|Photo from Kona Mountain Coffee.
Kona Coffee actually celebrated its 200th anniversary last year. This thriving industry began in 1813 when King Kamehameha’s (the warrior-king who unified all the islands of Hawai’i) Spanish interpreter and physician, Don Francisco de Paula y Marin, planted the first trees on O’ahu. A few years later, the Rev. Joseph Goodrich brought the trees to the Big Island before missionary Samuel Ruggles planted the first Arabica trees in the western side of the island in 1828.
Coffee prefers shade and dry, cool summers so it did well on the Big Island’s volcanic slopes where clouds sweep in during the afternoons, and ocean breezes temper the tropical sun. Kona Coffee is known to have a finish with floral notes with hints of peach, plum, and chocolate.
Although Kona coffee has been around for over two centuries, it did not became popular among connoisseurs until the 1980s (which worked perfectly for the farmers of Hawai’i as it was the same time that sugar cane farming was beginning to phase out).
|Photo from KonaCoffeeFarmers.org
Harvesting occurs year round and yields some of the best cherries (the red colored coffee beans) in the world. But because the cherries must be picked by hand in the rugged sloped coffee terrain (some of which is grown as high as 3,200 feet above sea level) it has a tendency to translates to higher labor costs (to generate a sellable pound of coffee beans requires 7 pounds of cherries) which translates to high coffee costs (the beans usually run between $30-$50 a pound).
The process starts with a pulping machine that removes the tiny beans at the center of the cherry (usually there are two beans facing each other in a cherry, although occasionally one bean fails to divide leading to a high prized peaberry!). Then the beans ferment in water and followed by being placed in drying racks in the sun. Finally the beans are milled to remove the parchment skin, with the remaining green beans to be graded and roasted.
The majority of Kona’s 600 coffee farms are small, family-run operations of 2-5 acres although there are a few larger farms (such as Kona Mountain Coffee).