What Does Kona Coffee Taste Like?

Kona is one of the most famous coffee-growing regions in the world and synonymous with quality beans and higher prices, but what does Kona coffee taste like?

What Does Kona Coffee Taste Like - Coffee cherries on a coffee plant
Kona coffee contains the rich sweetness of caramel and brown sugar

Back in the late 80s, when gourmet coffee first started to replace Folgers and Maxwell House in finer restaurants, Kona coffee was the star of the show. But as a premium coffee sold at a premium price, drinking Kona coffee was something to save for a special occasion.

Yet, one sip of Kona with its rich sweetness of caramel and brown sugar, tempered with an earthy hazelnut flavor, became a reminder of just how average your everyday coffee truly was. 

The Basic Flavor Profile of Kona Coffee

The mineral-rich volcanic soil of Hualalai and Mauna Loa on the Big Island, combined with ideal weather and high altitudes, gives Kona coffee its unique taste. While the beans from each individual grower differ slightly, the overall flavor profile remains consistent from one brand to another.

Yet, one area that has a huge influence on bringing out different flavor profiles in the beans is the skill of the roastmaster and the roast level in general. 

The Effect of Roast Level on the Taste of Kona Coffee

different stages of coffee roasting
Different roast levels of the beans hugely affect the taste of Kona coffee

Just like any other coffee beans, roasting alters the taste of Kona coffee. Since most people prefer medium to medium-dark roasted coffee, you're most likely to find Kona beans in the store at this roast level. But, if you enjoy darker or lighter roasted beans, you can still find brands selling Kona coffee the way you prefer; you just may have to shop around. 

Let's look at some of the flavor characteristics for Kona coffee based on the roast level of the beans. 

Medium-Roasted Kona Beans

As the middle ground between light and dark roasts, medium-roasted Kona coffee appeals to the largest group of coffee drinkers, and therefore, you'll easily find it in Hawaii as well as in your local cafe.

At this roast level, Kona coffee has a full yet well-rounded taste, where no particular flavor stands out from another. This is a great roast level if you are trying Kona coffee for the first time. 

Dark-Roasted Kona Beans

dark roasted Kona coffee beans
Dark-roasted Kona beans are only suitable for those people that love the nuances of completed coffees

Dark roasting Kona coffee beans brings out the beans' natural oils as well as a more pronounced flavor and scent. Some drinkers of coffee brewed from dark-roasted Kona beans can taste hints of bitter-sweet chocolate or even berries, and then there is the distinct smell of stovetop popcorn.

With a lingering aftertaste, dark-roasted Kona beans are for those who appreciate the nuances of complex coffees. 

Light-Roasted Kona Beans

By far the tartiest of the roast levels, coffee brewed from lightly roasted Kona beans doesn't quite make your mouth pucker but will definitely wake you up. Experienced tea drinkers will enjoy the lighter body of the coffee at this roast level.

Kona coffee at this roast level contains the most caffeine and is a sensational pick-me-up whether you drink it in the morning or to beat the afternoon slump. 

The Final Word on What Does Kona Coffee Taste Like

Although these days, Kona coffee may no longer be the most expensive option at your local cafe, it continues to be one of the most satisfying coffee varieties you can drink. If you are at all interested in coffee for more than just a caffeine kick, you owe it to yourself to try Kona coffee at least once. 

FAQs About What Does Kona Coffee Taste Like

Is All Coffee From Hawaii Kona Coffee?

No, just like grapes, where coffee beans grow makes a huge difference in the taste of the coffee. Although you will see coffee producers advertising their coffee as Kona-style beans, unless it was grown in the Kona district on the Big Island, it just isn't Kona coffee. 

What's the best way to brew Kona coffee?

You can brew Kona using your favorite brewing method, but many people prefer to use a French press or the manual pour-over method to have the most control over how the coffee turns out.

However, you choose to brew your Kona coffee, remember to grind the beans right before brewing and try the coffee black before adding any cream or sugar.

Are Kona coffee beans considered Arabica or robusta?

Many people judge the quality of coffee based on whether the beans are Arabica or robusta, with the preference typically leaning towards Arabica beans being better.

While making decisions about coffee based solely on its species isn't the best way to go, if it makes you feel better, Kona coffee beans are indeed Arabica. 

Author

  • Jared Bernstein worked in the food industry for decades, starting as a barista in high school. He graduated from the Institute of Culinary Education in NYC and worked in some of the city's top-end restaurants. When he isn't writing about cooking or historical recipes, he's probably hanging out at a classic diner or cafe.