful example of how a true gourmet coffee is nurtured From Soil to Sip. Also see Kona Peaberry Coffee; Hawaii Kona Blend Coffee; Hawaii Coffee.
What is the Coffee Berry Borer?
The Coffee Berry Borer beetle is a small beetle that lays its eggs inside the coffee cherry (fruit) where they develop into larva and then begin feeding on the pit of the coffee cherry which is the coffee bean.
Subsequent to this infestation other insects may attack the coffee fruit and the coffee bean at the center of the fruit. These other invaders may cause bacterial and fungal damage.
On the Big Island of Hawaii in Kona Coffee Country there is a coffee quarantine with the goal of stopping the spread of a coffee pest called the Coffee Berry Borer which has been discovered on many Kona coffee farms.
Kona Coffee and Espresso Brewing Tips
For tips on brewing the perfect cup of Kona coffee see our section on Coffee Brewing. You can also read detailed coffee flavor profiles of Specialty Coffees and instructions on preparing Espresso Drink Recipes.