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A history of Kona Hawaii coffee

A rich history of Hawaiian Coffee production


Coffee production in Hawaii has a rich and amazing history


The love of Kona coffee by aficionados of the bean is not new. Mark Twain wrote that he felt Kona coffee had a richer flavor than any other coffee. It was also recognized as an important crop by the then-Kingdom of Hawaii which taxed any foreign coffees brought into the islands in 1842.

What's even more amazing is that coffee was introduced to Kona 14 years earlier by Samuel Reverend Ruggles. He found the arabica cuttings he brought from Brazil flourished in its new surroundings. Kona coffee farming is now mostly a small scale, family operation but at its start, coffee was grown on large plantations.

A crash in world coffee prices in 1899 forced the plantations to break up their properties to lease the land to their mostly Japanese plantation workers. Other immigrants also came to Kona to start their own coffee farms. Today Filipino-American and mainland Americans joined the original Japanese-American farmers to grow coffee. By the 1930s, Kona coffee was one of the most important crops Hawaii produced — an impressive feat considering the large scale sugar cane and pineapple plantations that dominated most of the island chain.

The coffee farms that took root in Kona are small. Most of them family owned and typically range in size from three to five acres. The high price Kona coffee commands is due to the small area that is optimal for growing coffee. About 600 farms make up the 2,290 acres that are devoted to cultivating coffee, producing about 2 million pounds of beans. It is also one of the most recognizable exports of the state.