The Facts about Kona Coffee
The coffee “tree” (really a tropical shrub) is native to Africa.
No one knows for sure who first discovered the stimulating properties
of the bright, red cherries the tree produces, or when it was decided
that roasting the seeds inside those cherries yielded a beverage
more interesting than fruit.
Some authorities believe that cultivation of coffee began across
the bay from Ethiopia in Yemen, beginning in the sixth century AD.
Nearly a thousand years later the Dutch introduced coffee to Java
and other islands of Indonesia. From there, coffee made it’s way
around the world, making it’s journey to the New World beginning
in the 17th century.
Kona coffee came to be when a missionary, Samuel Ruggles, brought
cuttings in the late 1820’s which were planted on N.H. Greenwell
properties in Kona. The plant did so well that a commercial venture
got started. Kona’s volcanic soils, natural climate conditions of
morning sun and afternoon cloud cover with rains during the growing
seasons coupled with dry winters that facilitate ease of harvesting
and natural stress to promote next years fruit production, make
it a perfect place for growing coffee.
Species and Growing Conditions
There are two primary species of coffee, Arabica (from Arabia,
the ancient name for Yemen), and Robusta.
Arabica beans are delicate and flavorful and sell at higher prices
because of their quality and limited availability. Robusta beans
are often used in the process of soluble (instant) coffee and popular
commercial blends. An elevation of 800 - 1,500 feet, year round
temperatures of about 70 degrees F, abundant rainfall, natural cloud
cover shade during the growing season, dry conditons during the
harvest, and freedom from frosts make for the perfect environment
to grow Arabica coffee trees. These conditions are found, occurring
naturally, in Kona Hawaii. Arabica coffee trees flourish in Kona
climate and elevations. That’s all we grow (Typica, Guatemalan).
Planting and Cultivation
Coffee trees are grown from seeds which are planted in potting
soil and tended in nurseries for 9-18 months, until they reach a
height of 18-24 inches. The seedlings are then transplanted to permanent
groves blessed with a balance of sunshine, shade, and rain. For
the next 18 to 24 months the plants are fertilized, pruned, and
weeded. The white jasmine scented flowers soon follow. The flowers
turn to green coffee cherries, which become bright red as they ripen.
A tree will often have blossoms, green berries, and ripe red cherries
on the same branch at the same time. Full production is achieved
in the fifth year.
Harvesting and Processing
Harvesting occurs at varying times depending on initial rainfall
and blossoming patterns dictated by our winter storms and rains.
The process is highly labor- intensive, especially for fine specialty
coffee like Kona’s that is only hand harvested to guarentee that
only the perfectly ripe red cherries are picked. Since all the cherries
do not ripen at the same time, many repeat trips to the same tree
The coffee “beans” are the seeds of the ripe fruit, which are called
“cherries” due to their bright red color. The beans usually grow
two to a cherry. Occasionally a single round bean, called a "Peaberry",
will form instead of two flat ones. The beans are covered by several
protective layers; a silver skin, parchment, a layer of sticky mucilage,
fleshy fruit pulp, and finally the outer skin. Once harvested, the
coffee beans must be quickly processed in order to control enzymatic
reactions that affect the flavor of the coffee.
There are two processing methods used, known as the wet method
and the dry, or unwashed, method. In the wet method , the coffee
cherries' outer pulp is mechanically removed and then soaked in
large vats. The beans then go through a carefully controlled natural
fermentation process, which helps give wet processed coffees their
characteristic bright clear flavor. After fermentation the beans
are thoroughly rinsed in clear water, then drained and dried, wither
by sunlight on patios or in a low temperature mechanical dryer.
Machines remove the parchment and silver skin layers from the “green
beans” which are then sorted and graded for various sizes and quality
In the dry method the coffee cherries are placed in the sun or
on large drying patios for a period of 2 weeks or more, and raked
several times a day to facilitate drying. They are then milled out
to separate the green beans. Wet processed coffee generally has
brighter acidity and more consistent flavors than dry processed
beans, which tend to be lower in acidity and more variable in flavor.
Grading and Quality
Green coffee is sorted or graded by the bean size and density,
and also according to the number of defects (broken beans, under-ripe
beans, and so on) permitted per pound. Standards vary from country
A large part of what makes Kona coffee special is the tremendous
extra care taken in the growing, harvesting, processing, and grading
of the beans. Even a single defective bean can taint the flavor
of an entire pot or pound of coffee. Repeated, meticulous sorting,
both mechanically and by hand, are used to ensure that this doesn’t
happen. In contrast, coffee grown and sold for commercial blends
receive minimal care in picking, sorting, and grading, making them
cheaper to produce but less flavorful in the cup.
As with fine wine grapes, the end result of all the extra care
taken in processing specialty coffee is a product that bears the
unique stamp of Hawaii State Certification of Origin, Quality, and
DID YOU KNOW
- Coffee is a big business: It is second only
to oil as a commodity on world markets.
- The coffee “bean” is actually the seed of
the coffee cherry. Two beans grow face-to-face within each cherry,
and there are three thousand handpicked beans in a single pound
of specialty coffee.
- 6 pounds of cherry at 240 cherries to the
pound makes 1 pound of green coffee ready to roast.
- 1 pound of roast ready greens contains about
2,200 beans that will yield 13.2 ounces of ground ready to brew
medium roasted coffee.
- This 13.2 ounces will yield over 100 cups
of American style brewed gourmet Kona coffee.