Kona Coffee: A Guide

Kona coffee is a unique type of Arabica coffee that is grown in the Kona district of Hawaii. It’s prized for its complex, fruity, and spicy flavors and is one of the most expensive coffees in the world. But why is the price of Kona coffee beans so high and what makes it unique?

Why is Kona Coffee Unique?

Coffee can only be labeled as “Kona” if it was grown on the slopes of Mauna Loa or Hualalai in the Kona district of Hawaii.

The Kona district forms part of the Big Island of Hawaii and its bright mornings, cloudy afternoons, mild evenings, minimal wind, and mineral-rich soil combine to create optimal growing conditions for coffee beans.

The coffee plant was first introduced to the Kona district in the 1820s. Samuel Reverend Ruggles used Brazilian cuttings to grow the plant in the island’s mineral-rich volcanic soil before Henry Greenwell moved there and founded a coffee company.

Why is Kona Coffee Expensive?

There are a few factors behind Kona’s status as one of the world’s most expensive coffees:

  • The Location: The fact that Kona coffee can only be produced in Kona greatly limits production. The “Kona Coffee Belt” spans around 30 square miles, a very limited space for such a highly-prized crop.
  • The Labor Costs: Kona is a very labor-intensive crop, with most of the production done by hand. Hawaii is also an expensive place to live, and so manufacturers can’t just find the cheapest laborers and pay them a basic wage. It means that the labor costs are very high, and this drives up the final cost of the product.
  • The Limited Supply: Kona coffee farms produce a very limited supply of coffee beans every season and yet its popularity ensures there is always a strong demand. The demand often outweighs the supply, and when that happens, the price naturally skyrockets.

What is a Kona Coffee Blend?

Kona coffee blends combine Kona coffee with other—often much cheaper—types of coffee. It means that coffee brands can use the Kona name without paying through the nose or charging an eye-watering sum.

Oftentimes, Kona blends will use as little as 10% Kona coffee, with the rest consisting of cheaper coffee beans sourced from more abundant coffee crops.

Just because you’re getting something that is labeled as “Kona coffee” doesn’t mean you’re getting pure Kona coffee. It’s important to check the labels, although as we shall soon discover, even that can be problematic…

What is 100% Kona Coffee?

100% Kona is a coffee blend that contains only Kona coffee, with nothing added to bulk up the blend.

A couple of years ago, coffee farmers from Kona filed a lawsuit against major US brands like Walmart, Costco, and Amazon, claiming that they were selling incorrectly-labeled Kona coffee.

Their argument was that just 2.7 million pounds of Kona coffee are produced every year and yet over 20 million pounds of “100% Kona” coffee are sold by major retailers.

There is clearly a discrepancy, and it’s why you need to be very careful when purchasing Kona coffee. Go with trusted coffee brands and don’t just assume that it must be legit because it’s being sold by a well-known retailer.

Does Kona Coffee Have More Caffeine?

Kona coffee beans have around 1.2 to 1.3% caffeine which is lower than many African and Colombian coffees but higher than others. Overall, the caffeine content is somewhere in the middle although the type of roast will also have a big impact.

How Much Are Kona Coffee Beans Per Pound?

You can find Kona coffee beans being sold at between $10 and $70 per pound, but that includes the blends and the imitation blends, as well as the coffee beans that don’t have any Kona whatsoever.

When you narrow the blends down to true Kona coffee, the lower end is around $30 per pound, and you can expect to pay up to $70 for brands that are organic, private reserve, or labeled as “extra fancy”.

The Best Kona Coffee

There’s clearly a lot of mislabeled Kona coffee out there, and if you can’t always trust the label, then how do you know that you’re getting legitimate Kona beans?

You should always check the brand’s reviews and see what customers are saying. Peruse the website, watch the videos, and make sure you’re dealing with an authentic brand that is transparent about its coffee.

Some of our personal favorite Kona coffee brands include:

  • Big Island: Produces award-winning Hawaiian coffee that it sells individually or via subscriptions. You can buy 10 ounces of a medium roast peaberry Kona for $35, a very reasonable price considering the rarity of the beans.
  • Volcanica Coffee: Stocks over 150 different types of coffee, including high-quality 100% Kona coffee beans. A bag of medium roast Kona beans (16 ounces) is currently available for $109.99.
  • Bean Box: Sources quality coffee from a variety of regions, including Kona coffee farms. You can buy a medium roast of whole Kona beans (8 ounces) for $42 right now.
  • Koa Coffee: Purchase a variety of Kona coffees, including Private Reserve Kona Coffee, Estate Kona, and Grande Domaine Kona Coffee.
  • Hawaii Coffee Company: Sells Royal Kona Estate coffee as a light roast, including both ground coffee and whole beans.

What Is Peaberry Kona Coffee?

Peaberry coffee beans are round and lack the flat sides seen in regular coffee beans. They form when one of the seeds doesn’t fertilize and stays in the fruit. The result is that the sugars and nutrients become concentrated in a single bean as opposed to two beans.

Peaberries are rare and Kona peaberry accounts for no more than 5% of the total Kona crop. In simple terms, it’s a rare form of a rare coffee bean, making it even more sought-after.

Summary: The Best Kona Beans

As you can see, Kona is not just valuable because it’s rare. This Hawaiian coffee is grown in a very limited area that is difficult to cultivate and produces some amazing coffee crops. The area is managed by a handful of families and teams of skilled growers, all of which have a passion for coffee that shines through in every batch.

Kona coffee is sold to coffee brands across the United States where it is turned into deliciously fruity, spicy, nutty, and complex blends. Kona coffee is coffee at its very best—a treat for all true coffee aficionados.