Absolutely! Kona Coffee

Coffee Information

Note: A recipe for pour-over coffee brewing is given below.

Kona Coffee:

The world-renown Kona coffee region stretches across the western coast of The Big Island of Hawaii, about 20 miles in length and 2 miles in width, encompassing the districts of North Kona and South Kona. The weather of sunny mornings, clouds or rain in the afternoon, little wind, and mild nights, along with the porous, mineral-rich volcanic soil, create very favorable growing conditions to yield excellent coffee. The ideal coffee growing areas, which produce a unique, highly aromatic, mellow, smooth product from “Kona typica” beans, are “mountain grown” at elevations of 10003000 feet. The elevation factor relates to higher quality coffee because the cherry develops to ripeness more slowly to give larger, denser beans. The coffee orchards on which we rely for "cherry" are positioned at a favorable coffee-growing elevation of 17001800 feet (at this latitude and leeward geography). Our two locations of mid-Kona and far-south Kona are different enough from a microclimate standpoint to produce coffee with different Kona-style flavor characteristics.

There are numerous small farms and some larger producers on the fertile, volcanic slopes of Hualalai and Mauna Loa volcanoes. Most of the farm parcels have 25 acres of coffee trees. In the Kona Coffee Belt the soil and climatic conditions are virtually ideal for growing coffee. For most of the growing season the conditions favor the production of high-quality coffee: ample rainfall at elevations above 1200 feet; moderate and consistent tropical temperatures; and regular cloud cover in the afternoons to provide "shade-grown" fruit.

The Trees:

Our Coffea arabica trees predominantly of the so-called Kona Typica variety are grown on volcanic hillsides in rich basalt-based soil on evenly graded terrain in modern grid-like orchards with NorthSouth rows. Honalo Farm (3000 trees on 5.5 acres) is on the slope of Hualalai, a dormant volcano, at 17001800 feet in the North Kona district, and Cynthiana Farm (1000 trees on 2 acres) is on the slope of Mauna Loa, an active volcano, at 1700 feet in the South Kona district. Both properties benefit from fertile, well-drained soil, moderated temperatures, and the natural cloud cover that forms during most afternoons. The trees are dry-farmed, that is, grown with natural rainfall (no extrinsic, mechanical irrigation). We prune the trees on Cynthiana Farm by a combination of the classic Kona style [having three or four verticals, generally spanning years 04] and BeaumontFukunaga-style tree stumping [cutting the trunk to a height of about 2 feet]. On Honalo Farm we pricipally use the BeaumontFukunaga pruning method, which entails stumping every third row each year with an annual rotation of rows.

The white, sweet-smelling flowers form in clusters on the horizontal branches, usually starting in February. The flowering occurs in distinct rounds over several months, progressing on the horizontal branches. Consequently, ripening of the coffee fruit (cherry) is asynchronous, such that it is harvested in rounds that largely correspond to the flowerings, usually starting in late August or early September.

The orchards are subjected to integrated pest management (IPM) especially to control the Coffee Berry Borer (CBB), a small beetle-like insect. Unusable fruit at the end of the growing season is stripped from the branches and destroyed. The trees are pruned in the winter dry season and the cuttings are chipped into mulch that is deposited in the orchard. A small amount of large green berries that are destined to ripen too early for regular harvesting are removed and destroyed, as they can potentially harbor CBB. During the flowering/fruiting period, we treat the trees with BotaniGard®, a natural fungal insecticide based on a strain of Beauveria bassiana, on a regular schedule. The trees are fertilized regularly, as needed.

The Fruit and Green Beans:

We harvest the ripe coffee fruit (cherry) by hand, in distinct rounds over a 4- to 5-month period, depending on the growing season and the farm involved. We hand-pick mature cherry, as judged by its red color. We wet-process each batch of cherry the same day with our Penagos ECOline 800 pulper/demucilager to yield coffee "parchment", which is placed in a tank of water and soaked overnight. We skim off the floaters and discard them. The dense parchment that sank is placed on a concrete drying deck with a transparent polycarbonate roof to be sun-dried. We have ceiling fans in place to assist the drying process by displacing the moist air. Thus, drying is generally complete in 78 days, achieving a low moisture content between 10% and 12%, which is required for long-term storage in burlap bags in our climate-controlled rooms. Our parchment is aged for at least 8 weeks before it is deemed available for the marketplace. We test batches by hulling parchment to obtain green beans for roasting. Each harvest round is kept as a specific batch to allow for taste-testing. Thus, a small batch sample of green beans from hulling and hand-sorting (for prime+ sizing and vetting for excessive defects) is medium-roasted, ground, and brewed by pour-over to evaluate its flavor profile and quality. On scaling up, parchment batches are hulled by a specialist to release the green beans, which are then graded on a vibrating, fluidized-bed platform to separate them into three classes: Kona Extra Fancy/Fancy/Prime, Hawaii No. 3, and off-grade beans. Samples of Kona Extra Fancy/Fancy/Prime beans from harvest rounds are medium-roasted, ground, brewed by pour-over, and taste-tested. To ensure reproducible quality, we determine which batches are worthy of being combined into our flagship Private Reserve brand. Green beans designated Hawaii No. 3 form the basis of our estate-grown 100% Hawaiian coffee.

About Vintages: Coffee fruit, like many other types of fruit, varies across growing seasons, principally due to the weather (all other factors being constant). Basically, there are vintage differences that are unavoidable! This situation may not be as dramatic as with wine grapes and wine, but the taste of the final roasted coffee can be vintage-dependent. The upshot of this issue is that a coffee lover my need to try different roast levels over the course of time. For example, let's say that a coffee customer who favored Medium roast suddenly finds that this roast level does not deliver the expected taste (brewing factors being constant). Perhaps, it is now under-roasted for their taste preference. The customer might try the City or Full City roast, or our Special Selection brand, a blend of roasts taste-optimized for each growing season, to see if the taste profile will be more to their liking.

The Roast:

In general, coffee beans that are medium-roasted have a medium brown color with no observable oil on the bean surface. However, this appearance may not guarantee a Medium Roast. Coffee beans that have been roasted medium deliver more body and character than light-roasted coffee. Medium Roast and City Roast, the next higher thermal notch, are probably the best levels to reflect the single-origin terroir of premium single-estate beans, expressing rich flavor, heady aroma, and balanced acidity. We do small-batch roasting of green beans (1-5 lbs) with our fluidized-bed air roaster, which has a strategically placed thermocouple that helps us judge the correct bean temperature, such as of 410-415 °F for Medium Roast. For Medium Roast there is also a very noticeable audible sound known as the "first crack". This popping sound results from the rapid release of moisture from the green beans, as the beans expand during the heating process. The target temperature for Medium Roast may vary slightly according to certain bean parameters, such as: origin and variety, wet or dry coffee processing, moisture content, density, and size. An increase in bean temperature results in different levels of darker roast, ranging from City (~225 °F), to Full City (~235 °F), to Vienna (~445 °F). Vienna Roast occurs in the middle of the "second crack", when carbon dioxide (CO2) is rapidly released and the beans contract. Coffee beans at the Vienna Roast level are dark brown in color with an oily surface, and express deep flavors of toastiness and earthiness that derive largely from the roasting process rather than the specific terroir. We avoid taking our fine, single-origin 100% Kona arabica beans to higher temperatures, especially to French and Italian roasts. For our Private Reserve brands we recommend Medium or City roast. In any case, we custom-roast green beans in small batches to the four levels indicated, with careful precision, and will gladly provide the customer with roasted beans within this range, according to their own wishes. Roasting is performed on demand, that is, when customer orders arrive (not roasted in advance and stored).

Because we specialize in single-origin 100% Kona coffee, from Cynthiana Farm and Honalo Farm, we will not intermix coffee from different property sources to have blended coffee products. However, we explored the idea of crafting a Special Selection for each farm by combining Medium, City, and Full City roasts in different ratios. These coffee blends are taste-tested blind for multilayered, complex flavor and smoothness by a panel of tasters. The optimized proprietary blends for each farm have different ratios of the three roast levels and distinctly different flavor characteristics, representing specific terroirs.

The Grind:

When roasted coffee beans are ground they emit a fabulous, hypnotic aroma. Ahhh! One only wishes that some of that essence could be captured in a brewed cup of coffee. The grinding of the beans also produces fine particles, the sizes of which vary over a certain particle range. It is important that this span of particles be kept as narrow as possible to obtain a reproducible, high-quality brew. As such, a blade grinder is not recommended because its lack of control in grinding leads to a very wide particle dispersion. Rather, a burr grinder should be used. This type of grinder has settings for different size ranges, according to the intended brewing method. However, the guide that is given may not necessarily be accurate for the intended outcome. For example, with our BUNN grinder the pour-over method on the dial (manual drip method; café filtre) is indicated at a much finer grind than we actually prefer. What’s the issue here? Well, we use a paper cone in the pour-over funnel and the passage of water can become too slow, causing the coffee grounds to be over-extracted and more bitter tasting (see The Brew, below). The contact time between the hot water and the ground coffee is very important! As a note, we have purchased on-the-spot ground coffee from different roasteries that was ground for pour-over brewing but turned out to be too fine, such that the passage of hot water was too slow and led to over-extraction (with serious bitterness in the brew). Brewing with a French press calls for a coarse (or nearly coarse) grind. We set our standard grind for pour-over to 23 notches finer (on the dial) than the "coarse" setting, which turns out to work well for brewing by pour-over and French press. This “dual-purpose” grind is our regular issue unless the customer advises us otherwise. We are happy to custom-grind roasted beans on request, as long as suitable instructions are provided. If you are using an automatic coffee brewing machine, then it is advisable to use a somewhat finer grind than our regular issue. For customers in that situation, please request a finer grind for automatic machines when you are placing your order. Customers in the Coffee Club should let us know your grind preference, if it differs from our regular issue. The customer who has a burr grinder can consider ordering roasted whole beans and grinding them to their personal specifications.

Some studies have suggested that grinding whole, roasted coffee beans when they are ice-cold (directly from a freezer) can provide a narrower, more consistent particle-size dispersion, resulting a better tasting brew. We tried this approach with our Private Reserve coffee and found that the pour-over brew consistently expressed undesirable tartness. We also caution that there might be a problem doing this grinding process in a relatively humid environment due to condensation of moisture on the ice-cold beans.

The Brew:

The recommendations given here are meant for obtaining optimal flavor characteristics, balance, and smoothness in your brewed coffee. Unfortunately, coffee brewing is more of an art than a science, but one can strive for consistency by adhering to certain standards.

The first order of business is to select a brewing method. We prefer to brew manually by the pour-over method. While an automatic brewing machine pours water over, this method can be much less predictable. We have generally achieved sub-optimal results in aroma/taste (organoleptic properties) with an automatic device, be it a Mr. Coffee, Cuisinart, etc. The reason for this outcome with a machine is that the water is delivered mainly into the center of the grounds, rather than being distributed around the grounds. The pour-over procedure is simple (see example recipe below). A filter-paper cone is placed into a funnel and loaded with a correct amount of properly ground coffee. (If the funnel is already equipped with a filter, it is still recommended to use a filter-paper cone.) Relatively quick passage of hot water through the filter cone by gravity flow is desired to avoid over-extracting the coffee. So, one should avoid a too-fine grind that does not allow the water to pass quickly. (Coffee Brewing 101: The contact time between the hot water and the ground coffee is very important!) The use of excess water vs. the amount of coffee will result in over-extraction, such that the resulting brew will not only be diluted, but taste more bitter, or perhaps astringent. (Definitely an unbalanced brew.) So, over-extraction will occur if the passage of hot water through the ground coffee is too slow. As a rule, it's best to use somewhat coarsely ground coffee, as mentioned above (see The Grind), and less water for a given amount of coffee. If the brewed coffee from the extraction seems too strong to one's taste, it can easily be diluted to desired taste by adding some hot water. Under-extraction can also be a problem, resulting in a weak, acidic brew. So, one must find an appropriate coffee-to-water ratio (weight/weight; preferably measured with a kitchen scale at first) for a particular coffee (type, roast level, grind) and brewing method. Some trial and error may be required. To our thinking, it is usually better to prepare a somewhat more concentrated brew by pour-over, keeping the coffee-to-water ratio high, followed by diluting the brew with some hot water to the desired strength. At the end of the pour-over brewing process, clean-up is easy in that the paper cone containing the messy, damp grounds is simply discarded (or composted). Brewing with a French press is fairly straightforward and usually results in brewed coffee with a slightly different taste profile. The brewed coffee is likely to contain some very fine (micron-size) particles that work against a smooth mouth-feel, and the clean-up is messier than with the pour-over method, but the aroma/taste will be very good. A coffee vacuum brewer could also be used, whereby the brew will have a different taste profile, although clean-up with this method will be more tedious. Regardless of the brewing method, the contact time for extraction of the ground coffee should not be extended. For a French press, we are talking about 3 minutes before pressing down on the plunger slowly. This time parameter is subject to trial and error, as optimal timing with a French press may vary according to the particular coffee being used.

In general, we do not recommend using a K-cup (and the like) universal container with a Keurig machine for brewing our coffee. In our hands the process with our standard, medium-coarse grind for pour-over brewing did not result in a refined, flavorful cup of coffee. Basically, the pressurized brewing here, vs. gravity flow, resulted in a too-rapid, incomplete extraction. However, we experimented with a much finer grind that is about half the particle size (call it "medium-fine" grind) and obtained a reasonably good cup of coffee. Perhaps, a somewhat darker roast than usual would be better for this type of brewing method.

The water used is very important, since it is the solvent that extracts the flavor molecules from the ground coffee, and the brew is approximately 99% water. The water should not be distilled or deionized water. Rather, it should contain some “total dissolved solids” (TDS) in the form of positive ions, especially calcium (2+) and magnesium (2+) ions, albeit not too much. Certain mineral, spring, or artesian-well waters will be quite suitable. Sodium (1+) ions, which are introduced by whole-house water softeners, can be fine, as along as they are not excessive (as a salty taste is undesired). A calcium (2+):sodium (1+) ratio of about 7:1 has been noted as optimal by the SCAA (http://scaa.org/index.php?page=resources&d=water-standards). Chlorinated municipal water is not suitable unless it has been passed through a water filter to remove the chlorine. Unfortunately, the choice of water for an optimal brew is a matter for trial and error. Water temperature is another key factor. The water for hot-brewed coffee should be about 200 °F (at sea level), just short of the boiling temperature (212 °F at sea level).

Freshly brewed coffee is very fragile, being subject to degradation caused mainly from oxygen in the air. Indeed, time quickly robs the brew of its scintillating, complex, multilayered taste qualities that make premium 100% Kona coffee so special. Thus, for the best experience one needs to drink the fresh brew within the first 45 minutes, if not the first half hour, after brewing is finished. Trust us on this point! The true essence, delicacy, and refinement of the brewed Kona coffee erode away quickly, although the brew may still be reasonably drinkable. After all, we are trying to be connoisseurs of premium, single-estate 100% Kona coffee with its best showing. A warmed, insulated carafe can be used to retain the brewed coffee over the initial 45-minute period. Pump dispensers, which are commonly used to dispense freshly brewed coffee, are ill-advised for an optimal taste experience if the coffee is aged more than 60 minutes. Freshly brewed coffee should not be kept on a heat source or be reheated.

Pour-Over Brewing Recipe: Yields brewed coffee for two 10-oz. (300-mL) mugs, by using the Bodum or Melitta filter system. Heat high-quality water (see above) to a rolling boil and turn off the heat source. Water should not be boiling, but be just below that temperature (~200 °F). Insert a No. 4 paper filter cone into the funnel on top of the coffee pot. Place 1 3/4 oz. (~50 g; 7-8 heaping tablespoons, depending on the grind; about 5/8 cup) of medium-coarse ground coffee in the filter and carefully pour 4 oz. (~120 mL) of hot water over the grounds, wetting them completely; let the liquid flow through. Add 9 oz. (~270 mL) of hot water, completely covering the grounds (being sure to distribute the water around the outer edge of the grounds); let it flow through; then another 9 oz. (~270 mL) to finish the extraction. (Total water: 22 oz. or 660 mL; total extraction time: about 2.5 to 3 minutes.) Stir the brewed coffee gently to mix it and then taste it, without additives (sweetener, milk, etc.). Different coffee lovers have different requirements for the taste, ranging from refined, elegant, and smooth to deep, earthy, and rich. If it tastes too strong to you, add hot water to the brew to arrive at the desired strength; if it tastes too weak, increase the amount of ground coffee for your next brewing run. Drink immediately, with additives that you favor, and enjoy. [Notes: (1) This recipe may be scaled up to a larger pour-over pot with a No. 6 filter cone, proportionately increasing the amounts of coffee and hot water. Some small adjustments may be required. (2) You may need to alter this recipe a bit for different coffees, due to the origin, roast level, and/or particle size. As a tip, if the particular coffee shows strong bitterness or sourness instead of a balanced, pleasant taste, then consider collecting a small fore-run (small amount of filtrate at the outset of the brewing process) to be discarded. (3) Try to drink the fresh brew within the first 30-45 minutes for an optimal taste experience. (4) Conversions: 1 oz. of weight equals 28.35 g; 1 fluid oz. equals to 29.57 mL; 100 mL of water weighs 100 g.]


It has been argued that longer-term storage of roasted coffee should be done with whole beans, as opposed to ground beans. As such, those roasted whole beans would be kept in an air-tight container at room temperature or in a refrigerator. Perhaps, not in a freezer because water in the air might condense on the very cold beans in the process of grinding them. Or the properties of the bean matrix might be substantially altered by ice crystals that form and adversely affect the grinding process. We have experimented with the storage of ground coffee in FoodSaver® vacuum-sealed bags that were then stored in a freezer between 10 and 20 °F for an extended period of time. We followed the taste properties of the coffee over three years, opening and resealing the bags from time to time, and found little if any degradation of the initial flavor qualities. Consequently, we use this storage method for ourselves and recommend that people try it out for themselves. At Honalo Farm we have a large, stand-up freezer and an industrial vacuum sealer, and plan to assemble a library of Private Reserve vintages for vertical taste comparisons in the future.

Use of Coffee in Cooking:

There are numerous recipes for using brewed coffee in cooked dishes, e.g., see https://www.epicurious.com/archive/howtocook/dishes/recipeswithcoffee; https://www.purewow.com/food/How-to-Cook-with-Coffee. However, we are particularly interested in the use of espresso powder in cooking. We experimented with roasting coffee beans to an Italian Roast level in a small drum roasting machine. While the coffee is useful for brewing espresso, the objective here is a new product for sale: 100% Kona Espresso Powder. We are considering the sale of this powder, especially to be used in dry rubs for grilled meats. It can also be added to chocolate desserts, such as chocolate cake and brownies, with excellent results, or used to lend special character to various chilis. Anyway, we just tried it out in combination with a spice rub on prime NY strip steaks that were seared on the grill. The results were spectacular!

Pairing Coffee with Cheese:

We are all quite familiar with wine & cheese pairings, but what about coffee & cheese pairings? Hah, would you believe that this is an exciting area to explore. Cyndie and I were checking out this idea, having our morning coffee with two firm cheeses, Jarlsberg and cave-aged Gruyere, and Oma, a soft washed-rind cheese. The experience turned out to be a sensory delight. Different cheeses influenced the taste of the coffee in intriguing, if not amazing, ways. Try it out for yourself with one of our excellent 100% Kona coffees.


Hawaii is the only state in the USA that is capable of growing coffee on a commercial scale. Coffee plants were first brought to Hawaii around 1813. Coffee is grown on several islands, but the Kona Coffee Belt on the Big Island of Hawaii is renown for producing some of the finest coffee in the world. The Kona coffee region stretches across the western coast of The Big Island, about 20 miles in length and 2 miles in width. Kona Coffee is a U.S. Registered Trademark and must originate by law in the Kona districts of North and South Kona. Authentic Kona coffee is comprised of 100% Coffea arabica beans classified as "Prime" or better, which is a determination of the coffee bean quality. Much of the 100% Kona coffee is derived from trees of the Kona Typica variety, which produces a specialty coffee that is famous the world over and highly valued by coffee connoisseurs.

There are numerous small farms and some larger producers on the fertile, volcanic slopes of Hualalai and Mauna Loa volcanoes. Most of the farm parcels have 25 acres of coffee trees and can produce 10,00040,000 pounds of coffee cherry per year, depending on acreage and weather conditions. A combination of growing conditions and processing methods are responsible for the excellent taste profiles of top-level 100% Kona coffee. The weather of sunny mornings, clouds or rain in the afternoon, little wind, and mild nights, along with the porous, mineral-rich volcanic soil, create very favorable growing conditions to produce excellent coffee. Most of the best coffee-growing areas, which produce a unique, highly aromatic, mellow, smooth product, are at elevations of 10003000 feet. The elevation factor relates to higher quality coffee because the cherry develops more slowly at lower average daily temperatures and with reliable afternoon cloud cover, to yield larger, denser beans. The coffee orchards on which we rely for cherry are positioned at a very favorable coffee-growing elevation of 17001800 feet. Our two locations of mid-Kona and far-south Kona are different enough from a microclimate standpoint to produce coffee with distinctly different flavor characteristics.

Useful Links:

- Coffee in Hawaii: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coffee_production_in_Hawaii

- Article on Growing Coffee in Hawaii: http://www.ctahr.hawaii.edu/oc/freepubs/pdf/coffee08.pdf

- Kona Coffee Farmers Association (KCFA): http://www.konacoffeefarmers.org/

- Kona Coffee Council: http://www.kona-coffee-council.com/

- National Coffee Association: http://www.ncausa.org/

- Specialty Coffee Association (SCA): http://scaa.org/?page=main

- About coffee: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coffee

- General coffee info: https://coffeechronicler.com/

- Cost of Specialty Coffee: https://www.huffpost.com/entry/why-fancy-coffee-is-expensive_n_5bd9faefe4b0da7bfc169d29

- Coffee roasting: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coffee_roasting

- Coffee preparation: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coffee_preparation

- Coffee brewing: https://www.consumerreports.org/coffee-makers/secrets-to-the-perfect-cup-of-coffee/

- Cations in coffee extraction (brewing): pubs.acs.org/doi/pdf/10.1021/jf501687c

- Effect of water quality on coffee: https://www.fivesenses.com.au/blog/2014/08/07/experimenting-with-the-effect-of-water-quality-on-coffee

- Decaffeination: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Decaffeination

- Decaf coffee: https://www.consumerreports.org/coffee/is-decaffeinated-coffee-bad-for-you/

- Coffee Enthusiast Guide: http://www.reviewlab.com/coffee-enthusiast-guide/

- Specialty Coffee Association (SCA) coffee standards: http://scaa.org/?page=resources&d=coffee-standards

- Coffee consumption and health:

(1) http://www.cnn.com/2015/08/14/health/coffee-health/

(2) https://authoritynutrition.com/top-13-evidence-based-health-benefits-of-coffee/

(3) http://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2015/11/16/456191657/drink-to-your-health-study-links-daily-coffee-habit-to-longevity

(4) http://www.nytimes.com/2015/05/12/upshot/more-consensus-on-coffees-benefits-than-you-might-think.html?_r=0

(5) http://biomedgerontology.oxfordjournals.org/content/early/2016/09/20/gerona.glw078

(6) https://www.jenreviews.com/coffee/

(7) http://time.com/4634553/is-coffee-bad-aging-caffeine/; https://med.stanford.edu/news/all-news/2017/01/caffeine-may-counter-age-related-inflammation-study-finds.html

(8) http://www.cnn.com/2017/07/10/health/coffee-leads-to-longer-life-studies-reaffirm/index.html

(9) http://www.bmj.com/content/359/bmj.j5024

(10) https://www.healthline.com/health/is-coffee-a-laxative; https://www.sciencealert.com/here-s-why-you-need-to-poop-after-your-morning-cup-of-coffee

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