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
, 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
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
“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.
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
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
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
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