Kona coffee from Hawaii is one of the most sought after coffee varieties in the world, famed for its mouth-watering aromas and deliciously smooth, rich flavor and distinctive fruity profile.
Our guide to Kona coffee will explain why this type of bean is so desirable, how it’s produced, and run you through what to consider and where to buy kona coffee.
Our favorite product is the Koa Tri-Pack Kona Sampler – this selection of Kona varieties comes at a great price and gives you a few different choices to give your taste buds a thrill.
Whether you’re new to the wonderful world of origin coffee-drinking or a seasoned connoisseur, this is a brew you simply have to sample to appreciate. But be warned, once you’ve tasted one of our top 9 Kona picks, you may find it hard to enjoy anything else!
What Is So Special About Kona Coffee?
Kona coffee is one of the most esteemed coffee varieties on earth. It’s highly desirable – therefore a tad expensive, but delivers supreme and distinctive aromas that will have your mouth watering the minute you open a packet.
So, what’s all the fuss about and why is Kona coffee so prized?
Grown exclusively in the north and south areas of the Kona district on the big island of Hawaii, the coffee trees nurtured here thrive in the rich volcanic soils on the slopes of the Hualalai and Mauna Loa volcanoes.
The microclimate on these two mountains provides sunny mornings, misty afternoons and mild nights – perfect conditions for growing coffee.
Although Hawaii in general has a fantastic climate for coffee production – due to the fertile, volcanic earth and abundance of sun and rain – only coffee grown in the Kona district can be officially classified as Kona coffee.
Kona has around 600 small, independent coffee plantations, most of them family-run. It is estimated there is only a total of around 2290 acres of farms, producing about two million pounds of coffee annually.
This makes Kona coffee a highly-limited commodity, with a cap on how much is available every year.
Forget mass-production and automation – Kona coffee beans are painstakingly hand-picked by the farmers.
Not all coffee “cherries” (seeds or beans) ripen at the same time, so hand picking the beans individually enables harvesters to only select the beans that are perfectly ripe and ready.
Kona coffee beans are processed using a ‘wet-method,’ where the beans are fermented for around 12-24 hours and rinsed in in fresh water before being laid out in the sun to dry.
What Is The Flavor Of Kona Coffee?
You really have to taste this coffee to understand its unique subtleties. You can count on Kona to be smooth, rich, sweet and flavorful, with a citrus or nutty aftertaste. It’s ever so slightly acidic and has a delectable aroma. Some experts describe the flavor as “winey” or “spicy.”
The premium peaberry Kona bean – even more exclusive and rare – is described as having a smooth, chocolaty flavor.
Sipping a cup of premium Kona coffee is unlike drinking coffee of any other type because it is simultaneously a relaxing and energizing experience.
Is Kona Coffee Arabica Or Robusta?
Kona coffee is an Arabica coffee species that is grown in higher altitudes. There are between 25 and 100 species of Arabica coffee trees, ranging in size, shape and color.
Coffee Arabica is descended from the first ever coffee trees in Ethiopia and is well-known for producing premium coffee with around 50-60 percent more caffeine than the Robusta varieties – hence Arabica is considered to be much better quality and fetches a higher price.
Because Kona coffee is one of the finest species of Arabica, it is also one of the most expensive.
Grading 100% Kona Coffee
Kona coffee is meticulously tested and graded. Every batch produced receives an official grading from the Hawaii Department of Agriculture under the labeling law.
Back in the 1980’s, any coffee in the world could be labelled as Kona Coffee – causing confusion and brand dilution. The local Kona coffee farmers struggled to make a living, due to the higher costs of producing coffee in Kona than elsewhere on the planet.
The new grading system and the ability of the Kona coffee producers to reclaim the name, means that Kona is now a trusted coffee variety; you know you’re getting truly premium coffee – if you stay away from those misleading Kona blends!
Kona coffee beans are graded according to the different qualities of the bean – such as size, moisture content and how pure the type of bean is.
Larger beans with higher moisture content are better and more flavorful. Beans with a more uniform shape and fewer defects are preferred.
This grading criteria is only applied to coffee beans sourced from the Kona District. Beans from other areas in Hawaii are simply separated by size, which results in uneven flavor extraction.
With these criteria in place, you can count on Kona Extra Fancy beans – the best quality after peaberry beans – to be larger, moister, more flavorful and free of blemishes and defects. All these qualities make a tremendous difference in the flavor of the finished product.
There are three “types” of Kona bean that are further broken down into different grades.
- Type I beans are a cherry containing two beans that are flat on one side and curved on the other.
- Type II beans are rare, containing one smaller round bean per cherry – these are highly valued and known as peaberries.
- Anything rated as a number three or lower does not qualify as Kona quality and is sold as regular Hawaiian coffee.
Need a refresher on coffee? See our coffee guide for more information.
Kona Coffee Grading System:
Type I beans are graded as follows:
- Kona Extra Fancy – the very best with impressively superior flavor.
- Kona Fancy – also quite excellent, but made with slightly smaller beans.
- Kona Number One – usually found mixed with a higher grade to create a 100% Kona Coffee blend.
- Kona Select – may be sold as an affordable 100% Kona or used in a 10% blend (90% filler).
- Kona Prime – may be sold as an affordable 100% Kona or used in a 10% blend (90% filler).
Type II Kona beans are graded into:
- Peaberry Number 1
- Peaberry Prime
What Is Kona Blend Coffee?
Kona blends are not made up of 100% Kona coffee, but a mixture of Kona and origin coffees from other countries such as Colombia or Brazil. The minimum Kona content that blends must have by law to use the Kona label is 10%.
Don’t be fooled into buying a packet simply because it claims a Kona blend – it’s likely to be inferior quality with only a sprinkling of real Kona coffee beans, and you won’t get the true Kona flavors and aromas.
What Is The Best 100% Kona Coffee?
The best of the best comes in the form of the peaberry coffee beans. They have higher moisture content and far fewer imperfections than even Kona Extra Fancy beans.
These beans are randomly produced by nature and are very rare. As a matter of fact, only about 3-5% of Kona coffee beans produced are peaberries.
There is very high demand for peaberries, but nature cannot be forced! If you want absolutely top-notch Kona coffee, look for peaberry beans and be prepared to pay the price!
We highly recommend getting your hands on a packet of Koa Coffee’s Whole Bean Kona Coffee, Peaberry Dark Roast. It’s not cheap – but bear in mind you get what you pay for. Splash out and treat yourself to what most fans describe as the best coffee they’ve ever experienced.
Top 9: Best Kona Coffee Beans
Our Kona coffee reviews will give you some insight to the leading Kona coffee brands in America.
1. Koa Coffee Whole Bean Kona Coffee Tri-Pack
The Tri-Pack Kona Sampler has three varieties of 100% Kona, each with their own unique characteristics.
Grande Domaine Kona Coffee
This little beauty is very well known and was selected as a Kona Coffee Cupping Contest Winner because of its amazing quality and balance. The resulting brew is deliciously rich and smooth without being overly bitter.
Private Reserve Kona Coffee
This blend is a mixture of 100% Kona coffee beans from a variety of different grades and farms. The Private Reserve was awarded the title of the “Best in America” by Forbes magazine.
Sourced from only one small farm on the slopes of the Mauna Loa volcano, this blend mixes the top three grades of Kona coffee together, so you get to experience the full joy of the most moist, flavorful beans combined.
The Koa Coffee Plantation has been in business since 1997. Established and run by the Artukovich family, it was later sold to Kona’s Best Natural Coffee – known as Koa Coffee Plantation.
The source coffee plantation rests on the Mauna Loa slopes in Hawaii’s “Kona coffee belt”.
Today, Koa Coffees is a worldwide sensation produced with top-of-the-line equipment and carefully vacuum-sealed to bring a rich, fresh-roasted aroma straight to you.
Koa coffee is all about the smoothness, full flavor, high-quality and exquisite balance of these offerings.
The Kona Sampler Tri-pack is a great way to try out a few different varieties and would make a fantastic gift for a coffee lover. It also comes at a reasonable price, considering it’s premium quality – a fantastic introduction to the joys of Kona coffee.
2. Volcanica Kona Peaberry Coffee Gran Reserve
Volcanica Coffee Company launched in 2005 to provide coffee fans access to high-altitude coffees grown in volcanic soil. They offer coffee from all over the globe.
This Kona peaberry coffee is grown higher on the slopes of Hualalai and Mauna Loa than most other Kona beans. Food and Wine Magazine have rated it as a Top 10 Coffee.
Available as whole beans or grounds, these beans produce a smooth and mellow cup.
Described by Volcanica as having an “aroma of orange blossoms and cherries” and a “flavor of chocolate and roasted almonds,” this is a delicious variety that has a sweet honey aftertaste.
As we’re often concerned about the coffee farmer’s wages, Volcanica assures us that they pay fair-trade coffee prices that exceed their base costs.
The gourmet coffees offered by Volcanica are not blends but pure, mountain-grown beans, often from a single farmer or family of coffee bean producers.
Volcanica peaberry coffee from the Gran Reserve comes in a 16-ounce bag and the beans are roasted on the day of shipping in order to get the freshest possible coffee to your doorstep.
If you prefer not to grind your own beans – you can order pre-ground Kona coffee directly from Volcanica.
3. Hawaii Coffee Company Royal Kona Private Reserve, Medium Roast
If you have been to Hawaii, this Royal Kona coffee will take you back the islands with its intoxicating aroma and smooth profile.
Judged “superior” by the American Academy of Taste, this medium roast Kona is available in whole beans or as an all-purpose grind.
While some coffee comes with a certain level of bitterness, this brew should satisfy even the pickiest of drinkers – particularly those who can’t tolerate high levels of acidity.
Fruity and with a touch of earthiness, there’s absolutely no bitter after taste. In fact, the brew may even be a little light for those who prefer some kick to their coffee.
Royal Kona Coffee is a Hawaiian tradition, having gotten its start in 1968.
The Hawaii Coffee Company is the largest Kona coffee roaster worldwide, and its coffees are phenomenally popular in stores, restaurants and hotels throughout the islands.
All the beans are sourced from their own plantations. While all our picks would make great gifts for coffee lovers, the Royal Kona private reserve coffee is one you may want to keep for yourself.
4. Out Of The Grey (Single Origin Royal Kona) Greenwell Estate Extra Fancy Organic Coffee
Out Of The Grey Coffee offers a delicious collection of the best coffees from all over the world and sells them to order.
Greenwell Farms are right in the heart of the Kona district and have been maintained by the Greenwell family for over 200 years! The coffee produced here is roasted and packaged on the very same farm that it’s grown.
This extra fancy Kona has a deep and fruity taste with a mouth feel reminiscent of syrup. You may detect hints of almonds and strawberries from this amazing bean.
Curiously enough, their Greenwell Estate coffee doesn’t give the person placing the order the option to select a particular roast.
We reached out to Out Of The Grey and asked,
“What type of roast does your “Royal Kona Greenwell Estate Coffee” have?”
Java Jack responded,
“Great question. We typically roast this coffee past medium, dark/medium. We feel that this is the real sweet spot for this bean. We are however open to roasting it a little bit different if you so desire.”
We’re confident that this product has been roasted to the best temperature for optimum flavor of the berry.
If the mild, full flavor of Hawaiian coffee appeals to you, you can be certain that your Greenwell Estate beans have been handled with the utmost care.
You can order this variety as whole beans or in any grind size, from extra fine to coarse.
5. Kona Coffee Beans by Imagine, Medium Dark Roast
The Imagine coffee bean by Buddha’s Cup has an extra fancy rating. This indicates that this large and fruity bean is the optimal size and weight – free from defects or disease.
These beans are strictly Hawaiian grown – no blending with Arabica beans from other regions to lessen the flavor intensity or quality.
Imagine beans are available only in whole bean, so you will want a good grinder to get the best possible flavor from them.
Buddha’s Cup coffee is grown on the big island of Hawaii. Their coffee plants thrive at 2200-feet in lush volcanic soil, sheltered and shaded by macadamia nut trees.
Imagine Coffee beans are air-roasted to maintain a fruity, sweet taste. While some coffee drinkers prefer a dark and sometimes smoky roasted flavor, this coffee will remind you that coffee beans start out as a berry.
The aroma includes a floral scent and the coffee can have a citrus flavor at the finish. This bean can be heavily roasted and not develop a bitter bite.
6. Hawaii Roasters 100% Kona Coffee, Medium Roast
The Hawaii Roasters coffee plantation is located in the Kona Coffee Belt, a two by fifteen-mile stretch of ideal coffee-growing terrain.
Pure Kona Coffee is a fragrant, fruity treat. These medium roasted beans give you the best of both worlds – the artisanal roasting process produces a silky smooth and light cup of coffee, while the 100% Kona beans produce a low-acid brew most anyone can enjoy.
You can buy the beans whole, pre-ground, or prepped in recyclable K-Cups compatible with Keurig brewers.
Hawaii Roasters’ 100% Kona beans are handpicked and sun dried for optimum freshness.
Once the beans have dried, they’re roasted in small batches for a unique and delicious coffee experience.
You don’t need to worry about purchasing coffee that’s been sitting around for too long – your beans will be freshly roasted.
7. Blue Horse Farm-fresh: 100% Kona Coffee, Medium Roast
Blue Horse is a family-run farm where all the coffee comes from a single estate. The trees are shade grown, which results in a sweeter taste and minimal acidity.
Blue Horse Kona coffee is produced without the use of pesticides or herbicides.
The Blue Horse Coffee Plantation is located on the Big Island of Hawaii, down the slope from the Mauna Loa and the Mauna Kea volcanoes. The old lava deposits from these volcanoes provide coffee growers (and coffee drinkers) an ideal soil for coffee plants.
The mountainous conditions require that all planting, tending and harvesting be done by hand.
After each harvest, these coffee fruits are washed, sorted and air dried prior to roasting, to be certain that the beans sold by Blue Horse are simply the best pick of each harvest.
This coffee is not a Kona Blend or Kona Style; it’s truly made only with Kona berries grown in the coffee belt. Your beans, following the careful harvest and selection process, will be roasted in small batches before packaging and shipping to your home.
A medium roast is a great option for pure Kona coffee. This roast is hearty enough to bring out the rich flavor of the coffee without adding a bitter edge. Kona coffee can have a citrus finish, and the combination of dark roast and citrus may be too harsh for some coffee drinkers.
The coffee is shipped in a zip lock bag so your beans can stay fresh at all times.
8. Starbucks Private Reserve 100% Kona Coffee, Medium Roast
Starbucks is a top-rated provider of Kona coffee and Kona blends. Their Kona Private Reserve 100% Parry Estate Coffee is a very high quality Kona coffee made with peaberry coffee beans.
It boasts a citrusy floral aroma and a sweet, nutty-caramel flavor and is sourced from a well-established plantation situated at a very high altitude on the slopes of Mauna Loa.
This coffee is carefully cultured, gathered and prepared for optimum flavor and freshness. It has a delightful and balanced flavor that I think everyone can appreciate.
You may be able to find a Starbucks near you that offers Kona Private Reserve by the cup. This is a great way to sample it before ordering a bag of coffee beans for home.
9. Keala’s Hawaiian Coffee, Medium Roast
As the name suggests, Keala’s Hawaiian Coffee brand offers coffee products grown all over the islands, not just in the Kona band.
This brand was created by Sean Lee, owner of a Seattle craft roasting coffee house. You can be sure that your Hawaiian coffee is a true artisan product.
This medium roast is not too strong and has a delightfully silky body. The flavor profile is bright and sweet – although, if you like a bit of extra oomph to your coffee, it may be a little too laid back for you.
The extremely low acid content is perfect for coffee lovers who have gastric issues.
Made only from extra fancy grade Kona beans from several small farms on the slopes of Hualalai, the main flavor notes are bright and fruity, with Keala boasting that there are hints of toasted coconut.
If you enjoy Kona and would like to branch out, consider trying one of the other delicious Hawaiian coffee blends. The rich volcanic soil of the islands lends itself to the coffee plant, so you can be sure that your coffee will have gotten a great start in life.
When purchasing Kona coffee, it pays to do your homework. Consider the background and history of the plantations whose products you are considering purchasing.
Farms that are well-established, with a solid tradition of producing high-quality, pure Kona coffees, are the only ones you can trust if you truly seek genuine Kona flavor.
Be aware that Kona “blends” are usually low-quality mixes with a very low percentage of actual Kona coffee. In Hawaii, blends are required to have at least 10% Kona or more.
If we had to choose just one option, we would consider Koa Coffee’s Tri-Pack Sampler Collection. While it might be a great gift idea, it also allows you to explore a variety of Kona coffees without the added costs of purchasing them separately.
We are also big fans of Blue Horse 100% Kona Coffee Medium Roast – we love that these beans are all sourced from a single farm and guaranteed to be free from pesticides and herbicides – not to mention the fact that the package is re-sealable to keep your beans as fresh as possible.
If you’re really not into grinding your own beans, the convenience of Out Of The Grey (Single Origin Royal Kona) will be right up your alley – you can order any grind size from extra fine to coarse. With Greenwell Estate’s 200+ years of experience producing Kona coffee, you’re guaranteed a quality product.