What Is Kona Coffee? Read This First!

All of your questions about how Kona coffee is made and enjoyed are answered. Discover why people are willing to pay a premium for this rare Hawaiian coffee.

Kona Coffee
Kona coffee is considered one of the priciest types of coffee in the world

Are you craving more after getting a taste of Kona coffee? You may not realize that you’re actually enjoying a cup of coffee that began its life on the slope of a volcano when you take your first sip of Kona coffee. Let’s discuss why so many people are saying aloha to this Hawaiian java!

What Is Kona Coffee?

Kona coffee is the name given to beans that are cultivated on the slopes of Hualalai and Mauna Loa on the Big Island of Hawaii. Kona is far from a generic term when it applies to coffee. Only coffee that has been harvested in these very specific spots can be marketed as Kona coffee.

Many coffee names are used pretty loosely. However, the Kona distinction is a very precise geographical one. We’ll discuss in a moment how to avoid “counterfeit” Kona coffee stemming from misleading labeling.

Yes, you will pay a premium to enjoy the rare flavor of Kona coffee (see Amazon). Kona is considered to be one of the priciest coffee types in the world. Of course, the hype around this coffee isn’t just based on the magical location where it’s grown.

There’s actually something about the unique weather conditions at Hualalai and Mauna Loa that create superior coffee beans. The climate sees sunny mornings that turn into cloudy or rainy afternoons almost daily. Additionally, mild nights help to create a very favorable environment for cultivating flavor.

There’s still one more element that adds to the unmatchable flavor of Kona coffee! The volcanic soil where Kona coffee is grown is very porous and rich in minerals. In fact, it’s actually impossible to recreate the weather and soil conditions that give this coffee its amazing flavor.

Many people claim that they can taste the “flavor” of Hawaii when they sip Kona coffee. It’s true that Kona coffee has an unusually sweet flavor profile. Of course, the post-brew flavor you cultivate will depend on your methods for preparing and serving Kona coffee.

It’s easy to see why a cup of Kona coffee would be more expensive than a traditional cup of coffee. The people who work to harvest Kona do so under very specific conditions. You might say that harvesting Kona coffee requires a mix of art, science, and passion.

How Is Kona Coffee Harvested?

A Kona tree provides roughly 15 pounds of fruit

Kona coffee has a very specific blooming season that spans from February through March. If you were to travel to Hawaii, you’d see small white flowers that the locals refer to as Kona snow growing up from the volcanic soil. Those flowers turn into green berries by April.

It isn’t until the end of August that a red fruit resembling a cherry appears. This signals that it’s time for picking season. What’s interesting is that each Kona tree can be picked a number of times during the period spanning from August through January.

Each Kona tree provides roughly 15 pounds of fruit. However, the output actually works out to be about two pounds of roasted coffee. You can see why Kona coffee is so expensive when you consider how limited each harvesting season really is!

Each cherry must be put through a piece of machinery called a pulper within 24 hours of being picked. The beans are then extracted from the pulp before being placed in a tank to ferment. Fermentation time for Kona beans is anywhere from 12 to 24 hours.

The process still isn’t over! In fact, the amount of work that must be done by hand to harvest Kona coffee is part of the reason why this is essentially the most expensive coffee you can buy. Let’s keep going to see what happens next in the process.

Next, Kona beans are rinsed before being left to dry on a special drying rack. Here’s where the real art of harvesting Kona coffee comes in! It takes up to 14 days to dry the beans!

It’s actually necessary for Kona beans to reach a moisture level of between 9 percent and 12.2 percent to meet the strict quality standards that are monitored during the making of Kona coffee. In fact, the Hawaii Department of Agriculture actually regulates moisture levels for Kona beans. There’s a very good reason for this.

It turns out that Kona coffee with too much moisture can actually be hazardous to humans! That’s because a harmful substance called ochratoxin A can grow if moisture levels are too high. Unfortunately, ochratoxin A is very harmful to humans.

Once Kona reaches the optimal moisture level, it’s time to store it on special parchment. The next step is for Kona beans to be roasted or sold raw on a wholesale basis. You now know the intricate, delicate process of harvesting Kona coffee beans!

Is Kona Coffee The Same As A Kona Blend?

It’s really important to know what you’re getting when you see something marketed as a Kona blend. Many retailers actually try to cut costs by selling blends under the Kona label. There’s a very good chance you’re not getting pure Kona coffee if what you’re buying is labeled as a blend.

What exactly is a Kona blend? We’ve already discussed the fact that Kona is the most expensive type of coffee on the market. Many retailers will actually try to mix Kona with less expensive coffee varieties in an attempt to cut costs.

What type of coffee is usually mixed with Kona coffee in a Kona blend? It will depend on the choice of supplier. However, Colombian and Brazilian coffees are often used when concocting Kona blends.

It should be said that a Kona blend doesn’t mean you’re getting a 50-50 split. In fact, most places that sell Kona blends will actually use the minimum amount of Kona coffee required to still be able to put Kona on the label. This means that you’re probably only getting about 10 percent of Kona coffee in a mix!

How can you avoid fake Kona coffee? Only purchase coffee that is labeled 100 percent Kona. Any mention of something being a Kona “blend” or Kona “style” implies that only a very small percentage of what’s in the container is actually Kona.

Hawaiian farmers are actually trying to get legislation passed that would prohibit coffee sellers from misrepresenting the Kona label. This would make it much harder for customers to be fooled into purchasing products that only contain small percentages of Kona coffee.

Unfortunately, anyone who tastes a Kona blend thinking that it’s the “real thing” may miss out on the opportunity to experience the full Kona flavor profile.

What Does Kona Coffee Taste Like?

woman, drinking, coffee
Kona Coffee’s flavor profile changes a bit during the preparation process

Harvesting and preparing Kona coffee is quite a production! Of course, anyone who has ever tasted Kona knows that all of the efforts are more than worth it! Let’s get into the rich flavor profile of Kona to understand why this bean variety is so beloved around the world.

Kona has a very light, smooth flavor. Most people pick up on sweet and fruity hints as they sip Kona. There are also some trickles of spices and nuts to be observed as you sip.

What’s interesting about Kona is that its flavor profile actually changes a bit during the preparation process. The sweetness of the Kona cherry really comes alive early in the roasting process. However, a more full-bodied flavor overtakes the sweetness of Kona as the roasting process progresses.

How Do You Brew Kona Coffee Properly?

Kona coffee can be handled and brewed the same way as a traditional coffee. Of course, it’s recommended that you start by purchasing 100 percent Kona coffee beans. Beans should be stored in a cool, airtight environment to preserve freshness and flavor.

There are some simple brewing tips to follow when making Kona coffee at home. First, grinding your own beans is a great way to reach optimal flavor. Many people also find that using spring water to brew Kona coffee really draws out the flavor of the beans.

It’s perfectly fine to use a standard coffee machine when brewing Kona. However, many coffee enthusiasts find that a French press does the best job with Kona. It’s recommended that you brew Kona coffee at 200 degrees Fahrenheit for optimal flavor performance.

How To Serve Kona Coffee

You may be wondering if Kona coffee needs cream and sugar. This is really a matter of personal taste. Keep in mind that Kona can seem naturally sweeter than traditional coffee.

Many people do like to put some combination of cream and sugar in Kona coffee. Others find that adding flavor to Kona masks the very subtle and rewarding nuances that exist in the coffee’s flavor profile. It’s recommended that you at least try one cup of Kona coffee black to get a good baseline for what this coffee should taste like before adding any cream or sweetener.

You may be wondering if Kona coffee is something that you can drink every day. Is this a good morning brew to wake up to? Yes, some people do use Kona as their daily morning brew.

You certainly could make Kona your daily coffee. However, it’s just important to remember that Kona is substantially pricier than many other arabica blends. The price per cup still works out to be pretty reasonable if you’re making your Kona coffee at home instead of ordering it from a coffee shop.

It’s important to take a minute to discuss decaffeinated options for Kona coffee. Does Kona coffee actually come in decaf? Yes, you can purchase Kona coffee here in decaf form.

You can actually choose from both 100 percent Kona coffee and a Kona blend when searching for decaf options. The decaffeination process is handled the same way for Kona as it is for any other type of coffee. Luckily, you probably won’t notice a taste difference when you opt for decaf Kona beans or grounds.

The Lifespan Of Kona Coffee

What happens once you get Kona home? More specially, you may be wondering how long of a shelf life Kona coffee has. Unopened Kona coffee can typically last for two to six months.

What Is A Good Food To Pair With Kona Coffee?

smoked meat
Smoked meat is a good pair to enjoy your Kona Coffee

Kona coffee is even better when it’s accompanied by the right foods! Some people incorrectly assume that coffee only goes with desserts. However, locals in Hawaii actually enjoy Kona coffee with a variety of meals, snacks and treats.

The way you pair Kona with food actually depends on the intensity of the flavor profile you’re brewing. For instance, light-bodied Kona coffee actually matches wonderfully with hard cheeses, seafood platters, fresh fruit and flaky pastries.

Medium-bodied Kona complements poultry, fish, salads and fruit tarts. Full-bodied Kona coffee actually has quite a bit of range. Hawaiians enjoy full-bodied Kona coffee with everything from dark, chocolaty desserts to smoked meats.

Purchasing Kona Coffee Outside Of Hawaii

Some people mistakenly believe that you can only purchase Kona coffee in Hawaii. This is actually a misunderstanding. Hawaiian Kona harvesters export Kona coffee all over the world.

You may also be wondering if you can purchase Kona coffee throughout the year. It’s true that Kona has a limited harvesting season that lasts for just a short window each year. However, it is pretty easy to find Kona coffee available from grocery stores and retailers all year long.

Those who are truly devoted to Kona coffee can actually tour active Kona farms in Hawaii! Several plantations nestled in the volcanic terrain of Hawaii’s Big Island offer Kona tours. The best part is that most tours include tasting sessions!

Hawaii’s Big Island is home to about 650 coffee farms! The farms are peppered along a 20-mile stretch of scenic road that’s part of the slopes of Hualalai and Mauna Loa. A good number of the Kona farms in operation offer tour experiences to the public.

You can typically complete a Kona farm tour in less than an hour. You can expect to start by touring the vast, rolling terrain where Kona grows. Next, you’ll be taken to a facility where beans are processed and roasted. The final portion of a tour is typically a visit to a tasting room where guests can sample and buy the freshest Kona coffee available in the world!

Related Article: How To Use An Espresso Machine

Related Questions

What Type of Bean Is Kona Coffee Made From?

Kona coffee is categorized as arabica coffee. However, that does not mean that all arabica coffee is Kona coffee.

Can You Make Espresso Using Kona Coffee?

Yes, it’s pretty common to use Kona beans for espresso. Traditional espresso is typically made of arabica beans. The fact that Kona is classified as arabica means that this is a natural fit for espresso fans.

Can You Buy Kona Coffee That Isn’t Grown in Hawaii?

No, you cannot purchase Kona coffee that is grown outside of Hawaii. Only coffee that is grown in a certain part of Hawaii can be called Kona coffee. Any coffee labeled Kona that does not come from Hawaii is not genuine Kona coffee.


  • Aisling O'Connor

    Aisling is an Irish food and drinks writer and journalist fueled by coffee and herbal tea. She followed up her journalism degree with nutrition studies. Find Aisling on LinkedIn.