The Kona Coffee Belt runs parallel to the ocean. // (c) 2013 HTA/Tor Johnson
Steeped in Hawaii Island history, Kona coffee has been opening eyes since its origins in the early 1800s, and it continues to seduce sippers with its smooth taste and tantalizing smell.
So what makes Kona coffee so captivating? Hawaii Coffee Association board member Tom Greenwell of Greenwell Farms in Kealakekua described it as "an extremely balanced coffee between body, acidity, flavor and aroma."
The robust local java finds its roots in a region called the Kona Coffee Belt, a narrow stretch of land approximately two miles wide running parallel to the ocean. It's dotted with more than 600 farms that cultivate coffee on the western slopes of Mauna Loa and Hualalai mountains.
Greenwell added that for the most part, arabica typical - the type of coffee cultivated in Kona - is not grown in the rest of the world due to diseases and pests.
"Kona's microclimate is as perfect as it could be for coffee production, with our timely rainfall, moderate temperature, latitude, elevation and lack of strong winds," said Greenwell. "Our young volcanic soils contain most of the nutrients that coffee trees thrive on. Our trees have been known to grow up to 125 years while still producing, which is unusual in other producing destinations."
Tour a farm, attend a festival
Small wonder, then, that tourists go out of their way to pour the local perk into their morning mugs. For them, a farm visit is a great way to get the scoop on Kona coffee. During a guided tour, clients can learn about coffee growing, harvesting, processing, milling and roasting, sample an array of blends and then purchase the end results in the farm's retail center. For a complete list of coffee farms that welcome guests, visit the website for the Kona Coffee Farmers Association.
For a you-are-there type of tour, check out the Kona Coffee Living History Farm, where visitors walk through coffee and macadamia nut orchards and tour a restored historic farmhouse. Costumed interpreters demonstrate traditional agricultural activities and answer questions about the daily lives of Japanese immigrants who worked at area farms from 1920-1945.
Drip and latte devotees can time their Hawaii Island vacation with a 10-day special event called the Kona Coffee Cultural Festival. Coming up on Nov. 1-10, the annual spree features such visitor-friendly highlights as a parade, a recipe contest, coffee tastings, a scholarship pageant, a two-day Kona coffee cupping competition, farm tours, cultural workshops, art exhibits and an outdoor concert - all honoring the island's best-loved brew.