Hawaiian coffee is one of Hawaii's top agricultural products. With an annual production of over 8 million pounds, Hawaii is the only U.S. state where coffee is grown.
Coffee plants were first brought to Hawaii in the early 1800's, but it was not until the early part of the 20th century that coffee production finally took off, primarily on small farms.
While the Big Island's Kona Coffee remains the best known, coffee is currently grown on each of the major islands on more than 950 farms and on more than 7,900 total harvested acres. As of 2015, coffee was a $54 million industry in Hawaii.
The combination of year round warm, sunny weather, rich volcanic soil, rolling hillsides, tranquil trade winds and ample rain makes Hawaiian coffee some of the best in the world.
As is the case with macadamia nuts, roasted coffee beans or pre-ground coffee are less expensive to purchase while you're in Hawaii than buying it locally back home. It's not surprising to find many island visitors purchasing coffee to take home with them or even shipping it back home. Many of the state's coffee farms now have their own websites and will ship their product to you and a considerable savings compared to your local store.
Let's take a look at some of the different types of coffee available in Hawaii.
Hawaii, The Big Island
With almost half of the total coffee grown in Hawaii, over 600 independent farms and grown exclusively within the borders of North and South Kona on the Big Island of Hawaii, 100% Kona Coffee has a delicate, aromatic flavor that is often used as a blend with harsher, foreign coffees. Coffee aficionados, however, consider 100% Kona Coffee to be the only way to go, but be aware, some folks, who are not used to drinking it, find it to be stronger than they are used to.
If planning a visit to the Big Island in the fall, be sure to plan your stay around the annual Kona Coffee Cultural Festival, held every November.
Ka'u Coffee is grown on the slopes of Mauna Loa above Pahala in the Ka'u (most southern) District of the Big Island of Hawaii.
First farmed by former sugar cane workers in 1996, Ka'u Coffee has become a big success with high placement in national and regional tasting competitions. "Ka'u coffee is exceptional, with a floral bouquet, distinctive aroma and very smooth taste."*
If you're on the Big Island, you can purchase Ka'u Coffee at farmers markets, local stores and at the Hilo Coffee Mill.
Puna Coffee is grown on the slopes of Mauna Loa near Hawaiian Acres in Puna, the district of the Big Island located between Hilo and Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.
Once with over 6,000 acres of coffee in the mid 1800's, today, about three dozen farmers grow harvest just 100-200 acres of coffee annually on former sugar cane. "Puna coffee is an outstanding coffee with very full-body, heavy, with nutty overtones. It is reminiscent of some finer moccas when roasted to a medium."*
If you're on the Big Island, you can purchase Puna Coffee at farmers markets, local stores and at the Hilo Coffee Mill.
Hamakua Coffee is grown on the slopes of Mauna Loa north of Hilo in the Hamakua District of the Big Island.
Thirteen farmers brought coffee farming back to this area in 2000, for the first time in almost 100 years. On land formerly owned by the Hamakua Sugar Company and farms of 5-7 acres each, about 100-200 acres is harvested annually.
"Hamakua coffee has incredibly rich flavor with chocolaty-smooth finish."*
If you're on the Big Island, you can purchase Hamakua Coffee at farmers markets, local stores and at the Hilo Coffee Mill.
*County of Hawaii Agriculture
On Kauai, 22,000 acres of former sugar cane land was converted to coffee in 1987 by the Kauai Coffee Company. Damage from Hurricane Iniki in 1992 damaged much of the crop, but by 1996, the annual harvest equaled that of the Kona Coffee Belt. The Kauai Coffee Company now grows 100% Kauai Coffee using five varieties of Arabica coffee beans on the largest coffee farm in the United States.
Kauai Coffee Company welcomes guests to their Visitor Center just off Highway 50 in Kalaheo on Kauai's southwest side. Visitors can sample their estate coffees, visit their gift shop and take a walking tour or video tour showing the entire coffee process from initial blossoming, through harvesting and processing, to the final roasting.
Kauai coffee is becoming increasingly popular. Many actually prefer it over Kona saying that its mild acidity makes it a much more flavorful cup of coffee.
According to the Maui Coffee Association, (which lists all members and their websites), 32 farms of varying sizes grow numerous varieties of coffee on the island of Maui. Farms are located on the slopes of Haleakala and the West Maui Mountains. There is also an organic farm, ONO Organic Farms in Hana.
The largest farm, at 375 acres, is MauiGrownTM Coffee located high above Ka'anapali in the West Maui Mountains.
The industry on Maui has grown considerably since in recent years, in many cases on land formerly planted with sugar.
In central Moloka'i in the village of Kualapu‘u, a 500-acre coffee plantation and mill is operated by Coffees of Hawaii.
Moloka'i coffee is a rich bodied, medium roast coffee with mild acidity. The excellent body is complemented by a luscious hint of chocolate at the finish. It is made from washed and completely sun dried Arabica beans grown in Moloka'i's rich red volcanic soil.
When you're on Moloka'i be sure to stop by their Espresso Bar and Café and Plantation Gift Shop. You can also order their coffee online.
Near Oahu's North on both sides of Kamehameha Highway at 600-700 ft above sea level between the towns of Wahiawa and Waialua are 160 acres where Waialua Estate grows Arabica Typica coffee on former sugarcane lands. Interestingly, they also have a 20 acre cacao orchard from which delicious chocolate is made. Waialua Estate is a division of Dole Food Company Hawaii.
Their coffee has, in their own words, "a smooth mellow, well balanced cup with a medium body, clean finish, hint of chocolate and a pleasant, lingering aftertaste."
Waialua Estate Coffee is available at numerous locations in Hawaii and online.