My wonderful wife Karolyn gets to travel to some pretty cool places for her corporate training position. When she told me she has heading to Honolulu for a training gig and asked if there was anything that I wanted her to bring me back as a souvenir, believe me I wasn’t thinking about a multi-colored shirt with flowers and surfboards all over it…I wanted coffee, specifically 100% Kona Coffee. In anticipation for this aromatic souvenir arriving I figured that it might be appropriate to do a little research and learn the history of this world renowned coffee.
Kona coffee, which has developed a reputation that has made it one of the most expensive and sought-after coffees in the world, is cultivated on the slopes of Hualalai and Mauna Loa in the North and South Kona Districts of the big island of Hawaii. Only the beans from these districts can be legally described as true "Kona" beans. The sunny mornings, cloud cover or rain in the afternoons, little wind and mild nights combined with porous, volcanic soil creates favorable coffee growing conditions.
The first coffee plant from Brazilian cuttings was originally brought to Kona by Reverend Samuel Ruggles in 1828. It was not until many yeas later that it would become a crop that would be grown consistently enough that it would be worthwhile to take to market. It was grown on large plantations, but a world coffee market crash in 1899 caused plantation owners to have to lease out their land to their laborers. Most of these workers were originally brought in to work on the sugarcane plantations. They worked their leased parcels of up to twelve acres as family businesses, harvesting large, quality coffee crops.
The tradition of running family farms has continued throughout Kona. Most of these are Japanese families, but also mainland Americans, Filipinos, and Europeans. There are approximately eight hundred Kona coffee farms with an average farm size of less than five acres. In the late 1990’s the approximate Kona green coffee production was just over two million pounds from an area of around 2,300 acres. Each tree is picked several times between the months of August and January, and provides around 20-30 pounds of cherries.
Immediately after the cherry is picked, the beans are separated from the pulp and then get fermented in a tank. The fermentation time depends on the temperature and the elevation. Higher elevations get fermented for 24 hours, Lower elevations for 12 hours. The beans are then rinsed with water and spread out to dry on a drying rack called a hoshidana. They are then dried to a moisture level that the Hawaii Department of Agriculture has set between 9.5-12.5%, which takes one to two weeks. At this point the parchment is milled off the green bean and it is sold at wholesale or roasted for resale. These are sold as either Type I beans which have two beans per cherry or Type II which is better known as peaberry.
The State of Hawaii requires that for Kona beans to be considered truly authentic Kona coffee, they must specifically say the words “100% Kona Coffee” on their packaging. Because of the high price and small supply of Kona beans, it is possible to buy Kona blends, which are a blend of at least 10% Kona combined with Brazilian, Colombian, or a number of other imported coffees, but labeling laws in the State of Hawaii require the roasters to state the exact percentage of Kona coffee along with the balance of the blend.
The excitement for me is that I will get to try a 100% Kona coffee which is a signature mix of the type of beans and Type II peaberry beans. The song “Anticipation” keeps popping into my head. What will this coffee drinking experience be like? Have you ever traveled to Hawaii and seen the Kona plantations first hand? Have you ever tried 100% Kona Coffee or a Kona Blend yourself? What did you like about it?