All About Kona Coffee – How to Choose 100% Kona Coffee


Alex DeCapri

Alex DeCapri is a specialty coffee roaster and curious coffee writer. He started sourcing his own green beans to roast and ship worldwide and later became the head roaster at OOP Café in Belo Horizonte. Now on a road trip from the U.S. to Brazil, Alex visits coffee farms and shares his firsthand experience from field visits.

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Wake up your taste buds and embark on a journey to the tropical paradise of Kona, Hawaii.

If you’re a coffee enthusiast who craves a truly exquisite brewing experience, then come along as we explore what makes this rare coffee so special. 

Get ready to delve into the captivating history of Kona coffee, savor its unique flavor profile, and discover what sets Kona coffee apart from the rest. 

Key Takeaways

  • Kona coffee offers a smooth and balanced flavor profile with notes of chocolate, caramel, and citrus.
  • Kona coffee is specialty-grade coffee exclusively made from Arabica beans grown in the Kona District of Hawaii.
  • The Kona Coffee Belt is a small geographic area on the Big Island of Hawaii known for its unique volcanic soil and favorable climate.
  • Kona coffee is very rare and highly sought after, with limited production and strict quality standards.
  • The history of Kona coffee dates back to the 19th century when coffee plants were brought to the Hawaiian Islands.
  • Not All Hawaiian Coffees Are ‘Kona’
  • Truly authentic Kona coffee will bear the “100% Kona coffee” sticker or label on its packaging. Be aware of Kona Blends (10% Kona)
  • Here are our best-picked Kona coffee brands: KOA Coffee, Royal Kona, Volcanica Coffee Kona Coffee Extra Fancy.

What Exactly Is Kona Coffee?

Kona coffee is a highly regarded specialty coffee that originates from the Kona District, located on the western coast of the Big Island of Hawaii. It is exclusively made from the Arabica coffee beans grown in this region, which benefit from the area’s unique volcanic soil, favorable climate, and meticulous cultivation practices. 

Kona coffee is known for its excellent quality, distinguished by a smooth and well-balanced flavor profile, low acidity, and notes of chocolate, caramel, and citrus. With its limited production and strict quality standards, Kona coffee has become synonymous with premium, gourmet coffee.

100 kona coffee beans

What is So Special About Kona Coffee?

Part of what makes Kona coffee so special is that it’s extremely rare. Its low supply is due to the 20-mile stretch of land that the coffee is grown in. (1) It’s probably the smallest coffee growing region in the world. Not only that, but the fertile volcanic slopes of the Big Island of Hawaii provide the perfect conditions for growing Arabica coffee.

Due to the limited production, Kona coffee has earned its place among the most coveted and cherished coffees in the world. This has also come with a steep price, with roasters paying $25 or more per pound of green beans! 

Kona Blends?

Many sellers market their bags as “Kona Blend Coffee” to purposely mislead customers. These blends usually only contain 10% of Kona coffee beans. The rest of the bag is filled with beans from other origins around the world.

“The blend must contain a minimum of 10% (by weight) of the origin named, the label must clearly state the percentage, and the size of the font on the label must adhere to specific guidelines.”


If you want 100% true Kona coffee, make sure the bag says “100% Kona Coffee” or “100% Hawaii coffee” with a certification seal from the Hawaii Department of Agriculture or Hawaii Coffee Company. While coffee also grows on the other islands of Hawaii, the Big Island produces the most beans and is the most famous.

Brief History of Kona Coffee

The history of Kona coffee traces back to the early 19th century when coffee plants were brought to the Hawaiian Islands by a British naval officer named Captain James Cook. 

However, it was not until the mid-1800s that coffee cultivation took root in the Kona District. Immigrant farmers, primarily of Japanese and Portuguese descent, recognized the region’s ideal conditions for coffee production and began planting coffee trees on the volcanic slopes of Kona. 

Over the years, Kona coffee gained recognition for its premium quality and unique flavor profile. Despite facing challenges such as labor shortages and adverse weather conditions, the coffee industry persevered, and Kona coffee earned a reputation as one of the world’s finest coffees. Today, Kona coffee continues to be treasured and celebrated as a symbol of Hawaiian heritage and the dedication of its skilled farmers.

coffee trees in kona coffee farms

Flavor Profile of Kona Coffee Beans

If you brew some Kona coffee beans, expect a smooth and balanced cup with a low acidity, a medium body, and notes of chocolate, caramel, and citrus. Depending on the micro-region that the beans are grown in, you may experience other fruity notes, brighter acidity, and some nutty characteristics. Due to the low acidity, there is more of a focus on the natural sweetness within the bean, making this coffee a favorite among many.

Kona Coffee Production

Hawaii produces approximately 5 million pounds (2.3 million kg) of green coffee beans per year. (4) While the Big Island has become world famous for its Kona coffee, the other islands that make up all of Hawaii also commercially produce Arabica coffee.

There are even many “backyard” farmers who grow coffee as a personal hobby and consume their own beans.

While some farmers plant Robusta, Arabica is the species of coffee that is primarily commercially available. Another lesser-known species of coffee called Liberica is also planted occasionally, especially when pests and diseases damage Arabica plants.

While Hawaii produces less than 1% of all coffee grown in the world, the industry is still valued at $250 million. (Source: 5) Not bad for such a small island country! 

kona coffee cherries

Coffee Varieties

Kona coffee is primarily derived from four varieties of coffee beans: Typica, Red Bourbon, Mundo Novo, and Caturra. 

  • Typica: Typica is a traditional Arabica coffee variety that has been cultivated in Kona for over a century. It is characterized by its smooth, well-balanced taste, medium body, and delicate acidity. Typica beans often exhibit notes of chocolate, caramel, and citrus.
  • Red Bourbon: Red Bourbon is another popular variety that boasts a slightly different flavor profile. It is recognized for its rich, full-bodied taste, lower acidity, and a hint of natural sweetness. Red Bourbon beans often showcase flavors of red fruit, brown sugar, and spices, offering a more complex and indulgent coffee experience.
  • Mundo Novo: Mundo Novo is a hybrid variety that originated from a cross between Typica and Bourbon. It is known for its high yield, disease resistance, and well-rounded flavor profile.
  • Caturra: Caturra is a dwarf mutation of Bourbon and is appreciated for its compact size, which makes it easier to manage on the steep slopes of Kona. It often exhibits a bright acidity and a clean, balanced flavor.

Processing Method

The processing method mainly used for Kona coffees is the washed, or “wet”, method. This method involves removing the outer cherry fruit layer from the coffee beans soon after harvesting. 

The cherries are first pulped, which separates the beans from the fruit. The beans are then fermented in water to remove the mucilage (the sticky residue), followed by a thorough washing of 12-24 hours. Drying racks called “hoshidanas” are used to dry the beans within 7-14 days to a moisture level of 10-13%. They have a rolling roof that can be extended to cover the beans during any rain.

While there may be some producers experimenting with natural and honey processing in Kona, the majority of Kona coffees are processed using the traditional washed method.

drying coffee beans in Kona coffee farms

Grading Coffee Beans – What are Kona Peaberries?

For some reason, you may see “Kona peaberries” or “Hawaii peaberries” quite often when shopping for roasted coffee from this country. So, what exactly is a peaberry?

Peaberry beans are formed when only a single bean develops inside the coffee cherry instead of the usual two flat-sided beans. This happens in about 5-10% of coffee cherries. Peaberries are small and rounded in shape. 

Because they are round, many roasters believe that roast more evenly and are less prone to scorching or tipping defects, providing an even better-tasting brew. Some even claim they pack more sweetness due to how they grow within the cherry.

Peaberries often come with a premium price tag. Imagine separating all the round beans from the flat ones after spending weeks harvesting and processing! The price is worth it for those who seek these kinds of beans.

Kona Coffee Grading System

The grading system for Kona beans is a strict classification method that helps categorize the quality and characteristics of the coffee beans produced in the Kona Coffee Belt. The system is based on a combination of bean size, moisture content, and defect count. It can be separated into two categories: Type I for regular beans and Type II for peaberries. (6)

Type I is separated into five categories:

  • Kona Extra Fancy: This grade represents the highest quality and is made up of the largest and most visually appealing beans. It exhibits minimal defects, must have a moisture content within a specified range, and is sought after for its superior flavor.
  • Kona Fancy: Falling slightly below Extra Fancy, this grade consists of high-quality beans with a few more minor defects but still maintains a desirable taste profile.
  • Kona Number 1: This grade includes beans that are slightly smaller in size compared to Extra Fancy and Fancy. While it may have a few more defects, it still maintains a good flavor.
  • Kona Select: This grade represents a slightly lower quality than Number 1, with a higher occurrence of defects. However, it still retains acceptable flavor characteristics.
  • Kona Prime: This is the lowest grade, consisting of smaller beans with a higher defect count. It is often used for blends and does not possess the same premium qualities as the higher grades.

Type II has three main categories:

  • Peaberry Number 1: This is the highest grade for peaberries, similar to Kona Extra Fancy.
  • Peaberry Prime: This grade represents good quality but with more defects.
  • Number 3 (Triple X): If a bean is categorized at this grade, it can not legally be labeled as “Kona coffee”, only “Hawaiian coffee”. Anything below this grade is simply considered “off-grade” and can only be labeled as generic coffee. 

As you can see, farmers in the Kona Coffee Belt have worked hard to put measures in action to properly regulate and distinguish this quality coffee from knockoffs. They don’t want any bad coffee being associated with their name.

Coffee Growing Regions in Hawaii: The Kona Coffee Belt

The Kona Coffee Belt refers to a specific geographic area within the Kona District on the western coast of the Big Island of Hawaii. It is characterized by a stretch of land that spans approximately 20 miles in length and 2 miles in width, encompassing the prime coffee growing regions of Kona along the slopes of the Hualalai and Mauna Loa volcanoes.

The Kona Coffee Belt is known for its volcanic soil, favorable elevation, and unique microclimate, which contribute to the premium quality and distinct flavor profile of Kona coffees. 

This area receives an average of 60+ inches of rainfall per year (2), has slightly acidic volcanic soil that drains well, experiences mild temperature swings and cycles of sun and clouds, and is protected from the wind on its western slopes. Even though the altitude ranges from just 500 feet to 3,200 feet above sea level at its peak, coffee thrives here.

While the Kona Coffee Belt is small, its 800+ coffee farms can be found among several sub-regions that have different microclimates and are known for different Kona coffee taste profiles. (3)

views from kona coffee plantation

North Kona

Located in the northern part of the Kona Coffee Belt, North Kona is known for its higher elevations and cooler temperatures. The coffee grown here tends to have a brighter acidity and a lighter body, with flavors that lean towards citrus, floral notes, and hints of tropical fruit.

South Kona

Situated on the southern end of the Kona Coffee Belt, South Kona experiences warmer temperatures and lower elevations. Coffee from this region often exhibits a deeper, fuller body and a lower acidity. The flavor profile tends to be more robust, with rich notes of chocolate, caramel, and nuts.


Nestled in the slopes above Kailua-Kona, Holualoa is known for its diverse microclimates. Coffee from Holualoa can display a wide range of flavors, including a balanced acidity, medium body, and a delightful blend of fruity and chocolate undertones.


Located in the southern part of the Kona Coffee Belt, Kealakekua benefits from abundant rainfall and lush vegetation. The coffee grown in Kealakekua tends to be mellow and smooth, with a balanced acidity and flavors that range from nutty to chocolatey.

Captain Cook

Situated at the southernmost point of the Kona Coffee Belt, Captain Cook boasts a combination of sunny days and cool nights. The coffee produced in Captain Cook often showcases a well-rounded acidity, medium body, and a complex flavor profile with notes of fruit, caramel, and spices.

Where to Buy – Best Kona Coffee Beans to Try

Alright, now that you know all about Kona coffee, you’re probably dying to try some. Here are three of our favorite Kona coffee brands with delicious dark and medium roast coffee beans available to order online right now: Koa Coffee, Royal Kona, and Volcanica.


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This dark roast coffee from Koa Coffee is hand-picked, expertly roasted, and delivered from Hawaii straight to your door. They have been using 100% Kona coffee since 1997, and the beans that Koa Coffee roasts have won the Gevalia Cupping Competition and PCCA Coffee of the Year.

If you want to try some award-winning coffee from the renowned Coffee Belt, look no further than Koa Coffee. Choose from either three 8-oz or three 1-lb bags to try beans from three unique places in the area. Enjoy a full-bodied cup with low acidity while you experiment with three nuanced Kona beans. Koa Coffee ships in whole beans for maximum freshness. While the price is a bit steep, remember that Koa Coffee will send you three bags, not just one.

Royal Kona Coffee – Estate Extra Fancy Kona Coffee Medium Roast Whole Bean

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If you want to try 100% Kona coffee but the dark roast from Koa Coffee isn’t for you, try this medium roast from Royal Kona Coffee. Available in two different sizes as whole beans or ground, this coffee comes with the proper certification to guarantee you are drinking authentic Kona coffee.

This full-bodied, medium roast is extremely aromatic and makes for a smooth cup. Expect an emphasis on sweetness and a low acidity from Royal Kona Coffee. The reviews rave about a pleasant aftertaste without any bitterness. If you love it, there’s even an option to subscribe and save a bit of money each month. 

I like to brew beans with a medium roast as either a V60 or an AeroPress. If you want more sweetness and body, an AeroPress will make a medium roast shine. A V60 will focus more on the unique flavors and acidity that sometimes gets muted in a medium roast, with less of a focus on the body. Enjoy!

Volcanica Coffee Kona Extra Fancy Coffee Beans

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Yes, these medium roast Kona beans are expensive… but let us explain why. Volcanica is one of our favorite roasters, and their Kona coffee is no exception. They sourced the best grade of coffee that the Kona region has to offer: Kona Extra Fancy. Certified by the State of Hawaii and Hawaii Coffee Company, this 100% Kona medium roast coffee has notes of floral fruits, jasmine, bright citrus, tart cherry, and sweet caramel.

I highly recommend brewing this washed coffee as a pour-over, using a paper filter to truly appreciate all the distinct flavor notes. You can order your bag with whole beans or pre-ground for your brewing method of choice. Try a V60 or a Chemex for this rare and full-bodied coffee. You won’t be disappointed.

Frequently Asked Questions

What Hawaiian island has the best coffee?

The Big Island of Hawaii is known for having the best coffee in Hawaii, particularly in the Kona District where Kona coffee is grown. This area is also referred to as the Kona Coffee Belt, where over 800 farms grow this highly sought-after coffee.

Is Kone coffee the best in the world?

While Kona coffee is highly regarded for its exceptional quality, it is subjective to claim it as the best coffee in the world as preferences vary. However, Kona beans are renowned for their unique flavor profile and are considered among the finest coffees globally. The ideal growing conditions paired with its ultra-limited production create high prices internationally for this Hawaiian coffee.

What is true Kona coffee?

True Kona coffee refers to coffee beans grown exclusively in the Kona District on the Big Island of Hawaii. To be labeled as authentic Kona coffee, this Hawaiian coffee must meet specific requirements, such as being cultivated within the defined region and meeting strict quality standards set by regulatory bodies. The designation ensures that consumers are getting genuine Kona coffee.

Final Thoughts

Alright! Now you have everything you need to know in order to confidently buy beans from Kona, Hawaii.

In this coffee guide, you learned the history of coffee in Hawaii, where it grows, how it tastes, and our favorite roasted coffee brands to try. 

Now go get yourself some coffee beans from this region and enjoy this exquisitely rare coffee that people around the world pay big money for.

Happy brewing!



Photo of author

Alex DeCapri

Alex DeCapri is a specialty coffee roaster and curious coffee writer. During his time living in Brazil, he spent months learning directly from producers how to pick and process coffee the right way. One thing led to the next, and he started sourcing his own green beans to roast and ship worldwide and later became the head roaster at OOP Café in Belo Horizonte. Currently, Alex is traveling slowly from the United States to Brazil in his self-converted camper van, trying to visit as many coffee farms as possible along the way. If you see him on the road, be sure to say hi!