Kona Coffee is the market name for a variety of coffee (Coffea arabica, Var. kona typica) cultivated on the slopes of Mount Hualalai and Mauna Loa in the North and South Kona Districts of the Big Island of Hawaii. Only coffee from the Kona Districts, 22 miles long and 2 miles wide, can be described as “Kona”.
Coffee requires a very specific combination of sun, soil, and water. It is successfully grown in only a limited number of locations around the world. Our weather pattern of bright sunny mornings, humid rainy afternoons, and mild nights create favorable coffee growing conditions. Pure Kona coffee is considered one of the premium specialty coffees of the world.
The coffee plant was first brought to Kona in the nineteenth century by Samuel Reverend Ruggles from Brazilian cuttings, although it was not until much later in that century that it became a consistent and worthwhile crop. It was grown on large plantations, but the crash in the world coffee market in 1899 caused plantation owners to have to lease out their land to their workers. Most of these workers were originally from Japan, brought in to tend and harvest sugar cane. They worked their leased land parcels of between 5 and 12 acres as family concerns, producing large, quality coffee crops. We were fortunate enough to be stewards of one of these Japanese farms, beautifully terraced 100 years ago, we maintain all our dirt. We have 5 feet of soil, where most farms survive on a foot or less.
The tradition of family farms has continued throughout Kona. The Japanese-origin families have been joined by Filipinos, mainland Americans, and Europeans. There are approximately 700 Kona coffee farms, with an average farm size of less than 5 acres. The total Kona coffee acreage is about 2300 acres and green coffee production just over two million pounds.
Growing and Processing
Kona coffee trees requires about an inch of rain in a 24 hour period to induce flowering. The rainy season generally begins in March/April. A week after a good rain small white flowers cover the tree and is known as “Kona snow”.
In a few weeks, green berries begin to appear on the trees. By late August, red fruit, called “cherry” because of the resemblance of the ripe berry to a cherry fruit, are starting to ripen for picking. Each tree will be hand-picked several times between August and January, as the coffee cherry ripens at different stages on the same branch.
Within 24 hours of picking, the cherry is run through a pulper, the beans separated from the pulp, and placed on a “hoshidona” or drying deck. Traditional hoshidanas have a rolling roof to cover the beans in the event of rain. It takes 7-14 days to dry the beans to an optimal moisture level of between 10-12%. the beans must be raked hourly the first day and then several times a day until they are sufficiently dry. On our farm we have contests on patterns… Everyone has their own style. Below is my parchment pattern
From here, the beans are stored as “pergamino” or parchment. The parchment is milled off the green bean prior to roasting. The green beans are sorted according to size and % of defects. Extra Fancy/Fancy beans are the largest, Number 1 and select are the medium size (still larger than coffee beans from any other country) Extra Fancy and Fancy make up about 60% of our crop. usually the large beans account for only 25% of most farms..
Each tree provides around 20 pounds of cherry. It takes over 100 cherries to produce just one cup of coffee. Seven pounds of cherry to produce 1 lb. of roasted coffee.
If you drink 2 cups of coffee a day you would need 18 coffee trees devoted just to you. Our 5 acre farm with 4000 trees can only provide for 222 people!