Kona coffee is a well-known name in the world of Coffee. It's been around for centuries and has a solid reputation, albeit not as much as it used to have.
Arguably, many of the cultural aspects behind the unique quality of Kona Coffee beans are now essential to Specialty Coffee around the world. Nonetheless, Kona coffee beans are still considered premium.
Kona: a small region in Big Island, Hawaii
Mount Olympus, Hawaii. Photo by Michael Olsen on Unsplash
Kona is a small region located in the district of South Kohala on the Big Island of Hawaii. Unlike other areas, Kona isn't famous for its beaches and giant waves, nor its mighty volcanoes. Instead, Coffee is what sets apart this tiny region in Big Island from the rest of the state, and the United States, as a whole.
Until recently, Hawaii was the only coffee-producing state. California recently started producing Coffee and has been experimenting with exotic varietals as well.
Albeit controversial, it's essential to remember that Puerto Rico -a US territory, not a state- has a thriving coffee industry.
Now, getting back on track, Kona has many cultural and environmental aspects that favor its reputation as one of the most highly regarded coffee origins.
Inside Hawaii, other regions like Maui have started developing a fascinating specialty coffee culture. Some businesses are even offering bean to cup coffee experiences, enriching Hawaiian coffee culture.
Terroir: The Powerful Magic Around Volcanic Soil
Terroir is a French term that means the cumulative effect of environmental conditions and elements, such as soil type and climate, on agricultural varietals. Traditionally, wine experts used the word to discern the beneficial aspects of vineyards.
After coffee businesses started to look for quality as a differentiation factor, they drew from wine culture and knowledge of the term strongly linked to single-origin Coffee and its value.
In Coffee's case, terroir has a similar definition: it refers to the combination of local weather conditions and soil quality/elements present in an area where Coffee is produced.
Experts acknowledge the Kona region for its microclimate, characterized by high slopes, gentle sunlight in the morning, salty air, and ample rainfall. These factors contribute to the unique flavor and quality of Kona coffee beans.
Additionally, volcanic soil is rich in minerals, and the high slopes increase runoff and drainage for plants. Several premium origins compete with Kona in this regard, particularly in Central America, where Guatemala and Costa Rica have developed a prosperous Specialty Coffee industry.
Beyond terroir: What does set Kona coffee beans apart?
Mountains, slopes, and volcanoes are common in Hawaii. Photo by Peter Vanosdall on Unsplash
Beyond volcanic soil, several factors contribute to Kona coffee beans' uniqueness: a special microclimate, high slopes, and wildlife. Overarching all these natural factors, we talk about the Kona terroir. But, as important as terroir, Kona producers share another distinctive aspect: local coffee culture. In sum, with Nature's favor, culture and history give Kona the origin characteristics that make it different from any other type of bean.
Unlike most coffee beans globally, Kona coffee has been meticulously picked and grown for more than a century, with a green coffee quality-focused culture.
In this regard, coffee costs can go up for different reasons. The highest quality beans of Kona coffee result from traditional quality standards from sowing Coffee to caring for the plants, picking the ripest cherries, processing, and storing green Coffee.
For this reason, Kona coffee has been traditionally labor-intensive. Many local producers depend on the premium pricing range of their whole beans, which eventually led to imitations from other Hawaiian regions, trying to sell their Coffee as authentic Kona.
At first, it isn't impossible to emulate Kona conditions for growing Coffee in other parts of Hawaii where high-slopes and volcanic soil, along with similar microclimates, can sustain Arabica coffee trees. However, the strict quality culture of Kona and knowledge can be so quickly learned.
Expectations from consumers are high regarding Kona coffee because they expect that the beans are carefully picked, selected, and processed to guarantee the most flavorful cup.
High-quality standards apply not only for harvesting all types of coffee beans with care but also for picking, selecting, processing, and storing with respect so as not to ruin the flavor profile developed through careful work.
The price reflects these highest standards backed by generations worth of knowledge, experience, and expertise handed down from generation to generation passed on through apprenticeship.
Hawaiian Coffee Quality Standards: Kona Grades and Rating System
The Hawaii Agricultural Society developed a grading procedure for Coffee to be sold. The inspection essentially separates the beans from each other and establishes five levels of Coffee:
- Kona Extra Fancy
- Kona Fancy
- Kona Number 1
- Kona Select
- Kona Prime
The size, form, moisture level (which equals more flavor), and the number of flaws a coffee bean has are all considered.
Essentially, it implies that the best grade coffee, Extra-Fancy, has the biggest, most moisture-rich, and defect-free beans of any kind.
Are you ready to try Kona coffee beans?
In sum, you already know that Kona coffee beans are grown in a unique microclimate by seasoned coffee producers, with a long-standing tradition of high-quality Coffee.
Beyond the terroir, Kona coffee beans have strict quality standards for picking and selecting ripe cherries and good processing practices.
For sure, Kona isn't the only Coffee coming from Volcanic soils, but if you have the chance to taste it, compare it to Costa Rican and Guatemalan coffees so that you can notice the unique aspects of each.
Kona is still considerably pricier than most coffees. Still, the price reflects the high-quality standards backed by generations worth of knowledge handed down from generation to generation passed on through apprenticeship.
Are you ready to take a sip of Kona? I surely am!