Where is your Kona Coffee is one of the most frequent questions we get asked at the Kauai Coffee Visitor Center. It is no surprise considering Kona Coffee is well known around the globe as the specialty coffee of Hawaii, but do you know what it is and where it comes from?
Kona is not on Kauai, but Coffee sure is!
It is important to know a little bit about where your coffee comes from because much like wine the place where coffee is grown can affect the flavors and aromas you experience when you drink it. Kona is not a variety of coffee, but rather a coffee growing region located on the Big Island of Hawaii. It is just one of many places coffee is cultivated in the state.
Only coffee grown in Kona can be designated by the Kona origin. This means you won’t find “Kona Coffee” from Kauai or any other Hawaiian Island because only coffee grown within the geographic bounds of the Kona district can be called by that name. Origin designations and labeling requirements are regulated by the Hawaii Department of Agriculture. There are seven recognized origins located throughout the state of Hawaii including on our home island of Kauai. There can be multiple growing regions within the recognized origins and many of the same varieties of coffee grown in Kona now grow at Kauai Coffee and throughout the recognized origins of Hawaii.
If you’re a Hawaiian coffee lover, the story of how coffee came to Hawaii, where it grows today, and how it became one of the most valuable commodities grown in the state is a must read. From Kauai to Kona and beyond learn more about coffee’s fascinating journey to Hawaii and other growing regions producing the next wave of gourmet coffee from the islands.
Kings, Pirates, and Plants – Coffee Comes to Hawaii
Coffee’s journey to Hawaii is full of twists, turns and a cast of characters worthy of a Hollywood screenplay. Don Francisco de Paula Marin, a Spanish sailor and Renaissance man, arrived in the Hawaiian Islands in the late 1790s and became an interpreter and confidant to King Kamehameha I. Marin is said to have been a natural charmer and talented horticulturalist who maintained relationships with prominent pirates of the day which allowed him to procure seeds and cuttings of various agricultural crops. Coffee, pineapple, mango, cotton, and oranges are just a few of the crops associated with Marin and he is rumored to have planted the first coffee seeds in Honolulu in 1817. Unfortunately, the coffee plantings didn’t take and King Kamehameha I died in 1819.
After King Kamehameha’s death in 1819, his son Liholiho ascended to the Hawaiian throne becoming King Kamehameha II. In November 1823 King Kamehameha II set sail from the shores of Oahu on a diplomatic mission to England with the intent of asking King George IV to form an alliance with the Hawaiian Kingdom for protection against Russian influence in Hawaii. Sadly, the mission took a tragic turn when King Kamehameha II and his wife, Kamamalu, contracted measles and died in London. With the death of the Royal Hawaiian couple, Chief Boki, Royal Governor of Oahu and part of the delegation that sailed to England, assumed the lead to finish the mission and paved the way for coffee’s introduction and eventual commercialization in Hawaii.
Boki was introduced to coffee and coffeehouses while in London and saw the potential for coffee to be cultivated as a Hawaiian crop. Boki teamed up with British horticulturalist John Wilkinson and together they sailed on the HMS Blonde back to Hawaii making a stop in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil to buy coffee seedlings. Boki and Wilkinson returned to Hawaii in 1825 and planted the first coffee orchard in the Manoa Valley on Oahu that same year.
Enterprising Agriculture – Coffee Spreads Across the Islands
It wasn’t long after Boki and Wilkinson established the first orchard in Manoa that coffee began to spread across the Hawaiian Islands. In 1828 Reverend Samuel Ruggles, a Christian missionary took cuttings and planted them in South Kona introducing coffee to the famous Hawaii growing region we know today. However, commercial coffee production was slow to start in Kona. Can you guess which Hawaiian island established the first commercial coffee growing operations?
Kauai – The Original Hawaiian Coffee Island
Surprise! Kona may be the most famous growing region in Hawaii, but enterprising individuals on the island of Kauai established the first commercial coffee growing operation in 1836. Sherman Peck and Charles Titcomb leased 400 acres in Koloa and planted coffee along with cotton and mulberry for silk production. Unfortunately, the silk production failed and Peck and Titcomb closed their operation within a few years. However, in 1842 the Hawaiian government allowed residents to pay land taxes with coffee (or pigs!) so small coffee farms started to gain traction and pop up on Oahu, Maui, and Hawaii Island. Once again Kauai was the island of choice for daring coffee entrepreneurs Godfrey Rhodes and John Bernard who created Hawaii’s first large-scale operation planting 1,000 acres of coffee in Hanalei on Kauai’s north shore and exported 245 pounds of Hawaii’s first commercially grown coffee in 1845!
Kauai Coffee Company began in the 1800s as the McBryde Sugar Company and fully transitioned into coffee production in 1987. Today, Kauai Coffee Company is the largest single estate farm in Hawaii and has more than four million coffee trees planted on 3,100 acres. Kauai Coffee is the only large-scale, vertically integrated coffee company on Kauai. We grow, harvest, process, roast and package coffee at our Kalaheo Estate which means your coffee is fresh, Hawaiian-grown coffee and receives great care every step of the way from seed to your cup.
Kona Coffee Takes Root
Kona may be the most famous and longest continuously producing coffee growing region in Hawaii, but it wasn’t until 1892 that coffee really began to take root there. Hermann Weidemann, a sugar farmer on the Big Island of Hawaii, introduced a Typica variety from Guatemala to the now famous Kona region and found it produced better than the Brazilian variety brought to the island by Reverend Ruggles. This variety is still grown in Kona today and was renamed Kona Typica in 1990. Only coffee that is grown in the Kona region can be called “Kona Coffee”, but the Typica variety is grown throughout the Hawaiian Islands and at Kauai Coffee Company. Try the Kauai Coffee Estate Reserve Typica for a brew that is complex in flavor with hints of chocolate, spice and a ripe berry finish. Other popular coffee varieties grown throughout the Hawaiian Islands and on the Kauai Coffee Estate include Catuai, Mundo Novo, and Blue Mountain.
Hawaii is for Coffee Lovers
Today coffee grown at the approximately 900 coffee farms in Hawaii accounts for just .04% of the global coffee market with an annual production value of nearly $50 million. Hawaiian Coffee is relatively scarce outside of the islands which is one of the reasons it is adored by specialty coffee lovers around the world. That plus the abundant sun, volcanic soil and unique growing regions around the only US State that produces coffee make Hawaii a true paradise for coffee lovers.
Taste Paradise at Kauai Coffee
If you are planning a visit to Kauai, stop by the Kauai Coffee Visitor Center for a self-guided or guided tour and to sample our Blue Mountain, Typica or any of our 100% Kauai Coffee – You just might find a new, outstanding island favorite. You can also find all of your favorite Kauai Coffee on our website and at our newest retail location, Kauai Coffee 2, located at the Coconut Marketplace in Kapaa.
For more information about Kauai Coffee, the history of coffee in Hawaii and growing regions located here, check out these publications and organizations: