Java 101

Kona’s coffee country is a Big Island perk

By: Dawna L. Robertson

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Kona cherries are the first step in
the area’s famous coffee brewing.
On a recent low-key visit to Hawaii’s Big Island, I opted to perk up the day by touring Kona’s coffee country. Fresh from the Kona Coffee Cultural Festival, West Hawaii was brimming with robust reviews of its annual celebration showcasing this gourmet beverage.

Picking up steam among connoisseurs, Kona Coffee consists exclusively of beans grown on the western slopes of Hualalai and Mauna Loa volcanoes in a strip extending south from the village of Holualoa to the town of Honaunau.

This delicacy is distinguished for having a full, rich flavor with balanced acidity, great aroma and a long finish lacking bitterness. Today, more than 670 farms create a tapestry amid the 22-mile-long, two-mile-wide coffee-rich corridor.

So with a little “Java 101” under my belt and a driving tour brochure in hand, I hit the road to taste what all the buzz was about.

First stop was at Greenwell Farms in Kealakekua, one of the industry’s most storied producers. The Greenwell legacy began in 1850 when Henry Nicholas Greenwell left England for the fertile soil of rural Kona.

Today, the farm lies adjacent to Greenwell’s ancestral home, now occupied by the Kona Historical Society’s Kona Coffee Living History Farm. Managed by family descendants, Greenwell Farms works 150 acres of the most productive land in the Kona District.

Along the way, we learned how the area’s growing conditions are ideal with rich volcanic soil, ample rainfall, natural cloud cover and the shelter of Hualalai and Mauna Loa. Our guide, Kapua, described how the process required to transform hand-picked cherries into a full-bodied, aromatic brew begins with hand-planted seedlings.

“They blossom into Kona Snow flowers, which produce bright red cherries that generally contain two coffee beans,” Kapua said.

Those producing a single bean are referred to as peaberries and are considered a top crop, with a more concentrated flavor leaving a tingle on the tongue.

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Kona Coffee & Tea Company’s
120-acre farm in Holualoa
We then headed to the drying area where beans are pulped, dried and hulled to remove their parchment. Mill machinery sorts the beans into distinctive grades based on size and shape.

Heading north on Highway 11, my next stop was at Kona Joe Coffee in Kainaliu. Established in 1997, the family-owned 20-acre estate has taken a page from wine vineyards by growing its cherries on trellises. The brainchild of owner Joe Alban, the process trains trees by years of meticulous pruning to grow sideways and upward over the patented system.

“It’s well worth the effort because trees develop with more uniform sun exposure resulting in more even ripening of the coffee cherries,” said the tasting-room hostess. “It’s also easier to harvest since ripe cherries develop within easy reach of pickers.”

Aside from a mean cup of Joe, Kona Joe’s setting was worth the jaunt. Acres of coffee trees sprawled below the tasting room, with the blue Pacific as a backdrop. This trek was as scenic as it was tasteful.

With a few more farms and quite a few more cups of coffee fueling the afternoon, I packed away pounds of bagged whole beans and chocolate covered peaberry “jammers” to haul home. Heading to the airport, however, I was compelled to make one final stop at Kona Coffee and Tea Company’s retail outlet on Queen Kaahumanu Highway.

Fresh from garnering an honorable mention in the Kona Coffee Cultural Festival’s Crown Cupping Competition, this award-winner is farmed by the Bolton family on 120 acres in Holualoa.

According to Malia Bolton, director of operations, one of the greatest misconceptions is that there is only one Kona Coffee.

“So many people don’t understand what a big business this is,” she said. “There are hundreds of farms producing. So the variety inspires tasters to discover their palate’s most desirable flavor.”


Greenwell Farms
81-6581 Mamalahoa Hwy. Kealakekua

Kona Coffee and Tea Company
74-5035 Queen Kaahumanu Hwy. Kailua-Kona

Kona Historical Society’s Kona Coffee
Living History Farm

Hwy. 11, north of marker 110 Kealakekua

Kona Joe Coffee
79-7346 Mamalohoa Hwy. Kainaliu

Mountain Thunder
73-1944 Hao St.Kailua-Kona

Perry Estate Farm
81-1079B Captain Cook Rd. Captain Cook

Sugai Kona Coffee
79-7098 Mamalahoa Hwy. Holualoa