When you think about Hawaiian agriculture, what comes to mind, probably pineapple, right? How about coffee. Hawaii is the only state in the United States that commercially produces coffee. Yup, it’s true, but the coffee produced here won’t be available from the drive thru window at McDonalds.
Coffee has been on Hawaii since 1813, originally brought here by Don Francisco de Paula Marin. He was King Kamehameha’s Spanish interpreter and physician. The first attempts to grow coffee weren’t very successful. But, around 1828 a missionary named Samuel Ruggles planted some coffee trees in the rich volcanic soil on the west side of the Big Island of Hawaii, and Kona coffee was born. Of course there is more to the story, but those are the bare bones.
The region is known as the Kona coffee belt. This narrow strip of land is about 30 miles long and around 2 miles wide. In total about 3000 acres. Most of these farms (around 600) are small family run operations, some going back 5 generations. Ok, enough with the numbers, the point to keep in mind here is that it is a relatively small area.
So what’s so special about this area for coffee production anyway? A number of factors lead to what some claim to be the best cup of coffee in the world. The Kona coffee belt, nestled in between Hualalai and Mauna Loa volcanoes offers the perfect combination of elevation, slope and sunlight. Coffee trees don’t like to have wet, soggy feet (we can relate), and the slope allows excess water to drain. The elevation creates cooler nights, which allow the coffee berries (or cherries as they are called before harvest) to mature longer and produce a larger bean inside. Even the vog plays a vital role in the health of the coffee trees. Coffee trees don’t like bright sunlight and the cherries and leaves will burn if they get too much sun, so the erupting volcano provides a natural shade in the form of vog nearly every afternoon.
Basically everything about the area is perfect for coffee to thrive, but another important factor is the methods that the farmers use. Every single cherry is handpicked, and sorted. No machines here. The steep slopes makes it impossible to use em. This means every single cherry is picked at the correct time.
Kona coffee ain’t cheap, but just like Hawaii it is unique and special. The quality and flavor is undeniable and in our opinion worth every penny.