by Matt Gibson
Hawaiian coffee, particularly the coffee produced in the Kona coffee belt, or Kona coffee, is quite a bit more expensive than regular coffee, or even single origin coffee that was sourced from various countries around the world. But what makes it worth the extra price?
There are quite a few factors that go into making Kona coffee so special that coffee enthusiasts are willing to pay top prices for it. It is somewhat ironic that many of the same factors that make Hawaiian coffee so expensive are the same factors that make it so good. These factors include the fertile volcanic soil that the coffee is grown in, the ideal weather that provides the ideal growing environment, and the hands-on labor style required to grow and harvest the beans, all add up to drive up the cost, and the quality of Kona coffee.
There is only one small region in the world that can make Kona coffee, and that is the Kona coffee belt, a 30 square mile region on the west side of the big island of Hawaii. There are other places in Hawaii that produce coffee, including other regions on the big island, as well as farms on other islands within the eight island state. However, none of these coffee farms can call their products Kona coffee, as their farms are outside of the zone where the magic happens.
The exclusivity doesn’t stop there. Coffee farmers that do produce their beans within the Kona coffee district also have to have their beans judged by a coffee rating system to determine their quality. The highest graded beans are sorted and judged, receiving labels like Fancy, Extra Fancy, and Peaberry, if they’re the very best beans from the crop. The Extra Fancy beans will sell for as much as $100 per pound or higher, with slightly lower prices for Fancy, Peaberry, and lower ranking beans. Each crop of Kona beans must be rated by the Kona Coffee committee before being awarded with the Kona name.
But what makes Kona coffee so good? Why is the name so highly coveted? Here are all of the reasons why Kona coffee has earned the reputation of the best coffee in the world, and why people all over the globe are willing to pay exorbitant prices to get their hands on Kona coffee beans:
The Rich Volcanic Soil
The Hawaiian islands are all entirely comprised of volcanoes. The big island, for example, is a block of five active volcanoes. Volcanic soil is rich in nutrients and minerals that add vitality to the plants and unmatched flavor to the beans. Volcanic soil is also highly porous, so it gets great drainage capability while still having excellent water retention. The result is well hydrated plants that have plenty to eat. Coffee plants thrive in volcanic soil, and there is no better source of volcanic soil in the world than in Hawaii.
The Perfect Weather
Plenty of sunlight in the mornings, coupled with cloudy, rainy afternoons is the ideal combination for coffee production, and the daily forecast for the Kona coffee belt, day in and day out. The dry season occurs right in time for picking, so the laborers don’t have to pick the beans in the mud. During the growing season, there is never too much rain, since the soil gets excellent drainage, and there is never too much sun, since the clouds and dense foliage from surrounding trees help to provide shade during the afternoons. The Kona coffee belt is paradise for coffee plants.
Small Family Farms
There are about 600 coffee farms in the Kona coffee belt, and the average size is under five acres. Small family farms provide the majority of the coffee in the district. Though there are a few larger farms in the area, most are small, ecologically-friendly farms, that maintain the ideal environment for coffee growing by keeping production size low, and rotating their crop locations so as not to deplete the soil.
Beneath A Canopy Of Green
The trees in the Kona coffee belt are almost entirely composed of the Coffea arabica species, with Guatemalan origins. Over the last decade, the species has adapted so well to the Hawaiian landscape, that it has been decided that it is now it’s own species, Kona typica, as the trees have developed traits specific to the Kona area. Since 2011, all new trees must be from Kona typica origins.
Growing By Hand
No large-scale farming equipment is equipped to handle the rugged terrain of the Hawaiian slopes in the Kona coffee belt. For this reason, all farming must be done by hand. This drives up the cost, but it keeps the small farms in business, as large-scale farming cannot replace the work that small family farms provide. All coffee production is done by hand by skilled laborers.
Strict Grading Of Bean Quality
The grading process determines the cost of the coffee beans, and it’s based on the quality of the beans within the crop. The top one percent of a crop is considered Extra Fancy. The remaining beans within the top five percent Fancy, and the remaining beans within the top ten percent receive the peaberry grade. With a detailed grading system that judges each crop by physical inspection, you can be assured of the quality of coffee beans you are purchasing, perhaps overly assured.
All of these factors combine to make Kona coffee the highest quality coffee beans in the world. If you need proof, get yourself a small batch of extra fancy beans and try them out for yourself. Just be sure to wait until seconds before brewing them to grind them so that you get the freshest cup possible. And be sure to savor that cup of coffee too, knowing all the hard work and the perfect growing environment that went into making it as special as it truly is.