Think Hawaii and basically you think vacation and paradise–sun, surf, beach, nature, luau, even honeymoon. For the coffee lover, Hawaii means real fancy coffee. Specifically, Hawaiian Kona coffee.
Hawaiian Kona coffee owes its aura of distinction to its history, tradition and Mother Nature. True Kona coffee are cultivated on the volcanic slopes of what is known as the Kona coffee belt. Combining the richness of the volcanic soil with the weather patterns of the Kona district and you have the perfect condition with which to grow this particular type of coffee bean. The result is one of the fanciest and premium coffees in the world.
The history and tradition of Kona coffee is unlike those of other coffee growing regions where the coffee shrub is indigenous and are cared for by their own people. Kona coffee can actually attribute its survival and existence to many different nationalities.
It was a Spaniard who planted the first coffee bean in the island of Oahu. Then, Kona coffee beans became a by-product of beans that were brought in from Brazil back in the nineteenth century by an Englishman. Towards the end of the nineteenth century, the crash in world coffee prices almost drove the Hawaiian coffee farms into extinction. Owners leased parts of their farms to tenant farmers, majority of whom were Japanese immigrants. Later on, farm hands originating from the Philippines and Europe would contribute to the growth of this type of coffee. But even before the farms were leased, Hawaiians and Chinese largely made up the work force.
This brief historical account sets up the distinction that Kona coffee enjoys today. As a result of leasing out different parts of the original coffee farms, today’s farms range anywhere from only two to five acres in size. Their small size may inhibit large scale production but the shrubs do receive more attention.
Being able to receive specialized care and its rarity are two main factors why Kona coffee commands a higher price. In fact, the specialized care that it receives includes hand picking each cherry from the coffee shrubs. This is in stark contrast to machine harvesting which is required in other kinds of large quantity farms. Hand picking each one gives the farmers a chance to examine up close the quality of the coffee cherries.
If your curiosity has so far been piqued and you are raring to buy your first bag of Kona coffee beans, here is a caveat–not all Kona coffee sold in the market are pure. When browsing the marketplace, you should be aware that there is “100% Kona coffee” as against “Kona blend”. 100% Kona is quite self-explanatory. “Kona blend” is what you should be wary of.
There are vendors who mix Kona beans with common beans such as Robusta and the amount of Kona beans could be as little as one bean per pound. This is what is passed off as “Kona blend”. Hawaii state law dictates that sellers of Kona blend should include 10% Kona beans. But outside of Hawaii, the amount of Kona beans could be significantly less.
Needless to say, there is also a disparity in pricing with 100% Kona being more expensive. If the price is objectionable, there is always the cheaper alternative–devoid of work ethic, culture, history, and tradition. But when you decide to go with the real thing, perhaps you can whisper a word of thanks to the generations of hard working farmers who have nurtured the 100% Kona coffee beans into the taste of paradise that it is today.