Kona is the common name given to a type of coffee (Guatemalan typica) grown in the Kona districts of Hawaii. Noted for its often mild and subtle flavors, Kona coffee often commands premium prices far above similar quality coffees from other regions. Most Kona coffee is grown on small estate farms (generally consisting of fewer than five acres), and harvests are generally hand picked.

Kona district

All Kona coffee is grown in the Kona district on the Southwest coast of the Big Island of Hawaii. Most farms in the Kona district are at an altitude of 800 to 2500 feet above sea level, well below the typical altitude of an arabica farm[1]. The soil in the Kona district contains high levels of volcanic ash, resulting in an environment conducive to cultivation[2].


Relative to many coffee-growing regions, Hawaii has a cooler climate. The result of this climate is that it is not common practice in the Kona districts to grow coffee trees in the shade of other, larger trees[3].


Kona coffee is graded based on standards defined by the Hawaiian Department of Agriculture, based on screen size and overall appearance of the beans. All Kona coffee will be assigned one of the following grades [4]:

  • Kona Extra Fancy - 100% Kona beans with a minimum screen size of 19. All beans are clean and have a uniform green color. Additionally no more than eight imperfections are allowed in a 300 gram sample.
  • Kona Fancy - Same as Extra Fancy, except that the minimum screen size is 18, and up to twelve imperfections are allowed in a 300 gram sample.
  • Kona No. 1 - Same as Extra Fancy, except that the minimum screen size is 16, and up to eighteen imperfections are allowed in a 300 gram sample.
  • Kona Select - Beans which are clean and "do not impart sour, fermented, moldy, medicinal, or other undesirable aromas and flavors when brewed." Up to five percent of Kona Select may contain defects so long as no more than two percent are "sour, stinker, black or moldy beans." No particular screen size is associated with this grade.
  • Kona Prime - Same as Kona Select, except that up to fifteen percent of the beans may be defective so long as no more than five percent are "sour, stinker, black or moldy beans."

Lesser grades of coffee may not use the Kona name, no matter where they originated.


Most batches of Kona coffee have a medium body with floral aromas and light acidity and hints of sweetness. Better batches of Kona are typically richer with a distinctive, but not overpowering acidity and a medium body[5].

Kona blends

With the relatively high price of all qualities of Kona coffee, many coffee roasters sell Kona blends, mixing Kona coffee with beans of other origins. Under Hawaiian law (which would not apply to roasters outside of the state of Hawaii), it is permissible to label coffee with as little as 10% Kona coffee as a Kona blend[6]. Additionally, coffees labeled Kona Style may not consist of any amount of Kona beans.

Demonstrating the difficulty of pinpointing the exact origin of similar coffees by taste, some roasters have sold coffee on non-Kona (and even non-Hawaiian) origin as Kona coffee. In one well-known case, an importer sold bags of unroasted cheap Central American beans as real Kona coffee[7].


  1. Kenneth Davids (2001). Coffee: A Guide to Buying, Brewing & Enjoying, Fifth Edition, 78-79. ISBN 031224665X.
  2. William H. Ukers (1922). “Cultivation of the Coffee Plant”, All about Coffee, 241. ISBN 0810340925.
  3. Kenneth Davids (2003). Home Coffee Roasting: Romance & Revival, Rev. updated ed., 83. ISBN 0312312199.
  4. Hawaii Administrative Rules: Standards for Coffee
  5. Kenneth Davids (2003). Home Coffee Roasting: Romance & Revival, Rev. updated ed., 90. ISBN 0312312199.
  6. Kona Coffee Farmers Association - Revision of Hawaii's 10% Kona Coffee Blend Law
  7. Mark Pendergrast (1999). Uncommon Grounds: The history of coffee and how it transformed our world, 391. ISBN 0465054676.

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