A Taste of Hawaii: 6 Kona Coffee Brands to Try

Whether you’re a coffee aficionado or an amateur coffee drinker, Kona is a coffee bean you want to be familiar with. If you’re a coffee snob to any degree, you’ve likely heard of this gourmet bean. If this is not the case, no fear, as I am about to take you on a tour of everything you need to know about the history, production, and—of course—consumption of Kona coffee.

What is Kona Coffee?

When diving into the world of Kona Coffee, the first thing you want to know about is the growth process and production of this particular bean. Perhaps, the most important characteristic of Kona coffee is the fact that the beans are grown in mineral-rich volcanic soil that provides some of the most ideal growing conditions for coffee in the world.

Coffee plants grown in what is known as the “Kona Coffee Belt” on the Big Island of Hawaii are subject to a near perfect combination of sunlight, humidity, and rainfall. These unique weather conditions coupled with the rich soil combine to create a coffee-growing oasis.

The result is a rich and distinctly fragrant brew. While the exact flavor varies according to brand, Kona coffee is typically smooth, medium in body, with a subtle chocolatey flavor and earthy undertones. It has a robust taste, but often a mellow or even nutty aftertaste instead of the bitterness commonly associated with stronger coffees.

The History of Kona

Kona coffee has a rich history comparable to the rich soil it is grown in.

The story of Kona begins in 1823 when Hawaii’s King Kamehameha II traveled to England with his wife and Oahu’s governor, Chief Boki. Sadly, both the King and his wife became ill with the measles while in England and died before they were able to return home. Chief Boki sailed back Hawaii, stopping in Brazil on his return journey. There, he snatched up some coffee plants and brought them back to the islands. In 1828, a man by the name of Samuel Reverend Ruggles brought coffee to the Kona districts of Hawaii, where the plants prospered. From the 1850s to the 1880s several Kona coffee plantations were established, several of which are still in business today. Many Kona coffee farms are family owned & operated and have been passed down for generations.

For a complete history of Kona Coffee, spanning the discovery of Kona in 1823 to the contemporary producers of today, check out this video:

Why Kona?

Kona coffee has a fabulous reputation for quality. A Kona coffee bean that is grown and roasted according to traditional standards of Kona production is often considered by coffee experts to be one of the most delicious coffees on the planet. Additionally, many Kona coffee farms have been in business for over a century. These farms are often family-operated and value ethical business practices and provide a quality environment for laborers.

As I mentioned, Kona coffee is grown in the most ideal of conditions. The Kona coffee belt provides 1.) a perfect balance of shade and sunlight, 2.) a rotation of rainfall, fog, and sea breeze that provides the plants with an appropriate amount of moisture and 3.) a youthful nutrient-rich volcanic soil type.

The result is a high quality coffee bean that is incredibly versatile. Kona can be successfully brewed in a variety of ways. It can be finely ground and used to make a flavorful latte. Submerge Kona coffee grounds in cold water overnight for a rich and robust cold brew coffee. Or, my personal favorite, use your French press to brew the perfect cup of warm, black Kona coffee to start your day.

Kona Classification and Grade

The Kona classification and grading system was developed in the late 1980s by the Hawaii Agriculture Society to ensure that Kona coffee was not being fraudulently advertised and sold. The Kona Coffee Farmers Association continues to ensure these standards and protect legitimate Kona coffee farmers.

Kona beans are classified as Type I or Type II. Type I refers to a cherry with two beans and Type II refers to a cherry with one bean. Only five percent of Kona beans are Type II, also known as “peaberries”. Peaberries produce a richer flavor, making them the crème de la crème of coffee beans.

There are several grades of Kona coffee. The grading scale for Kona coffee considers size, weight, moisture content, and number of defects. Unsurprisingly, beans with less defects = better coffee = better grade.

The five grades of Kona coffee are (in descending order of quality):

  • Kona Extra Fancy
  • Kona Fancy
  • Kona Number 1
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    Kona Select
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    Kona Prime

“Kona Extra Fancy” is the mark of the highest quality Kona bean, characterized as the largest beans with a superior flavor. “Kona Prime” is the lowest quality Kona bean on the market. A “Kona Prime” rating means that these are the smallest beans and are up to 20% defective.

Beware of Blends

Kona blends are everywhere.

Brands can still use the Kona label as long as the beans are at least 10% authentic Kona coffee. If you are unaware of this legal loophole, it is easy to accidentally purchase a Kona blend while thinking you’re getting a killer deal on authentic Kona coffee. These blends are certainly not of the same caliber as 100% Kona, and the taste will surely reflect that.

However, if you are interested in saving a few bucks at the sacrifice of the authentic flavorful brew, a Kona blend may be the right option for you. 

Price

Kona coffee is one of the most expensive varieties of coffee in the world. This is not without reason. Kona coffee can only be grown in a very specific location, and there are less than 700 Kona coffee farms in the world. Additionally, Kona coffee is handpicked and laborers are paid fair wages, resulting in high labor costs (but much more ethical consumption). With prices averaging around $30 - $60 per pound, it may be wise to do your research before making a purchase.

Kona Coffee Brand Recommendations

So, here they are, my Kona Coffee recommendations! These recommendations are based on the reviews of both customers and authoritative voices in the world of coffee.

Blue Horse Kona Coffee, Dark Roast, Whole Bean

Blue Horse knows Kona Coffee. They’ve been in the business for quite some time, and their beans are picked from a family farm with trees that are 120 + years old.
This roast has a pronounced chocolatey flavor with a caramel finish and a nutty aftertaste. This brew is so naturally delicious that a cup of Blue Horse Kona Coffee may convert even the most routine cream-and-sugar coffee drinker.

Blue Horse is a on the more expensive end of the spectrum at around $43 for a one pound bag but is, in my opinion, well worth it.

Pros

  • Herbicide and pesticide free
  • Top-of-the-line coffee packaging retains freshness
  • Great for drip coffee or for use in espresso drinks
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    Company provides outstanding customer service

Cons

  • Requires a decent quality grinder for ideal flavor
  • Higher price
Hawaii Roasters 100% Kona Coffee, Medium Roast, Whole Bean

This medium roast Kona Coffee is a prime choice if you’re looking to fill your mornings with the ambiance of a Hawaiian vacation.

Hawaii Roasters Kona Coffee is produced by a third generation, family-run coffee farm located in the Kona coffee belt of Hawaii. The all-natural cherries are hand-picked and micro-roasted in small batches ensuring the delicious Kona flavor profile. Plus, filling your home with the outstanding aroma will ensure that you start your day with some pep in your step.

Pros

  • Silky smooth with no harsh aftertaste
  • Light body and mellow flavor
  • Pronounced secondary flavors
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    Winner of Hawaii Governors Export Award
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    Makes a marvelous iced coffee
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    Packaging retains freshness with instant re-seal

Cons

  • Beans are roasted in Hawaii, so they may sit for a week or two before they reach you
  • The multidimensional flavor profile does not make this a great choice for a lover of dark roast
  • Quality of beans sometimes lacks consistency
Hawaii Coffee Company, Royal Kona – Private Reserve Medium Roast

Another delicious roast offered by the Hawaii Coffee Company is the Royal Kona Private Reserve Medium Roast. This roast is 100% Kona Coffee and has a smooth taste with a slight earthy flavor.

The aroma of this roast is one of its strongest attributes. Much like the Hawaii Coffee Company’s 100% Kona Coffee, this roast will fill your kitchen with a pleasant and distinctive smell, infusing your Monday morning with a taste of Hawaii.

The price of this coffee is comparable to other high-quality Kona coffees at about $3.25 an ounce, which, for a quality, private reserve roast is not bad.

Pros

  • Makes a magnificent cup of French Press coffee
  • Strong and pleasant aroma
  • Versatile & balanced flavor
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    Available in whole bean or as an all-purpose grind.
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    “Extra Fancy” ranking

Cons

  • This coffee may taste bitter to those less accustomed to drinking black coffee
Imagine Kona Coffee Beans

Imagine’s Kona Coffee Beans are considered “Extra Fancy”. This distinction places them in the top 10% of all Kona Coffee Beans produced.

This roast provides a robust flavor with a focus on caffeine content, making Imagine a great choice if you are looking for an extra boost in the morning.

Pros

  • Brews magnificently in a French press
  • Does wonders for your productivity
  • Highest distinction for size, weight, and lack of defects
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    Powerful flavor without an acidic aftertaste

Cons

  • Higher Price
  • Freshness is hit or miss
100% Kona Hawaiian Mountain Gold Coffee

​This premium all-purpose grind is roasted by the Ferrari Coffee Company, a family-run company on the Big Island of Hawaii.

This flavorful yet mild coffee is coarse ground and packaged in standard airtight coffee bags.

Cost is a big pull for this brand. At around $2.30 an ounce, 100% Kona Hawaiian Mountain Gold Coffee is one of the most affordable non-blend Kona coffees on the market.

Pros

  • Mellow flavor
  • Inexpensive
  • Ships quickly

Cons

  • Strong taste is not great for those who enjoy sweeter brews
KonaRed 100% Kona Coffee, Medium Roast

KonaRed is an all-natural (non-GMO) 100% certified Kona Coffee. Like other 100% Kona Coffees, it is grown on a Hawaiian estate and roasted in small batches. It is available in pre-ground or whole bean form.

This is a smooth roast with a delicious aftertaste. It has a milder flavor and is a good choice for the inexperienced Kona coffee drinker.

This company also sells Kona blends if you are interested is something less expensive (but also less authentically Kona).

Pros

  • Smooth, mild flavor
  • Pleasant aroma
  • Non-GMO

Cons

  • The milder flavor of the Kona roast may or may not be worth the price, depending on your flavor preferences.

The Final Word on Kona Coffee

Just like any other coffee, the flavor profile of the Kona bean changes depending on where it is produced and the roasting process in undergoes. Therefore, I recommend that the coffee connoisseur shop around, and experiment with a few different Kona coffee brands before settling on a favorite.

Regardless of which brand you land on, one thing is for sure, Kona coffee is a truly special brew. The ideal weather conditions of the Kona coffee belt of Hawaii combined with the Kona coffee producers commitment to excellence ensures that you will be receiving some of the best coffee around.