Absolutely! Kona Coffee

Coffee Information

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 1000-3000 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 1600-1800 feet. Our two locations of mid-Kona and far-south Kona are different enough from a microclimate standpoint to produce coffee with different Kona 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 3-5 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 of the so-called Kona Typica variety are grown on volcanic hillsides in basalt-based soil on evenly graded terrain in 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 (900 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. We prune the trees on Cynthiana Farm mainly in the classic Kona style, with three or four verticals, generally spanning years 04. Occasional tree stumping (cutting the trunk to a height of ~2 feet) is performed when necessary to rejuvenate healthy growth. This type of heavy pruning is related to the BeaumontFukunaga method. On Honalo Farm we use the BeaumontFukunaga pruning method, which entails stumping every third row each year in a rotating manner.

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 Kona-style 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 harvest are removed and destroyed, as they can potentially harbor CBB. During the 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. Both orchards are dry-farmed (i.e., without irrigation).

The Fruit and Green Beans:

We harvest the ripe coffee fruit (cherry) by hand, in distinct rounds over a 4-month period. Only mature cherry is picked, as judged by its amount of red color. We wet-process the 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 to skim off the floaters. The dense parchment that sank is sun-dried on a concrete drying deck with a transparent polycarbonate roof. Drying may take up to 14 days to achieve a low moisture content of 12% or less (down to 9%), which allows for long-term storage in burlap bags in our climate-controlled room. Parchment is aged for at least 8 weeks before any hulling is done to obtain green beans for roasting. Each harvest round is kept as a specific batch for eventual taste-testing, whence a 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, qualified parchment batches are hulled to release the green beans, which are 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 each harvest round 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. This premium coffee product is vintage dated to represent the particular growing cycle. Green beans designated Hawaii No. 3 form the basis of our estate-grown 100% Hawaiian coffee.

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, and Medium Roast is probably the best level to reflect the terroir of premium, single-origin beans, which then will express balanced flavor, heady aroma, and noticeable acidity. Our fluidized-bed air roaster has a strategically placed thermocouple that helps us judge when Medium Roast is attained, at a bean temperature of 410-415 °F. Additionally, we determine Medium Roast according to the end of the "first crack", which results from the rapid release of moisture from the beans, whence the beans expand. 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", whereby carbon dioxide (CO2) is rapidly released and the beans contract. Coffee beans at this 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 of the beans. We prefer to avoid taking our fine, single-origin 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 to the four levels indicated, with careful precision, and are prepared to provide the customer with roasted beans within this range, according to their wishes.

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 Select Blend for each farm by combining Medium, City, and Full City roasts in different ratios. These coffee blends were 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.

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 did not result in a refined, flavorful cup of coffee that reflected the finest Kona character. Perhaps, the pressurized brewing here was partially responsible for this outcome. Or it might be necessary to use a finer grind and a darker roast with this type of brewing method.

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 sourness. We also caution that there might be a problem doing this grinding process in a 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 the brewed coffee. Brewing coffee 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, as automatic brewing machines are less predictable. A filter-paper cone is placed into a funnel and loaded with a correct amount of properly ground coffee. We seek a relatively quick passage of hot water through the filter cone 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, keep in mind that 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 process seems too strong to one's taste, it can easily be diluted to 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, with some trial and error possibly 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 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. A coffee vacuum brewer could also be used, whereby the brew will have a different taste profile. However, with this method the clean-up will be more tedious. Keep in mind that French press and vacuuum brewing can lead to suspended solids, minute particles that introduce some grittiness and work against a smooth mouth-feel. Regardless of the brewing method, the contact time for extraction of the ground coffee should not be protracted. For a French press, we are talking about 2-3 minutes before pressing down on the plunger. 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.

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). 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. To be avoided: 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. Insert a No. 4 paper filter cone into the funnel on top of the coffee pot. Place 1 3/4 oz. (50 g; ~8 heaping tablespoons) of medium-coarse ground coffee in the filter and pour 5 oz. (~150 mL; ~1/2 mug) of hot water over the grounds, fully wetting them; let the liquid flow through. Add 8 oz. (~240 mL; 1/2 pint) of hot water, completely covering the grounds; let it flow through; then another 8 oz. (~240 mL) to finish the extraction. (Total water: 21 oz. or 620 mL.) 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, add hot water to the brew to arrive at the favored 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 (doubled) 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 is showing 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 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.


Hawaii is the only state in the USA that is capable of growing coffee commercially. 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. Most 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 and yields 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 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/

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

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

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

- Cations in coffee extraction: 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

- Coffee 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

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