Why is Kona coffee so special?

Kilauea Iki Crater on the big island of hawaii

QUESTION: Why is Kona coffee so special? It’s really expensive and most places don’t even stock it, but I don’t understand what makes it good in the first place. — Howard E

ANSWER: 100 percent Kona coffee can be quite expensive, with some roasts going for $20-30 per pound, and other roasts going for as much as $100 per pound or higher. These prices are incredibly high for coffee, and yet Kona coffee flies off the shelf so quickly that it is often hard to find. But what makes Kona coffee so special? 

Kona coffee is not just coffee that is grown in Hawaii, nor is it just coffee that is grown on the Kona island in Hawaii. In order to earn the label Kona coffee, the beans have to be grown and harvested inside of a 30 square mile area known as the Kona island belt. One mile deep and thirty miles long, the stretch of land in this region of Hawaii is 800 to 2500 feet up the side of the largest known active volcano in the world. There is no way to work this land with tractors and large machinery. Every step of the growing process, from tilling the soil, to harvesting the beans, must be done by hand.  

The area of land known as the Kona coffee belt is perfectly suited to growing the best coffee in the world. The Kona coffee belt gets plenty of sunshine each day, and a steady temperature of 70 degrees Fahrenheit. The bright morning sun blankets the crops and is tamed by an afternoon cloud cover that protects crops from the intensity of the afternoon sun. The area is also densely populated with lots of lush, green vegetation, with plenty of foliage available to provide shade for coffee bean plants. 

Sitting 3,000 feet above sea level, the Kona coffee belt is located at the perfect altitude for producing coffee beans that have a truly mild, aromatic flavor and taste. Kona coffee farmers don’t have to worry about irrigation except for in very rare circumstances, as the Kona coffee belt gets the perfect amount of rainfall. Just the right amount of rainfall needed to balance out the sunshine. The coffee plants are grown in a rich volcanic soil with excellent drainage and enough nutrients that farmers can grow crop after crop without having to worry about reinvigorating the soil after each harvest. 

Coffee grown in this region has an unfair advantage over coffees that are grown in other climates around the world. Only coffee that is cultivated in the Kona coffee bactcelt can earn the label, “Kona coffee.” After being harvested by hand, pulped, cured and dried, and finally hulled, Kona beans are then sorted into different groups based on the size and shape of the beans. After separation, every batch of Kona beans must be graded for quality. The highest grade that a batch of Kona roast can attain is, Extra Fancy, followed by Fancy, Number 1, Peaberry, and Prime classifications. 

What grade a batch of coffee beans receives will end up determining the final price of the beans. Extra Fancy Kona beans are the highest rated Kona beans on the market. If you buy your Kona coffee in small batches it will stay fresh while you use it and it won’t be that big of a strain on your wallet. Buy whole beans and grind them yourself to extend the shelf-life of your coffee beans. 

What makes Kona coffee so special is not only the region that it’s grown in, but the care and commitment that goes into making every single batch. Hawaii is not the cheapest place to live, and growing coffee in the Kona coffee bank region is quite costly. Day laborers have to be paid for their work, and every bit of the work has to be done by hand from tilling the soil and planting the beans, to cultivation and harvest. Once the beans are harvested, machinery can be used to separate the beans into groups based on size. Then, each batch has to be graded to determine the quality of the batch. Once a grade is determined, the beans can be priced and put up for sale. All the work that goes into making them available can drive prices pretty high but the quality of the beans that are produced makes it a worthwhile investment. 

Kona coffee truly is special coffee. But always check the label to ensure that you are getting pure 100% Kona coffee beans. Kona coffee blends are often sold at much cheaper rates but blends usually contain no more than 10 percent Kona coffee while the other 90% is usually made up of any cheap coffee beans that are available which are used to offset the high price of the Kona beans used in the blend. For the authentic Kona coffee taste that makes a cup of Kona coffee truly special, stick with 100% Kona coffee beans and stay away from blends. 

If you’re looking for high quality Kona coffee, see our complete list of Kona coffee brands.

Learn More About Kona Coffee






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