Above: Coffee plants, Kona Joe Coffee, Kealakekua, Hawaii

Exploring the Kona Coffee Belt

Kona Joe Coffee, Kealakekua, Hawaii

Stretching roughly 30 miles along the western slopes of the Hualālai and Mauna Loa volcanoes on the Big Island, the Kona Coffee Belt produces some of the most expensive beans in the world. The area has a unique microclimate characterized by unusually small temperature shifts from day to night as well as a consistent year-round pattern of sunny mornings and rainy afternoons. The gentle weather, in combination with nutrient-rich volcanic soil and optimal elevation, contributes to the successful growth of coffee plants.

Over the course of our stay on the Kohala Coast, we partook in well-run tastings at several of the over 600 farms and learned an extraordinary amount about their highly sought-after beans. All the producers below sell 100% Kona coffee. Watch out for inexpensive blends that contain only a small percentage of Kona — the real thing is labeled as such and priced accordingly. 

The tours reminded us of just how laborious it is to produce Kona coffee. Cherries (the ripe red fruit of the coffee plant) do not mature simultaneously, which means each tree must be harvested by hand several times. Once collected, the cherries are pulped and cleaned at the wet mill, then laid out on large platforms to dry in the sun. Next, the fruit heads to the dry mill, where the beans’ parchment-like skins are removed before they are sorted by size, density and color. Only then are beans ready to roast.

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Above: Coffee plants, Kona Joe Coffee, Kealakekua, Hawaii

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