You might have heard Hawaiian Kona coffee is one of the most expensive in the world and wondered why. Let’s just say it has a silky-smooth full-bodied flavor and true Kona is cultivated only in a limited area of the big island of Hawaii, therefore production is low, while the demand is quite high.
Experts agree that the particular flavor of Hawaiian Kona coffee is largely due to the specific conditions of the area where it is cultivated. The trees thrive on gentle slopes of mineral-rich volcanic soil, with sunny mornings and a bit of rain in the afternoon, which creates the perfect environment to grow coffee.
Not all Hawaiian coffee is of this type, only the beans that come from trees that grow specifically in the North and South districts of the Kona region are entitled to bear this label. There are about 800 coffee farms in the Kona region and the yearly production is just over 2 million pounds of green beans.
The beans are hand-picked and left out to dry in the sun. When it rains, farmers use rolling roofs to cover the beans on the drying racks.
Not all Kona beans are the same. Coffee mills use machinery to sort the beans by size and shape. The most sought-after are the so-called peaberry beans.
Normally, each coffee cherry – the fruit of the coffee tree, that is – contains two seeds, which we refer to as coffee beans. When the two seeds are fused together in a roundish bean, it is called peaberry, with a distinctive concentrated flavor. Only 5-10% of the Kona coffee beans qualify as peaberry and, obviously, they are the most expensive.
You can find other types of Kona coffee under such names as Extra Fancy, Fancy or Prime.
The taste of your brew greatly varies with the roast grade of the beans, which can be light, medium, or dark.
Coffee aficionados say the absolute best Kona coffee is a medium roast, called Vienna, which allows the beans to retain more of their natural flavors than darker roasts. Beans roasted at very high temperatures to a dark grade get a more pronounced burnt flavor.
If your Kona is properly roasted at medium Vienna level, you will be delighted by its partly nutty, partly chocolaty overtones, with just a hint of cinnamon.
There are, of course, those who complain Kona coffee is overpriced, but do keep in mind it is grown in the US, so it’s bound to be more expensive than the best coffee produced in Rwanda, for instance.
Anyway, if you’re ever in Hawaii, take a tour of coffee farms in Kona and sample the local brews for yourself. And you might want to buy some coffee beans to bring back home, otherwise, it will be very hard for you to find true 100% Kona coffee.
Bonus tip: Watch out for labels that say ‘Kona blend’. This means only some 10% of the beans are Kona, mixed in with other cheaper types of coffee.
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