Ah, coffee. That statement is a daily ritual for many millions across the world. And amongst the multitude of coffee lovers out there is a smaller but still relatively massive group of us who seek the finest beans for our morning brew. Some people call this a coffee snob, others a connoisseur. Regardless of a namesake, good coffee is good coffee.
From mystic volcanic slopes comes a coffee variety known globally for its fine taste and often exorbitant prices – Kona coffee. This type of coffee comes from the prime yet unique growing conditions found on the island of Hawaii, otherwise known as the Big Island. If you plan a trip to Hawaii or are just interested in what makes Kona different from other beans, read on for a closer look.
What is Kona Coffee
Kona coffee is a specific variety of the Coffee arabica plant grown on the island of Hawaii. Specifically, it is grown on Manua Loa and Hualalai – two volcanoes found on the Big Island that provide excellent growing conditions for high-quality coffee beans. The slopes of these volcanoes sit in the Kona Districts, where the name is derived.
The volcanic soil found here provides the nutrients and minerals needed for coffee with ample sun, adequate water, and pleasant nighttime temperatures making for excellent growing conditions that allow Kona plants to thrive. Kona coffee is only grown on these two slopes and nowhere else in the world.
History of Kona Coffee
The Hawaiian islands are home to many plants found nowhere else on earth, but coffee is not one of these. Coffee plants were first brought to the islands in the early 1800s. The first attempts to establish seedlings were not very successful, and it took a few attempts before the legitimate coffee plantations were established.
The first plants to grow here were cuttings that came from Brazil. This variety was grown in the mid to late 1800s and introduced Kona coffee to the world. Later in the 19th century, Guatemalan coffee seedlings and cuttings were brought to the Kona district, which remains the most prevalent variety today.
Since its early days, Kona coffee has seen its struggles that coincided with the rises and crashes of the worldwide coffee prices alongside other significant world events that affected the market. Due to its desirable flavor and steady demand from tourists and coffee enthusiasts, Kona remains popular and is successfully grown and sold heavily in Hawaii and across the globe.
What Makes Kona Coffee Unique?
Multiple factors make Kona coffee so desirable and give it a unique taste. Key among these is the rich volcanic soil mentioned earlier. This soil is porous, providing good drainage while also retaining critical nutrients and minerals to support healthy growth. Coffee plants love this type of soil. They also see plenty of rain as Hawaii gets steady precipitation. Steady water and good draining soil are a recipe for exceptional coffee.
The altitude and temperatures of the Kona district also give the coffee a unique flavor profile and supports growth. Temperatures here hover around 70F and rarely dip below 55F, making for year-round growing to sustain a steady supply. The altitude where the coffee groves are found also allows for a mild taste. The plants grow at elevations of around 3000 feet, a sweet spot for an excellent flavor profile.
How Does Kona Coffee Taste?
The same conditions and environmental factors that make Kona coffee unique also give it a distinct flavor and taste. It typically has a very light to mild taste that is somewhat sweet. You can expect hints of fruity flavors with an earthy undertone and soft spicey bite. Some connoisseurs say that Kona will taste of subtle brown sugar or milk chocolate. Even for those with a less refined palate, it offers a smooth, clean, and delightful cup.
Why is Kona Coffee Expensive?
There is no way around it; Kona coffee is often some of the most expensive on the shelves. You can expect to pay around $30-50 a pound for it. That’s easily double or even triple what other premium coffees can cost. Much of this has to do with labor costs. Labor costs are significantly higher in Hawaii than in other prime growing locations across the world. This means that the farmer needs to pay the field workers a lot more, which trickles down the entire chain and ends up as a higher price for the consumer.
Is it worth it? That’s really up to you. If money is of no concern and you really enjoy Kona, then it certainly is. For the average coffee drinker, the price can certainly be a deciding factor that keeps them away except for maybe on special occasions, such as a trip to Hawaii.
One thing to note is the prevalence of Kona blends on the supermarket shelves. While this seemingly is a way to enjoy Kona coffee at a much lower price, it’s actually more of a marketing ploy to get you to purchase another lower-quality type of coffee. If you want real Kona coffee, you need to look for a ‘100% Kona Coffee’ label. Without this, you are more than likely buying a subpar blend that only contains 10% of actual Kona beans.
Also, watch out for labels such as ‘Kona Style’ or ‘Kona Roast.’ These are misleading terms that will more than likely not have any actual Kona coffee in them. You will need to spend more money on the real deal, but it’s more than worth the experience every now and again if you are a coffee lover.
How to Brew Kona Coffee
Kona coffee can be brewed by the method of your choosing. But because it is a specialty blend with a great flavor profile, merely grinding the beans and throwing them into a drip machine seems almost like a disservice.
A French press is one recommended method to brewing fine Kona coffee and unlocking its fantastic flavor. You’ll want to use one rounded tablespoon for every four ounces of water. Filtered water is ideal, and heating it between 195-205 (Just before boiling) will open up the profile even more. Pour the water slowly over your ground beans and let brew for about 4 to 4 ½ minutes. Press down the plunger, pour into your mug, and enjoy!