Tiny Region; Colossal Quality
Hawaii, the only state in the United States where coffee is grown commercially, produces the amazing Kona coffee bean, known for its unique gourmet quality and flavor. In fact, Kona coffee thrives only in a tiny region on the western slopes of the Big Island where it has, over 175 years, been highly developed using heritage trees that do exceedingly well in the rocky volcanic earth. Sunshine, rainfall and soil strike a perfect balance in this small, fertile locality where the harvests are bountiful. The area’s exquisite Kona coffee is world renowned and emerging boutique-like coffee flavors are earning their stripes.
The prized Kona trees are never touched by mechanical harvesting equipment. Instead, families and workers from six hundred private estates gently pick by hand, so you’ll never find a combination of ripe and unripe beans—individual inspection of each coffee “cherry” assures you of a perfect cup of coffee every time. This naturally high quality coffee can only get better with the special care it receives—the higher the level of care, the better the coffee.
Rather than comparing the growing of Kona to other types of coffee, a closer parallel can actually be made by comparing it to how the grapes for fine vintage wines are nurtured and harvested. The majority of Kona coffee earns the grade of Prime or better due to the excellence of the climatic conditions, the labor-intensive hand cultivation, and wet-method processing used throughout the region. The Kona growing region has produced world class coffee continuously since the early 1800s and the name “Kona” only applies to beans grown in North and South Kona. Coffee grown elsewhere in Hawaii cannot be called Kona.
So valued is the Kona growing region of the Big Island that the plantations in the area have their own organization—The Kona Coffee Council—with a special green “seal of approval” that vouches that each bag of coffee it adorns is true and genuine 100% Kona Coffee and helps you, the coffee lover, discern between 100% Kona and lesser blends. 100% Kona has its own distinctively delicate yet rich aromatic flavor that can be overpowered if it is blended with harsher coffees.
Most Kona coffee (there are more than 100 private label brands) is graded Prime or better. Picked when bright red and fully ripe, the Kona coffee “cherry” is first pulped to remove outer flesh. Next is the fermentation step which is credited for giving the coffee its bright, clear flavor. After a thorough washing in clean, fresh water, the coffee beans are laid out on large decks for natural drying by the sun, a step during which they are raked regularly to facilitate even drying. It is then that the beans are graded to Department of Agriculture standards. Afterwards, the dry beans are milled to remove “parchment” and “silverskin” and then they are ready to be sold to roasters or, as is the trend by some Kona coffee estates, custom-roasted by the farmer to produce a truly unique coffee flavor. Due to its excellent quality, Kona coffee is regarded as one of the most highly valued coffees in the world.