A Sip of Hawaiian Past: The History of Kona Coffee

A Sip of Hawaiian Past: The History of Kona Coffee

History of Kona Coffee

Champagne and Kona coffee are cousins in the world of luxury drinks. For one, both are considered one of the finest in their category. Champagne is king of the sparkling wines, while Kona is among the best cups of joe in the world.

They are also both only considered real champagne or Kona if they come from the region from which their name originates. While the story of champagne is well documented, let’s take a look a the history of Kona coffee — Hawaii’s luxury coffee.

What Makes Kona Coffee So Special?

Kona coffee is revered across the world thanks to its medium-bodied sweet and fruity taste.

But what makes Kona coffee so special? The answer lies in the rich and fertile soils of the Mauna Loa and Hualalai volcanoes on which the beans are grown. The climate provides almost perfect growing conditions, including lots of sun and lots of rain.

The coffee growing region of Kona, on Hawaii Island’s west coast, also lies more than 3,000-feet above sea level, which helps to boost the flavor. The history of Kona coffee owns much of its success to these ideal growing conditions.

The Island of Hawaii Gets its First Taste of Coffee in 1828

In the early 1800s, coffee had a rough start in Hawaii when at first the crop didn’t take. The history of Kona coffee begins with one Reverend Samuel Ruggles, who brought arabica cuttings from Brazil to test in the soils of Hawaii. His gamble paid off and coffee boomed as a major crop in Hawaii. Today, Kona is the only region of the original coffee planting attempts that continues to commercially produce coffee.

Over the next few years, the islands became home to more and more plantations. Despite some ups and downs due to bad weather, invasive species, and a drop in coffee prices, Kona coffee continued to grow over the next few decades.

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100% Kona Coffee Label in the 1990s

The 1990s, however, saw major challenges for the cultivators of Kona coffee. A new law passed at the start of the decade meant producers could call their coffee “Kona” if it consisted of a minimum of 10% Kona coffee.

Small farm producers of Kona Coffee suffered with larger companies using cheaper beans to produce bags at a fraction of the price. However, the quality of a 10% blend is rarely, if ever, the same as a full 100% packet. Look out for details on the bags when you think about buying.

The 2010 Coffee Berry Borer Beetle Infestation

In 2010, disaster struck again, this time thanks to an infestation of the coffee borer beetle. The tiny insect is particularly detrimental to the arabica coffee crop, to which Kona coffee belongs.

In a bid to tackle the issue, Hawaii’s Department of Agriculture put a quarantine on the freshly harvested beans. The unroasted beans were not allowed to travel between islands in a hope to prevent its spreading. Crops were fumigated and a naturally occurring fungus was introduced in an attempt to fight the infestation.

The fight against the beetle continues, but the coffee is still some of the most sought after in the world.

See Kona Coffee for Yourself via Helicopter

Explore the famous Kona Coffee Belt from the sky with Tropical Helicopters’ Hawaii Circle Island Experience.

The once-in-a-lifetime ride will give you an eagle eye’s view of the historic coffee growing region. Your journey will also take you to see five volcanoes, stunning beaches and even a desert.

Your spectacular adventure will include sheer cliff faces and tumbling waterfalls. Plus, once you’ve landed you can grab some a hope of joe to truly appreciate the history of Kona and round off the incredible trip!

Book your Hawaii Circle Island Experience today.


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