Our Top Picks
Jump to the Reviews
Nestled in the beautiful big island of Hawaii is the heart of paradise: the Kona district. In the north and south districts of Kona lies the Hualalai and Mauna Loa volcanoes.
They're two of the most active volcanoes around the globe.
The entire area is called the "Kona Coffee Belt," which averages 500-3200 feet above sea level. And that's where all the magic happens.
Kona coffees are a world favorite and are known as the best Hawaiian coffee beans. This premium coffee is grown within that volcanic soil.
The natural minerals of Hawaii slowly nurture Kona coffees. The luxurious gourmet coffee is hard to come by.
It's only grown in Kona and is cultivated and roasted in small batches. Coffee lovers adore Kona coffee because of its rich flavor and guaranteed smoothness.
Yet, there's somehow more than 20 million pounds of "Kona coffee" sold at retail stores every year. How is that possible?
Let's dive into the Kona coffee bean's captivating story and the central issue threatening the famous Hawaiian coffee.
After learning the backstory to Kona, you can check out my coffee review and top 5 list of the best Kona coffee brands.
History of Kona Coffee
Reverend Samuel Ruggles was an American missionary and one of the first to come to Hawaii. In 1828, rumors state that Ruggles was responsible for introducing the coffee plant to the Kona district.
He had brought over the tree from coffee remnants in Brazil. Later in the 19th century, an English wholesaler named Henry Nicholas Greenwell made Kona coffee a well-known brand coffee names.
On the big island, his former store, the Greenwell store, and the Kona Coffee Living History farms have been converted into museums.
Following the decline of the world coffee market in 1899, owners of the more massive plantations in Kona had to rent out their crops to their employees.
The majority of the employees were Japanese workers. They had already been brought over to Hawaii to work on the sugar cane crops.
Because of their experience on the plantations, they were able to produce the highest-quality Kona coffee.
Today, the family-run Hawaiian coffee farms are the norm for cultivating pure Kona coffee.
About 800 Kona coffee farms exist, and each farm is a maximum average size of 5 acres. In 1997 the total average size of the Kona coffee area was about 2,290 acres!
Growing coffee in Kona isn't without its problems, though. In the 90s, the Kona coffee trees were devastated by a parasite called the root-knot nematode.
In 2001, coffee experts found that a coffee species from Africa was resistant to nematodes: Coffee Liberica or Liberian coffee.
They discovered that if they transplanted the Liberica species to any Arabica species, the resulting high-quality plant would be resistant to the parasite.
Growth and Processing of Kona
Growing and processing the best Kona coffee is an art-form that requires a ton of patience. The coffee plants in Kona begin to flower in February and March.
The tiny white flowers that develop all over the coffee trees are named "Kona Snow." By the end of August, the coffee cherry fruit begins to mature.
The Kona coffee beans are then ready to be hand-picked from August until January. The coffee plants can produce about 15 pounds of cherries each.
Fifteen pounds of cherries translates to about 2 pounds of roasted coffee beans. I'll go through more of the growing conditions for Kona beans later on in the article.
The best coffee beans undergo the wet processing method.
You can learn all about the different ways of coffee bean processing here.
But briefly, the wet process differs from the dry process by a rinsing step.
Once picked, a "depulper" removes the pulp or the first layer of Kona beans. This depulping must occur within 24 hours of picking the bean.
After workers separate the pulp from the beans, they place the beans in a fermentation tank.
Note: At low elevations, they're kept there for 12 hours and at higher elevations for 24 hours. Here's where they develop their sweet flavor.
The coffee beans are then rinsed and placed to dry on a drying rack outside. To be thoroughly dried, it takes 1 to 2 weeks.
Suppose the coffee beans are not dried adequately. In that case, they run the risk of developing a toxic by-product called a mycotoxin.
Before the green Kona beans undergo roasting, workers grind off the bean's last layer called the parchment layer. And voilà, the best Kona coffee beans are ready to go!
Grading of Pure Kona Coffee Beans
The type of seed classifies all coffee beans. Type 1 coffee seeds contain two beans per coffee cherry and are the most common coffee beans. The beans are oval on one side and flat on the other side.
Type 2 coffee seeds contain only one bean per cherry. These coffee beans are round and are the rarest type called Peaberry coffee beans.
The Hawaii Department of Agriculture established a grading system for Kona coffee beans grown in Hawaii.
They're responsible for regulating these standards. For real Kona coffee, the types of coffee beans fall into categorized grades.
The categories filter based on size, moisture content, and defects. Out of the type 1 coffee seeds, the best Kona coffee has the extra fancy grade.
But, Kona Pea berry coffee rates even higher than the type 1 grades because it's so rare.
Type 1 Kona Coffee Grades
- Kona Extra Fancy
- Kona Fancy
- Kona Number 1
- Kona Select
- Kona Prime
Type 2 Kona Pea berry Coffee Grades
- Kona Pea berry Number 1
- Kona Pea berry Prime
Another lower Kona coffee bean grade exists called "Number 3". Beans that fall into this category do not qualify to claim Kona status.
Any coffee beans below this class can only be labeled as "Generic coffee" and are "Off grade."
Finally, "Estate" is an unofficial classification that Kona coffee farmers use. It means that workers combine all the Kona coffee beans of various grades from a single estate.
Kona estate coffee does not include Number 3 or Off grade coffee beans.
Hawaiian Coffee-Kona Blends
To bypass the cost of producing and processing Kona coffee beans, companies are selling what they call "Kona Blends." Beware because Kona blends are not 100% Kona coffee beans.
These blends consist of only a small percentage of Kona coffee beans combined with other types of coffee beans.
The other beans can be Columbian, Brazilian, African, etc. To label coffee beans as a "Kona blend," the bag's contents must be up to 10% of Kona coffee.
Just stating the obvious, 90% of Kona coffee blends are from cheaper coffee brands.
Currently, state law in Hawaii orders that Kona coffee blend labels must indicate Kona coffee's percentage content.
Unfortunately, no other information is required. This law does not apply to the rest of the United States.
Companies have taken advantage of the prestigious Kona coffee name and use terms like "Kona style" or "Kona Roast" to describe their coffee.
In the year 2000, the Department of Agriculture of Hawaii patented "100% Kona coffee" with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.
If the Kona beans are indeed 100% Kona coffee, it needs proper labeling to indicate that standard.
What does Kona coffee beans taste like?
Kona coffee lovers agree that the taste makes Kona the best Hawaiian coffee.
Traditionally, Kona coffee beans have a unique flavor and aroma.
It's creamy and medium-bodied, has low acidity and a spicy or winy taste.
There's also sugary and syrupy notes like brown sugar, honey, and chocolate. It's bright, fruity, crisp, and straightforward. And because it has low acidity, it's easier on the stomach.
Why is Kona coffee the best?
In my opinion, Kona coffee is the best because of the extra care put into each step along the whole way of processing. Because of this, Kona coffee beans have excellent flavor.
The Kona region has an ideal climate for coffee growth. As mentioned earlier, the Kona beans are grown in the volcanic areas in Hualapai and Mauna Loa in the Kona district.
The beans are grown in rich volcanic soil, which provides the perfect fertile environment.
Hawaii has a tropical climate with plenty of sunshine and humidity.
In the mountainous regions, there is some warm rain and fog. It doesn't get cold enough in the mountains to create frost. For these reasons, Hawaii is perfect for growing the best coffee beans.
Kona coffee is grown in the shade, which increases its flavor profile. The longer ripening time enhances their medium-bodied taste and the number of flavor notes.
Using the wet method, the beans are meticulously hand-picked, processed, and sorted manually. Eventually, they dry in the sun. These steps increase the Kona beans' aroma.
Where can I buy real Kona coffee?
In 2019, farmers filed a class-action lawsuit against some mass retailers in the United States. They claim that individual companies have fraudulently mislabeled the origin of their Hawaiian "Kona" coffee.
There are 19 Kona-type brands from retailers, including Walmart, Costco, Amazon, Safeway, and Kroger.
With that said, to buy Kona coffee, you can search online, visit some gourmet coffee shops, or perhaps some farmer's markets.
The thing to keep in mind is that the label must say 100% Kona coffee. Another tip is to ensure that it says where the coffee beans originate.
It needs to be in the Kona district, and the label must also mention that the beans are from Hawaii. If it doesn't, it's probably a fake blend.
Note: The Price of Kona coffee ranges from about 28$-65$ USD per pound. If the coffee beans' Price is much lower than this range, it could be a blend.
Lastly, check that the bag received a grade from the Hawaii Department of Agriculture.
These suggestions should guarantee you are buying the best genuine Kona. If it's too good to be true, it probably is.
Is Kona coffee, delicious?
Recently, a friend brought me a bag of real Kona coffee from Hawaii. It was probably the best cup of coffee I had in years. I do recall seeing the label of 100% Kona on the bag. The most memorable part of that experience was the taste.
It was medium-bodied but not overpowering and relatively smooth. But don't just take my word for it; check out Kona coffee reviews online.
Enthusiasts recognize Kona coffee as some of the best coffee in the world.
I found that most Kona brands are award-winning. Why? The coffee climate is grown, processing, and the family-operated farms in Kona contribute to these high-quality Arabica coffee beans.
Although Kona's Price per pound is costly than others, it's worth trying if you're a coffee drinker.
I think the fact that it comes from a single origin makes it a rare commodity. And to me, that makes it unique.
What is the best 100% Kona coffee?
Without further ado, let's jump into the five best Kona coffee brands and my top pick. I've compiled the list based on the Kona brands most talked about online, Kona coffee grades, customer reviews, and Price.
1. Hawaii Coffee Company-Royal 100% Kona Coffee Private Reserve
The Royal Kona Coffee Company (est. 1969) is a sister company to the Hawaii Coffee Company. Rest assured, this is genuine, Kona.
It comes from the Kona region, in the Captain Cook area of the big island, and is their most popular Kona coffee brand.
Its flavor profile is a full-bodied, smooth, medium roasted coffee with a pleasant aroma and fruity taste. Coffee makers like drip coffee makers or a French press work well for medium roast coffees like this one.
The American Academy of Taste judged this particular coffee Kona brand to be "superior."
According to the coffee company Royal Kona, the "private reserve coffee," meaning is different from "single estate coffee." Single estate coffee comes from a single farm, while Kona private reserve comes from multiple farms.
Although its 100% Kona, the Hawaii Coffee Company, Royal Kona website doesn't state which Kona grade this coffee has.
I assume like an estate Kona coffee, it's a combination of different Kona-graded beans. They also only sell the whole bean coffee in a 7oz bag or a 2lb bag.
2. Blue Horse 100% Kona Coffee Medium Roast
The Blue Horse Kona coffee company has been producing coffee beans for years and years.
They operate on a small family estate in the Kona region, priding themselves on selling only authentic Kona coffee.
They don't manufacture any Kona blends like other companies. They're known for growing shade-grown coffee beans, so it's a low acid coffee with some sweetness.
They don't use any fertilizers or pesticides. Blue Horse Kona coffee is a medium roast, smooth, rich coffee with a spicy flavor aftertaste.
Since this brand is another medium roast, it's best to use a French press or drip coffee maker.
Again, because this coffee is an estate Kona coffee, different Kona coffee beans' grades are in the bag. Still, they're all sourced from a single estate.
3. Volcanica Hawaiian Kona Coffee Medium Roast
The Volcanica coffee company is the first on our list that produces various coffee beans from different countries. But, they grow their coffee in volcanic areas around the world like in Kona.
Volcanica Kona coffee is a medium roast and full-bodied coffee that is shade-grown. The flavor profile is rich and whiny with floral notes and a citrus/caramel undertone.
Because it's a medium roast Kona coffee, a French press or drip coffee maker would be appropriate.
This volcanic coffee brand has the Kona extra fancy grade, which is the highest Kona coffee grade standard.
4. Imagine 100% Kona Coffee Medium-Dark Roast
The Imagine Kona Coffee beans brand belongs to Buddha's Kona Coffee and Tea Farm company, located in the Kona area.
Many of their products are award-winning, with The Imagine coffee brand, in particular, winning the AVPA gold medal.
It's a medium-dark roast rich in taste with caramel, crème brulée, and nutty flavor profile. Since this medium-dark roast is similar to an espresso bean, you can use espresso machines or a French press. You can also use the cold brew method.
The Imagine Kona Coffee beans is a single estate coffee. But it has the Kona extra fancy grade and is cheaper per pound than Volcanica Kona.
5. Koa Grande Domaine Vienna Roast Kona Coffee
The Koa coffee company produces genuine 100% Kona. They've won many awards, including the PCCA coffee of the year and Gevalia cupping competition.
You'll find Koa coffee featured in Forbes as one of the "top 10 coffees of the world" and one of "50 America's best coffees in America".
They don't sell any Kona blends. The Koa Coffee Grand Domaine brand won the Kona Coffee cupping contest with their Vienna roast, a medium-dark roast Kona coffee.
It has very little bitterness and is creamy, smooth, and balanced. This Koa coffee has caramel and chocolatey flavor.
I recommend using an espresso machine or a French press for this Koa coffee because of the darker finish on these beans. Still, it is ideal as a cold brew coffee candidate.
Koa coffee beans are a unique mixture with Pea berry Kona coffee. Since Pea berry Kona coffee is the "champagne of Kona coffee," it has an even higher grade than the extra fancy Kona because it's a unique mutation.
You can expect great-tasting coffee from this pair. You can find it available in the whole bean for an affordable price on their website.
If you're a coffee drinker, I strongly urge you to try Kona coffee from the big island. As far as the best coffee brands go, Hawaiian Kona coffee brands are of the highest-quality beans.
And it's a single-origin coffee, so you know it's pure. Single-origin coffees are great for cold brew too! I know it may be on the pricier side. Still, hopefully, my coffee review has given you some excellent, affordable options.
The taste of Kona coffee is undoubtedly worth it. It's just too good of a cup to pass up.