Kona Coffee

by Howery
April 9th, 2015

In 1828, the coffee plant from Brazilian cuttings was brought to the Hawaiian Islands by Samuel Reverend Ruggles. Later in the 19th century, an English merchant named Henry Nicholas Greenwell established Kona coffee as a familiar brand. It was grown on large plantations of the Hawaiian Islands but the 1899 world coffee market crash caused plantation owners to lease land to their workers mostly from Japan, who were brought to work on sugarcane plantations. These farmers worked their leased 5 to 12 acre plots as family work produced large, quality crops. The tradition of family farms has continued throughout the Kona area of the Big Island. The Japanese-origin families have been joined by Filipinos, mainland Americans, and Europeans. There are approximately 800 Kona coffee farms, with an average size of less than 5 acres. In 1997, the total Kona coffee area was 2,290 acres of green coffee production and was just over two million pounds.

It is one of the most expensive coffees in the world. The word for coffee in the Hawaiian language is kope. Only coffee from the Kona Districts can be described as "Kona" because Kona coffee is the market name for coffee cultivated on the slopes of Hualalai, Mauna Loa in the North, and South Kona Districts of the Big Island. The weather of sunny mornings, cloud or rain in the afternoon, little wind, and mild nights combined with porous, mineral-rich volcanic soil create flavorable coffee growing conditions.

The Kona coffee blooms in February and March where small white flowers are identified as "Kona snow" covers the tree. Then green berries appear in April and by late August, a red fruit called the "cherry" (because of resemblance to a cherry), start to ripen for picking. Each tree is then hand-picked several times between August and January. This delivers around 15 pounds of cherry and results in about two pounds of roasted coffee. Because of the rarity and price of Kona coffee, some retailers sell "Kona Blends". These are not a combination of different Kona coffees, but a blend of Kona and Colombian, Brazilian, or other foreign coffees. Usually they contain only the minimum required 10% Kona coffee and 90% cheaper imported beans. It is interesting to note that current Hawaiian law requires blends to state only the percentage of Kona coffee on the label but not any other coffee origins. There is no matching Federal law. Some retailers use terms such as 'Kona Roast' or 'Kona Style'. To be considered authentic Kona coffee, the state of Hawaii’s labeling laws requires the prominent display of the words “100% Kona Coffee”.

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Loa’a wale lā!