Grown in the districts of North Kona and South Kona on the Island of Hawai’i, 100% Kona Coffee is distinguished for having great strength, fine flavor and delicious aroma. These outstanding taste characteristics have been recognized for generations. In an 1866 letter to the Sacramento Union, Mark Twain wrote: “Kona coffee has a richer flavor than any other, be it grown where it may and call it what name you please.” Almost 150 years later, noted coffee writer Kenneth Davids described the taste of Kona coffee as “delicate, subtle, and sometimes extraordinary.”
Coffee has been grown in Kona since 1828 when the Reverend Samuel Ruggles introduced coffee cultivation near Napo’opo’o in South Kona. In the later part of the 19th century, coffee production expanded significantly in Kona with the development of hundreds of small coffee farms—primarily by Japanese immigrants. At present the “Kona Coffee Belt” —an area extending about 22 miles long and two miles wide from North Kona through South Kona at elevations of between 700’ to 2400’ above sea level —is home to more than 650 coffee farms with an average size of about 5 acres.
The very limited area in which Kona Coffee is grown on the Island of Hawai’i ensures this crop will not be taken over by industrial agricultural interests. Small average farm size ensures that Kona’s coffee farmers have an incentive to cultivate coffee in a way that is sustainable and maintains the quality for which Kona Coffee has become known.
The economic viability and future of “Kona Coffee” is at risk because of deceptive labeling practices occurring in the State of Hawai’i and on the US Mainland. Each year, millions of pounds of “Kona Blends” (90% of which are foreign-grown commodity coffee of undisclosed origin) are sold to consumers. As a result, the market is flooded with packages of coffee which consumers are led to believe to be “Kona Coffee” but are not. Kona’s coffee farmers lose millions of dollars each year because of misleadingly labeled “Kona Blends”. The labeling on the US Mainland is even more damaging, with little or no genuine content in many packages of coffee displaying the “Kona” name. The risk is that “Kona Coffee” will become a generic term for an undefined style of coffee while the exquisite flavor of Kona Coffee disappears.