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 are necessary.

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 levels.

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 to 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 Condition.


  • 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.
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