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If you are looking for some killer Kona blends, you have come to the right place! In this guide, I’ll cover some key principles and important facts to know before you “get your Kona on”.
Bottom Line Up Front: However, if you are in a hurry and just need a quick pick, my top recommendation, my vote is to order this 3-pack of the top Kona blends here.
What is Kona Coffee?
Kona coffee is a rich, medium-bodied aromatic brew made with special beans harvested from the dark volcanic lava rock slopes of Hawaii, specifically today in Mauna Loa and Hualalai.
100% certified Kona coffee comes from the Kona district on the southwest Kona coast of the Big Island of Hawaii. Known as the Kona Coffee Belt, this area is only two miles wide and 15 miles long and is the perfect growing environment for Kona trees to thrive.
The combination of the bright sun, humidity, rain and its volcanic soil create the ideal atmosphere for Kona beans to ripen from green bean buds, to mature beans that resemble ripe cherries, alternately knows as a peaberry (coffee sometimes known as peaberry coffee).
More on the History of Kona Coffee
If you are super jazzed about learning about the full – rich – history, check out this video overview:
Why does “100% Kona“ matter?
The bean used to make Kona coffee creates a rich, uniquely flavored gourmet cup of good coffee, unlike any other coffee experience. To have a true Kona cup of coffee, you must buy 100% Kona beans or grinds to brew.
Blended varieties use a percentage of Kona coffee beans, usually around 10%, and then fill it with cheaper Columbian and Brazilian beans but use the Kona name to attract interest.
The real, premium Kona coffee is made up of 100% Kona beans and is more expensive than a typical coffee blend.
Because – in theory – all a Kona blend requires is ONE solitary Kona bean if you are looking for the real deal you need to get smart on the authentic taste of Hawaii for Kona coffee.
The Kona Coffee Grading System
In the 1980s when the Kona bean was gaining popularity, coffee manufacturers started “claiming Kona” on their packaging regardless of what bean was packaged inside. Since no laws restricted this practice at the time, they got away with it.
This upset Kona coffee farmers for many reasons. For one, it was more expensive to produce coffee in Kona, so these Kona-imposters were grabbing a piece of their market share by offering a lower price on their “Kona” coffee, which in most cases didn’t contain any Kona beans at all.
It also hurt the reputation of the bean; people that were expecting a premium gourmet great coffee experience were disappointed in the falsely labeled products. Not knowing they had been duped, many assumed the Kona bean was to blame.
What resulted was the Kona Coffee grading system created and managed by the Hawaii Agricultural Society. Before it can be sold, all Kona coffee must pass an inspection and be assigned to one of five grades of coffee:
- Kona Extra Fancy
- Kona Fancy
- Kona Number 1
- Kona Select
- Kona Prime
The highest grade is Kona Extra Fancy and means that it contains the largest, most moisture-heavy and blemish-free coffee beans. As you work your way down the list, the coffee beans’ size, shape, moisture content decreases while the defects increase.
If you would like to know more about Kona coffee grades, konacoffeebeans.org has a breakdown of the grading system for your perusal.
What is the best Kona brand to buy?
The average price of a bag of Kona coffee beans or grinds ranges from around $20 to $40 per pound, which is significantly higher than an average bag of grinds. It’s wise to do your research before you invest in a premium bag of coffee to make sure you get the most out of your investment.
I’ve researched what brands are the best and will share with you both whole bean and ground varieties that come highly recommended. My recommendations are based on what the experts say about each brand, and more importantly what real customers have experienced and shared in online reviews.
Whole Bean Varieties of Kona Coffee
When buying premium coffee, it’s important to purchase whole beans over grinds whenever possible. Any coffee expert will tell you it’s the best way to experience the flavor of the beans since the beans’ aroma is released immediately after grinding. If you’re already spending twice if not three times more than you would on generic coffee, grinding will help you get the best experience for your money.
- What makes the Kona coffee flavor unique?
The flavor notes of the pure Kona Coffee has a balanced and subtle character. It’s smooth and mellow, and it is non-acid. It is a great coffee to drink plain. Absolutely amazing coffee.
- Why is Kona Coffee so expensive?
There are a few reasons. Besides the high production cost (each bean needs to be picked by hand), the first reason can be the lack of supply; the Kona area is very limited –and the land can be expensive as well-, as it’s associated with quality and exclusivity. The branding factor can be heavy, and since it is a high-quality delicious coffee, it might seem expensive compared to other kinds of coffee that have a lower quality.
Best Kona Coffee Recommendations [UPDATED REGULARLY]
Without further delay, here are my top delicious Kona recommendations (in order of priority)…
#1 Koa Coffee Roasters
I’ll admit that I wasn’t at first aware of Kona. They are really only available reliably online, but when I friend turned me on to them I had to admit…DELICIOUS Kona blends…
In particular, the 3-pack combo of Private Reserve, Grande Domaine, and Estate roasts are a great place to START in order to find your preference. I actually enjoy all of them, depending on my mood, but to each his/her own.
If you are looking for that “high altitude” volcanic Kona taste, THIS brand definitely has it.
In fact – I wasn’t aware of this at first – but Forbes named them “Best in America”.
*Note: Koa Coffee is NOT available on most online retailers… (Amazon, etc…)
#2 Hawaii Roasters 100% Kona Coffee (Whole Bean)
About $31.34 for 14 oz. bag
3.9/5 stars based on 315 Amazon reviews
Hawaii Roasters 100% Kona Coffee features an all-natural coffee bean that is sun-dried and farm-roasted in small batches to create a delicate and mild Kona coffee experience. This bean is considered a medium roast, has a chestnut brown color, and is harvested by a family now in its 3rd generation of coffee farmers. They individually hand-pick the coffee cherries at the peak of ripeness and then let the beans dry in the sun to bring out its characteristic flavor.
#3 Kona Coffee Beans by Imagine
About $21.80 for 8 oz. bag
4.6/5 stars based on 156 Amazon reviews
Kona Coffee Beans by Imagine are Extra Fancy beans, which means they are the highest grade of Kona beans available. Extra Fancy beans are the biggest, contain the most moisture, and the least number of defects and only about 10% of all Kona beans are given this highest rating. Look at an example of their Kona bean versus their major competitor:
If you like a robust coffee without the bitterness flavor notes, this medium-dark roast will work for you. The beans are air-roasted which Imagine says gives the bean its unique flavor and creates a better-tasting cup of coffee great for the morning. Only 1% of all coffee in the world gets the distinction of being air roasted; most coffee beans are drum roasted using heat and motion to roast.
Using a hot drum to roast means each new batch of fresh beans will absorb the bitter smoky flavor and burned chaffs of the beans that just left the drum. With Imagine beans you avoid this bitter after taste and instead experience is the true flavor of the bean.
#4 Blue Horse 100% Kona Coffee (Whole bean)
About $39.95 for 16 oz. bag as of this writing
4.4/5 stars based on 346 Amazon reviews
Blue Horse 100% Kona Coffee is another hand-picked, sun-dried Kona coffee. This bean features a chocolate aroma with subtle hints of almonds and vanilla. It’s a medium roast whole bean coffee from an authentic, single coffee estate in Kona. This farm prides itself on being herbicide and pesticide-free and says its coffee beans feature “complex fragrant notes with a lingering sweetness.”
#5 Royal Kona Whole Bean Coffee, Estate Extra Fancy
About $38.87 for 7 oz. bag
4.1/5 stars based on 154 Amazon reviews
Royal Kona Whole Bean Coffee, Estate Extra Fancy pretty much says it all: it’s a bag of 100% Kona coffee beans that were awarded the “Extra Fancy” grade by the Hawaii Agricultural Society. It is a medium roast harvested from several different coffee farms located in the Hawaiian Kona Coffee Belt.
This medium roast is pure 100% Kona coffee and is made from the largest beans of the highest quality. The beans are hand-picked from a single estate, sun-dried, and then roasted by master roasters and before immediately being vacuum-sealed in a foil bag for freshness.
Note: For the widest selection of Royal Kona blends, check out this page over at Hawaiian Coffee Company.
Ground Kona Coffee
If you prefer not to grind your beans, you can buy 100% Kona coffee pre-ground in a vacuum-sealed package. Please note that it will be a different flavor profile experience since it had been grounded previously, so some of the rich aromas will be left back on the Big Island; but the grounds will still deliver a pleasurable great coffee experience.
#6 Hawaiian Kona Mountain Gold 100% Kona Coffee
About $29.99 for a 16-oz. bag
4.2/5 stars based on 38 Amazon reviews
Hawaiian Mountain Gold 100% Kona Coffee is roasted by Ferrari Coffee Company, a family-owned 100-year-old coffee company with a coffee plantation located in the Kona Coffee Belt. They believe their brand of Kona coffee is the best Hawaii has to offer and invites all to enjoy “The Finest Gourmet Coffee in the World.” Online reviewers praise this grind for its authentic taste of Hawaii and mild f flavor profile.
#7 Blue Horse 100% Kona Coffee (Grounded bean)
About $34.00 for a 16-oz. bag
4.3/5 stars based on 52 reviews
Blue Horse 100% Kona Coffee is the same as the whole bean variety listed above. Its 100% Kona beans are from an authentic, single coffee estate that is government inspected and certified. They hand-pick their beans and dry them in the sun to create the most flavorful and delicious coffee experience. It has a chocolate aroma with hints of vanilla and almonds. All Blue Horse Coffee is herbicide and pesticide-free.
#8 Hawaii Roasters (Grounded coffee)
About $32.99 for a 14-oz. bag
4.2/5 stars based on 102 Amazon reviews
Hawaii Roasters is an award-winning 100% pure Kona coffee. It is all-natural, hand-picked, sun-dried, and farm-roasted by master roasters before it is ground and placed in a bag that is vacuum-sealed to preserve its freshness. This medium roast is a mild, delicate coffee, similar to a full city roast variety. This is a ground medium roast that is a mild, delicate coffee.
The Final Brew on the Top Kona Coffee Blend
100% Kona coffee is not just another cup of joe; it’s a flavorful coffee experience that is hard to explain but easy to enjoy. Whether you choose to grind your own beans or buy it pre-ground from the Big Island, your cup of Kona will deliver a robust experience, unlike any other bean you’ve tried. Enjoy!