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Kona Coffee...Is there a similar tasting coffee that doesn't have a price tag fitting of gold?

I just purchased a french press for my boyfriend as one of his Christmas presents, and would like to buy him some coffee to go along with the press. I am a non-coffee drinker who knows nothing about coffee, but I have heard him mention on a few occasions that he enjoys Kona/Kona blends, though he seems to drink other flavors too. Since Kona is so expensive, I'm wondering if there was a Kona-like coffee that was less taxing on my wallet which I could purchase. Does anyone have any suggestions for either specific coffee "flavors" or at least what genre of coffee I should be looking into?

Oh, and it should be noted...when he usually drinking Kona it is from Wawa, a local convenience store that has decent, though definitely not high-quality beverages. So, I think it is safe to say that whatever they are passing off as Kona likely is not 100% (or frankly even any %) pure Kona Mountain Estate coffee. Thanks in advance for any suggestions!

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  1. Kona is not that great considering the options, more so considering price. You should probably check out Green Mountain Coffee Roasters' site.

    1. I agree, Kona has never been impressive. I am a dark, strong coffee lover and Kona was thoroughly unimpressive. If your boyfriend likes mild, acidic coffee than there are plenty of just as good and cheaper options. Try many of the South American blends from Starbucks or the lighter roasts from Peet's.

      1. Trader Joe's has some Kona that is around $14 a can, that may be in your price range. Haven't tried it myself, but maybe someone else can chime in if you have your heart set on getting him some.

        1. hello, your best source will always be from a place where the roasting is done on-site, or where they are close enough to the roasting facilities, and have a high sales volume, so what you're getting is very fresh, roast-wise. Without going into complex flavor profiles, many coffee drinkers have a preference in their comfort range of two general characteristics: body and acidity (as I said, flavor is very subjective and more complex, especially since you referred to what is likely a blend and not a single varietal; if it's good arabica frehly roasted, it won't be flavorless). One of the best coffees that is very consistent due to the way it is marketed through a govt. auction system, and is in the same range of body and acidity as kona, would be Kenya. If you find a purveyor as I described, try their Kenya, it will retail for $7-8 for 1/2 lb. cheers

          1. I agree wholeheartedly to the 1st two posts regarding Kona. I've never been impressed with it, and have always wondered why it gets so much attention. There are much more interesting Arabicas out there, grown at much higher altitudes and therefore resulting in a harder, denser bean.

            One I strongly recommend to most drinkers is a good Ehtiopian Sidamo, more specifically a Yrgacheffe. Try to find a roaster that will roast it lighter than what is prevalent these days with the big name roasters. I feel this bean requires a light touch in order to preserve it's wonderful aromas and delicate flavors. (I have pictures up on my Flickr site with more details on the roast levels that I personally prefer, http://www.flickr.com/photos/akatayam...


            It's vibrant and cleansing acidity makes it very food compatible, but its bouquet makes it a pleasant drink all on its own.

            I suspect that once he tastes a carefully roasted Yrgacheffe, he will not likely return to Kona ever again... (BTW the Yrgacheffe should be priced similarly to the Kenyas recommended by moto.)

            And congrats on the french press purchase; it makes for a great gift. It's the simplest thing one can do to upgrade their coffee experience, short of getting into the world of semi-commercial espresso machines.

            8 Replies
            1. re: cgfan

              Any french press advice you'd like to pass along? Can you remind me how specifically the beans should be ground in order to be best utilized by the press? And, is the grinding something you tend to do at home with your own grinder, or do you purchase your beans ground this way? Thanks!

              1. re: Laura D.

                Hi Laura, I can't give you too much advice on the coffee, we buy organic beans ( a reg. roast and if we want to really splurg will buy a Jamacian Blue), but I can answer your question about french press methods. We grind our beans fresh, a course grind is best for french press, boil the water and after is just comes to a boil,remove from heat and let it rest for 30 seconds or so and then proceed with the rest of the steps. Cover with a towel when you let the coffee step for the rec. time. It's an easy method-once you get used to it. Hope this helps.

                1. re: jackie de

                  Thanks Jackie....I'm not sure how much instruction the press came with, and while I read online a brief blurb about making sure to use a coarse grind for the press, that's about all I read. So, I'll make sure to follow your process since it sounds like it yields great results. Thanks again!

                2. re: Laura D.

                  It will aways be best if you can grind at home, and even if that means using a blade-type grinder instead of a burr-type grinder. Always try to grind for each batch, and do not grind ahead of time.

                  Most will have a blade-type grinder at home, and if he doesn't have one, they're not that expensive. However burr-type grinders are preferred, and personally, especially for something like French Press, I'd suggest the German made Zassenhaus brand. They're a kick to use since they're manual, and it sort of fits the whole aesthetic of the French Press. (I personally do not like to hear the "hyperactive" sounds of the typical electric grinder in the morning, while I find the slow grinding sounds and the hands-on process of the Zassenhaus to be soothing and almost therapeutic.)

                  Grind coarsely, and use 1 coffee measure per 6 oz. of water. Pour over the grinds with the plunger out. The coffee will form a crust as it floats to the top; break this crust and stir to evenly moisten the grinds and get them temporarily in suspension.

                  Immediately put the plunger in the French Press, keeping the screen just below the water level to force the grounds below the surface of the water, and make sure the sliding dome is also in place. Now just wait a few minutes and when you're ready slowly plunge the grinds all the way to the bottom.

                  What you want to do here is to stop/slow-down the brewing by confining the grinds to a small area at the bottom of the caraffe. Then slowly pour out the coffee, and finish the rest in a reasonable amount of time. If not, then pour out the entire contents into a thermal caraffe in order to prevent over-brewing.

                  You will note that with French Press, you can actually feel a textural difference in the mouth feel. You will be preserving in the brew more of the all-important oils that's the main vehicle to carry the complex flavors to your palette. The method also insures that the coffee is evenly extracted, avoiding the areas of under and over-extraction that can easily occur with the widely-used drip methods.

                  Note: for some reason over the past year Zassenhaus grinders have not been coming in from Germany and will be hard to find. If you don't mind, used ones can be found on eBay. The French company Peugot also makes similar grinders, but I do not have any experience with them. But I would generally avoid all others, as most are produced cheaply just to create a period look, rather than the Zassenhaus which comes out of a long-standing tradition and is the real thing...

                  BTW I forgot to mention this little tidbit earlier. Coffee originates from Ethiopia, so by buying Ethiopian you are tasting what coffee originally tasted like before it travelled to other growing areas. Much like the tea ceremony and Japan, there is a coffee ceremony in Ethiopia, wherein they'll roast the beans over a fire in small batches in the home. It's an integral part of their culture, and I heard that cafes can be found all over their cities...

                  1. re: cgfan

                    I just purchased a grinder this morning, and luckily it appears to be the blade rather than burr type. We'll try it out and see how it goes, and, if it seems worthwhile, I'll look into purchasing a Zassenhaus--either new or on ebay.

                    Thanks for all of the explanation. I think I'll literally copy and paste your instructions into a word document, and provide them with the press. Thanks again!

                    1. re: Laura D.

                      I don't know if you made a typo or read cgfan's post incorrectly, but a heads up that burr grinders are better than blade grinders for producing an even grind.

                      1. re: Pei

                        Pei...I did misread. Oh well, I knew I couldn't get that lucky! Anyway, Macy's had a limited selection of coffee grinders, and this one was a reasonable price, so I'll make sure it gets used first, and then perhaps will invest in a nicer, burr-style one. Thanks for catching that!

                        1. re: Laura D.

                          Don't worry, it's still better than pre-ground! For the life of me I can't taste a significant difference between the two if the beans are fresh and the coffee doesn't steep too long.

                          And when you invest in a burr grinder, you can keep the blade grinder for churning up spices!

              2. Hi everyone,
                Thanks so much for your advice so far. I just wanted to clarify my question...rather than looking for somewhere to purchase actual Kona coffee at a reasonable price, I was hoping to get direction on other types of coffe that a Kona-fan would like, based on their taste. So, I'll definitely go out and look for the Ygacheffe or Kenya blends, both of which I have seen from local retailers. If you have any other suggestions of types of coffee with a similar "taste" (whatever you deem that to mean) as Kona, that would be awesome too. He's really not that picky or obsessed with Kona, though...it's more that I know he likes that kind and am not sure what specific other types of coffee he likes too.

                I do have the Green Mountain catalog sitting in front of me actually, and was looking over it last evening to see if I could determine what to get instead of Kona. Unfortunately, though, Kona was cataloged by is place of origin and not by its taste profile, meaning I wasn't easily able to determine which other types of less expensive coffees would be similar to it.

                Thanks again!

                4 Replies
                1. re: Laura D.

                  I think Green Mountain has lost a lot of its flavor in the last few years. If you want to try something with some real oomph, the dark roast from Vermont Coffee Company is terrific: www.vermontcoffeecompany.com I think they have it all over GM, esp if you like something with some kick. It's organically grown, and "Fair Trade"... a good company.

                  If you like Hawaiian coffee but find Kona overrated and overpriced, my suggestion is the new Lahaina roasters. I've had one of their dark roasts, and it's tasty. It's a new company. They're growing coffee on Maui now, up in the hills inland from Kanapaali. Dole recently moved out, so this might be from what was the pineapple fields.

                  I love good coffee.

                  1. re: EssQ

                    In spite of GMCR marketing many different coffees?

                    1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                      Well, I can't say they're all a dissapointment, but the darker ones I've had are. In all fairness, it may be attributable to the brewing place and method. I haven't bought any beans to brew at home. The last cup I had was French Roast and came out of one of the "Keurig" machines that use the premeasured K-cups.

                      I have less trust when a company tries to be all things to all people. Not rational, I know, but....

                  2. re: Laura D.

                    Try http://www.coffeeam.com. They list their coffee beans by both country and flavor profile, so you can choose that way. My choices when I order from them are usually Java Dutch Estate (almost a chocolatey undertone), the India Mysore "Gold Nuggets", Hawaii Kauai Island Estate (like it much better than the Kona), and under the Organic link, the Galapagos Island Estate. (As you can see, I prefer light to medium roasts.)

                  3. A Kona blend can be as little as 10% Kona. That's enough to be legal, but not enough to taste, IMO.

                    If you like Kona, but don't like the high price, I recommend you seek out a local roaster selling Panamanian coffees.
                    A few years back, there was a major scam known as the "Kona
                    Kai" scandal. In that case, someone was selling Panamanian coffee as Kona, and charging Kona prices. Quite a few coffee professionals were fooled, including Starbucks. And though that was a crime (for which the perpetrator did some jail time, IIRC), it shows just how good Panamanian coffees can be.

                    If you'd like to try some real Kona, I'd recommend these folks:


                    They're cheaper than most at $18 a pound, and they're a real Kona coffee farm. (Note that Green Mountain is charging $20 for 12 oz, not a pound). I've ordered from them several times, and recommend them highly.

                    1. In search of a good alternative try buying a small qty of whole beans at a reliable coffee house/bar and doing a small taste test on bold coffees.

                      There is no need to buy a lb of coffee until you find something you like. Coffee (and tea) houses should be able to supply you with a sampler pkg.

                      ..and it's fun!

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: HillJ

                        Good idea HillJ. Maybe rather than providing him with a pound of one type of coffee bean, I'll provide him with small amounts of several types of beans, and he can decide from there which one he likes best. Afterall, his birthday is in February, so by the time he gets through sampling and has decided on what he likes best, I can re-stock his supply as one of his b-day presents. Thanks!

                        1. re: Laura D.

                          Good advice indeed from HillJ. Buying a sampler will allow for an eye-opening experience as there are distinct differences between coffees grown in different areas. He will likely taste some varieties that he has not had before.

                          When thinking about coffees it's helpful to broadly associate them with their place of origin. So when coming up with a sampler try to get at least one example from each broad growing region: Africa, the Pacific, and the Americas.

                          But ensure that it's a quantity that can be consumed within 1-2 weeks. 1/4 # bags would be ideal if your roaster allows - that will perhaps allow you to get as much as 2 varieties from each region depending on how much he typically consumes.

                          Here's a good site if you'd like some detailed tasting notes on the various varieties: http://sweetmarias.com/prod.greencoff...

                          Click on any of the varieties for Tom's detailed tasting notes. Note, though, that this is a "green bean" (unroasted) site, so don't order there for your gift! (I buy from them all of the time as I roast my own at home.) They also had the best selection of Zassenhaus grinders, that is until shipments stopped coming in about a year ago...

                      2. Oh, I forgot! I live in Colombia. Hey, try some good Colombian. And there are quite a few better than Juan Valdez.

                        1. I don't think he'll like Sidamo if he likes Kona. I drank straight Kona from a friend's coffee farm in Hawaii and was still unimpressed as I like deep syrupy non-acidic coffee like Sumatra. Others who like light & bright sometimes say my coffee beans ground smell like fish!

                          Check out LindaWhit's site above and match something cheaper to Kona. Odd to say, but Starbucks has some interesting blends that give a rounded or enhanced flavor to either the dark or the light, like their holiday blends this time of year.

                          3 Replies
                          1. re: lintygmom

                            Aha, you and I have similar taste in coffee (deep syrupy non-acidic coffee like Sumatra). What other kinds of coffee do you like?

                            I almost always like Sumatra, and had one brand of Hawaiian peaberry coffee that I really loved. But subsequent attempts at peaberry have been mediocre.

                            1. re: Pei

                              Starbucks Caffe Verona was pretty good when they were out of Sumatra decaf beans for my evening cups. I've tried Peet's Sumatra and it's more hit or miss. I too have had good peaberry and bad peaberry. Don't know if that's the year/raw beans or the roast.

                              At Cafe XO in Noe Valley, Church and 30th, their own (purchased from???) French roast was outstanding. More complex than most French roasts but with that nice bitter blend.

                              Aside from those, I usually stick with Sumatra. Black and thick as oil. YUMMMM.

                            2. re: lintygmom

                              the arabian mocha sanani is excellent, even better cut half and half with the espresso. very deep, syrupy and rich.

                            3. I strongly recommend stopping by a locally-owned, well-frequented coffee shop, and speaking with the staff there. Most folks who work at locally owned facilities are coffee people (as opposed to working at national chain coffee shops). Ask who their roaster is, and find out if it's local. Then contact the roaster and find out if they sell retail anywhere (quite often they do).

                              I don't doubt that the specific roasters listed above are excellent, and produce a knock-out coffee. But, the oils in coffee dissapate over time, and affect the quality of the coffee. So if the coffee is being shipped at all, it's affecting the overall quality. Much better to find a freshly-roasted, local whole bean. Additionally, if a roaster regularly over-roasts beans, or has other quality issues, it doesn't matter what bean (be it Kenya, or Yrgacheffe or whatever) you get. It'll still be bad coffee. You need to find a good roaster, then work with them to fit your boyfriend's tastes. Most conscientious coffee roasters are somewhat concerned about how shipping affects their product, and often will recommend someone local rather than shipping great distances (I know of two roasters here in the Triangle area of NC that do that, they simply won't ship west of the Mississippi, because they feel they can no longer guarantee the quality of their coffee once it's sent that far, but they will recommend someone closer to you). I know you will get excellent recommendations from the good folks here at Chowhound, but if we don't know where you are, it's tougher to steer you to something good. We're just too geographically diverse.

                              Good coffee folks will talk for hours about the relative merits or lack thereof for different beans, different roasts, different roasters, you name it. It's like talking to single-malt scotch or small-batch bourbon folks. It may be tough honing in on what you're looking for, but keep asking, and you'll likely find something great.

                              Sorry if this is rambling, but I work quite closely with several coffee roasters, and I want to address concerns I often hear them voice about quality in their industry.

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: OrganicGal

                                Thanks for the recommendation. I'm in the Philadelphia area, so hopefully, given that this is a relatively big city, I can locate a local roaster with a great product. I'll post on the Pennsylvania board to see if any locals have recommendations for me. Thanks again!

                              2. Costco sells 100% Kona for around $16 a pound which is approximately what we paid in Kona HI. Not all Kona is equal of course, but what Costco sells is fairly good. Whatever you buy, make sure it is vacuum packed with a tiny valve which allows air to be expressed from the sealed bag but lets nothing back in. The valve looks like a small (1/3" or so) round plastic bulge in the side. All good Kona is packed this way to keep it as fresh as possible.

                                1. I am guessing that your boyfriend prefers the milder type of coffee, so Jamaican Blue Mountain is certainly mild, but probably just as expensive.

                                  Did you check out Lion Coffee? www.lioncoffee.com. It's easy on the palate, and the blend is easy on the wallet.

                                  Another suggestion is Arbuckle's coffee. http://www.arbucklecoffeetraders.com Actually just finished a cup of the Mexicali flavored coffee made in a French Press and it was very smooth and flavorful. I am normally not a coffee drinker and even I like that coffee.

                                  1. A poor man's Kona would be either Guatemalan or Costa Rican. Brazilian, but those beans could e cheap and inconsistent.

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: timothysliao

                                      One should keep in mind that Kona and Jamacan Blue Mountain's price is not based on quality but on the production and harvest cost

                                    2. Many Costco's roast their beans on site. I've often gotten bags of coffee - and they were still warm. Ahh....

                                      It's not the uber $50 a pound best - but it's darn good and has beaten any coffee I've tried from TJ's.

                                      Bad news - you can't just buy a bit, it will be at least two pound bags.

                                      Good news? It's going to be fresh tasty coffee you can grind at home as needed. At a really good QPR.