When we think of Hawaii, it's all about pristine beaches and an idyllic island life full of nature and sunshine. Hawaii is truly a magical place and more so for coffee lovers. Anyone in the coffee world will recognise the name 'Kona coffee', grown in the rich volcanic soil of Hawaii. This unique island coffee is prized for its flavor and aroma and is incredibly hard to get a hold of. Today let's dive into the mystery of Kona coffee beans and just why they're so good.
What Is Kona Coffee?
Kona coffee gets its name from the region where it’s grown: the slopes of Hualalai and Mauna Loa in the North and South Kona districts of Hawaii. These verdant slopes of these mountains are rich in volcanic soil which provides essential nutrients that enrich coffee plants. In addition, the climate is practically perfect with plenty of sunshine and rain with little wind.
Coffee was first cultivated in the Kona districts in 1828. However, in the succeeding decades, coffee cultivation fell to the wayside in favor of sugar plantations which enticed farmers and workers with higher profits. After many ups and downs, coffee cultivation came back in favor and now has completely overtaken any other cultivation on the slopes.
A distinguishing feature of the best Kona coffee is how it’s processed. The plants flower in February and March, when delicate white flowers cover the slopes. The berries form by April and are ripe for picking in August. Between August and February, the ripe cherries are picked in successive waves so that they are only picked at optimal ripeness. The picked cherries are put in a pulper to remove the flesh and then placed in fermentation tanks for at least 12 hours. The beans are then washed and placed to dry for 7-14 days.
Why Is Kona Coffee So Expensive?
The simple answer: extensive labor costs. Kona coffee has an extended picking season, lasting almost half the year and each cherry has to be picked by hand. The picking is also done in waves and not in one go- so it’s constant work and very hard work at that. This alone drives up the cost.
Then we have to consider the yearly yield. The available growing space is limited so naturally, there isn’t a huge harvest of Kona coffee. This makes it rare and drives a supply-demand problem that raises prices.
Mulvadi Kona Coffee
Mulvadi Kona coffee is processed and marketed by the Mulvadi Corporation. They retail both 100% Kona coffee beans as well as 10% Kona blends.
Mulvadi Kona coffee is known for its exceptional quality. The coffee has almost no acidity and is renowned for its smoothness and fresh aroma.
Best Kona Coffee Beans Start with Proper Cultivation
There are 5 major factors in cultivation that give Kona coffee its distinctive quality and flavor:
The average temperature on the slopes of Hualalai and Mauna Loa is mild, usually not higher than 21°C nor lower than 12°C.
The slopes are fairly high, with altitudes up to 3000 feet. The altitude is a huge factor in the final taste and this particular altitude gives the best Kona coffee beans a mild taste.
The slopes have mineral-rich volcanic soil with adequate drainage so the coffee plants are never left standing in water and are fed with the best nutrients from the soil.
The rainfall in Kona is frequent but light, giving a perfect balance of irrigation that doesn’t flood the plants.
While there isn’t very harsh sunshine in the area, the plants are protected from the elements by ample shade, whether through cloud cover or from shady trees grown alongside the coffee plants.
What To Look for When Buying the Best Kona Coffee Beans
Since Kona coffee beans are so rare and elusive, there are many knockoffs and subpar coffee being falsely marketed as true Kona coffee. Stay wary and be familiar with the following terms so you never get confused by the different types of Kona coffee on the market:
1. Kona blends
Many retailers and cafes will market Kona blends, often comprised of 10% Kona coffee beans and 90% lower quality coffee. This offsets the supply issue of Kona coffee and is easier to sell at a cheap rate. If you want to splurge and get the authentic Kona coffee experience, avoid blends and look for 100% Kona coffee beans.
2. Kona roast and Kona style
Both these terms have nothing to do with true Kona coffee. There is no regulation around the usage of these terms so there’s a chance you’ll get coffee that isn’t Kona coffee beans at all. Avoid these at all costs.
3. 100% Kona coffee
This is the real deal. Always look for 100% Kona coffee labelled ‘estate-grown’ or ‘single-sourced’. These bags will be expensive but are truly worth it for the unique experience they provide.
4. Peaberry Kona coffee
Often touted as the champagne of coffee, peaberry coffee is incredibly rare, making up only about 5% of a harvest. These beans develop differently than other coffee beans and their distinct structure roasts differently as well. The higher bean density of Peaberry Kona coffee allows for even heat transfer and the rounded form keeps it moving while roasting so it develops evenly. These are much more expensive than normal Kona coffee beans but are a must-try for serious coffee aficionados.
Kona coffee is rightly said to be one of the best coffees available on the market. Their unique mild and balanced taste and rarity make it much sought after and is definitely on the bucket list for many coffee lovers!