HOME > Chowhound > Hawaii >
Feb 4, 2014 11:30 PM

Kona coffee variability

There seems to be some variability in 100% Kona coffees with the most readily available being no better than ordinary good coffee e. g. not worth the Kona/premium price. Are there any brands that stand above the crowd in your opinion?

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. not in my pricerange. the really good kona coffees as served in restaurants (i've even had really great coffee at outback) is great stuff. if you have a place which has 'joe you like, ask where they get it.

    if you cold brew decent packaged beans from the grocery store like lion, the coffee is way way good, better than the civet coffee i tried (but they were robusta beans). cold brewing eliminates all the bitterness and brings out more flavor. it's concentrated, so remember to dilute.

    1 Reply
    1. re: indelibledotink

      Thanks for your reply. Interestingly, I did inquire once at Chef Mavro: They serve Illy.

    2. I tend to buy Ka'u coffee instead of kona coffee, but when in Kona, I pick up Kona Mountain brand coffee. Seems like one of the most easily available ones which has won cupping awards pretty consistently is Mountain Thunder, but I have never tried it. I have had some good coffee from some of the Greenwell Farms brand as well. Here's the results from the Kona Coffee Cupping Competition for your perusal. http://www.kona-coffee-council.com/De...
      And here's the results for the Hawaii Coffee Association Cupping Competition. http://www.hawaiicoffeeassoc.org/Defa...

      1 Reply
      1. re: killersmile

        Wow! Thanks for the useful information.

      2. I too really prefer the coffee from the Ka'u district......a really rich balanced flavor.
        I will pick up a couple of bags at Hamakua Nut company up in Kawaihae for convenience. I don't notice it as much in Long's for instance.
        Waikoloa Village market also carries Ka'u coffee.

        2 Replies
        1. re: easily amused

          Am I correct in believing that Costco carries Ka'u coffee?

          1. re: Joebob

            I prefer Ka`u coffee too. I get it at the farmers market held at Windward Mall. It runs $18,00 per half lb. A different brand of Ka`u coffee is also available at R.Field's. Costs about $22 per half lb. Both are excellent.

        2. Best to buy Ka'u or Kona coffee freshly roasted directly from the source, as most farms are small and the big brands are always pooled from various sources. konacoffeefarmers.org or konacoffeecouncil.com have farmers listings. For Ka'u farms you still have to search individually to get a pure estate product. They also have not all the same type of coffee tree (kona typica in Kona), so the tastes fluctuate widely.

          The Mountain Thunder stuff at COSTCO is not the best you can get and their 'organic' claim is merely a sticker. Neither is ANYTHING on Ebay that is not shipped directly from Hawaii. Certainly stay away from coffee with the word Kona Blend, or Kona Style ( i.e. Zabars ), Kona Roast: It's never real Kona coffee and you pay a premium for ordinary coffee. Even it is cheaper, the coffee in the bag is overpriced.

          In Hawaii restaurants and hotels 99% of Kona coffee served is a blend. They simply will not put it correctly on the menu. That's a HUGE concern for the local hard working farmers who barely break even.

          When getting a medium roast (which is the preferred way of professional cuppers to taste) be aware that the beans are not oily as in darker roasts. The aromatic oils are still within the beans and only rise to the surface when roasted longer. Also the taste is more floral, nutty than the bolder, chocolatey darker roast.

          A true pound of 100% Kona coffee costs $ 25-35 farm direct. You may find it lower at a farm stand in Kona, but the sheer production costs are close to 18 bucks p.p. (2013) Therefore you see retail prices like $40-50 on mainland store shelves.

          Hope that sheds some light--I happily farmed Kona coffee for many years but am retired now.

          30 Replies
          1. re: Kona Coffee

            great post!

            why is it the pros use a medium roast for taste testing?

            1. re: indelibledotink

              Because they want to taste the bean, not the roast.

              1. re: grampart

                so if the different farms' beans were dark roasted, it would be difficult to tell them apart?

                  1. re: grampart

                    so it should matter less to those who like a darker roast... and they should go with a 'cheaper' quality brand?

                    1. re: indelibledotink

                      To some extent, I would agree with that, but a quality bean would still be desirable. Actually, some beans are meant to be roasted darker than others. I believe this is true of most grown at higher elevations.

                      1. re: grampart

                        Seems like it ... the darker the roast, the more you hide the real inferior coffee taste. You won't find dark roast on the special Luwak Coffee, would you? The best coffee ever!

            2. re: Kona Coffee

              The 2013 Hawaii Coffee Association's cupping competition results seems to be dominated by small farms from Ka`u, but Ka`u coffee isn't widely available on Oahu (with the exception of Whole Foods) nor is Ka`u coffee being marketed to the tourist trade. For example, it is rarely offered in Waikiki restaurants, but maybe that's because a cup of single estate coffee would have to be priced too high. Seems a shame, though the Ka`u farmers may have learned from the Kona coffee experience of having a recognizable brand watered down by having blends labelled as Kona coffee.

              1. re: Kona Coffee

                My wife and I get out to Oahu maybe once a year and we always enjoy a good cup of 100% kona, preferably the peaberry. Honolulu Coffee in Ala Moana is our favorite, though I wish they would use a pour over instead of the French Press.

                Do you, or anyone on the board, have any recommended coffee places in the Honolulu/Windward areas for good coffee?

                1. re: Ogawak

                  Beach Bum Cafe downtown, Morning Glass Coffee in Manoa, Morning Glass Coffee @ R&D in Kakaako, the Curb @ JABSOM in Kakaako.

                  1. re: killersmile

                    Thank you very much, Killer; Sorry to be a bother, but I should have added in my question whether these places serve 100% kona. I suppose I can look up their websites as well.

                    They seem to have a lot going on in Kakaako.

                    1. re: Ogawak

                      Beach Bum Cafe, which is in the Executive Center next to Longs and on the same side of Bishop Street as Starbucks, is the place for serious coffee drinkers. They offer a lot of single origin coffees, including 100% Kona, and they can brew single cups a variety of ways. The problem if you're not already in the vicinity is parking. Nearest public parking lot is Alii Place.

                      1. re: honu2

                        Beach Bum sounds like the kind of place I might enjoy. I'll have to figure out the parking. I guess they're only open on weekdays, as many workplace coffee shops are. Thank you once again, Chowhounds.

                      2. re: Ogawak

                        All of them serve 100% Kona or Ka'u coffee. Morning Glass serves mostly Stumptown roasts, but always has at least one 100% Kona or Ka'u coffee available. I found out the Curb @ JABSOM is called Cafe Waiola. Beach Bum sources their coffees from throughout the state, so they usually have beans from several different islands on hand at all times.

                      3. re: killersmile

                        FYI apparently R&D is now closed.

                        1. re: Ogawak

                          Wow, didn't know that. Thanks for the update.

                      4. re: Ogawak

                        +1 to honolulu coffee company.

                        beach bum cafe is ok and very expensive.

                        want to try morning glass, but it'll be for their mac an dcheese pancakes. maybe a decaf.

                        1. re: indelibledotink

                          Mac 'n cheese pancakes: does it get any more decadent than that?

                        2. re: Ogawak

                          I work almost next to Morning Brew in Kailua and they have a huge following. They have great coffee but I'm not so thrilled about their food, it's a lot of things they just make "semi-homemade" from Costco. They have indoor and outdoor seating and also serve beer and wine.

                          1. re: manomin

                            Morning Brew is a nice place and does brew single cups of 100% Kona for $3.00, which is way less than Beach Bum.

                            1. re: honu2

                              Beach Bum is pricey, but if you look at the cost of the beans that Beach Bum uses, you would understand why. The beans they use are almost all single origin estate coffees. Of course there is also the factor of the cost of rent for their location as well.

                              If you just want a cheaper cup of 100% Kona there is also Downtown Coffee. They roast their own beans. There is also Cafe Central downtown as well that serves either Kona or Kau coffee.

                              I still prefer Morning Glass to all of the above places though.

                                1. re: killersmile

                                  I'm not worried about paying more if the coffee is great. Here in Santa Monica, we have a coffee shop called Funnel Mill, which serves Panama Esmeralda at $22 a serving (12 oz cup). Plus they serve Jamaica Blue Mountain and Kopi Luwat($$$$). They use the siphon method. Once in a while, it's great to drink, but not for everyday sipping.

                                  Real 100% kona practically does not exist here in the mainland, and no peaberry. I'm going to have to try Ka'u.

                                  1. re: Ogawak

                                    $22 for a cup of coffee? Sheesh!

                                    1. re: Ogawak

                                      Personally, I find the coffee more appealing at Beach Bum than at the other places downtown. The Curb @ JABSOM also takes their brewing seriously so I would give them a shot as well. I still enjoyed Morning Glass to all of the above though. Also, if you are thinking about checking out any of the Farmer's Markets, they tend to have at least one vendor selling their beans and serving their small farm estate 100% Kona or Ka'u coffee so you can pick some up there.

                                      1. re: Ogawak

                                        It sounds like a cup of coffee in one of Tokyo's nice hotels... Understand the Kopi Luwak's high price because of the way it is collected and guarantee that the coffee is fully ripened. The best coffee ever, if you can afford it.

                                        1. re: Ogawak

                                          If you do make it to Beach Bum, you might also want to try Molokai coffee, I think its Red Caturna. Single origin Molokai is even less available on Oahu than Ka`u; I don't know if anyone else has mentioned that Beach Bum only serves coffee--no sweets, no savories, only coffee.

                                          1. re: honu2

                                            They do have some pastries and stuff on the counter and in the display case. Whenever I pass by that's usually the case. Maybe they were out when you went?

                              1. Why would the Kauai plantation coffee taste different from the Kona? Is the difference due to being grown at different altitudes?

                                7 Replies
                                1. re: piero

                                  Different islands, different soil composition, different altitude, different weather conditions. Not sure about the bean type also. Even fermentation, drying, roasting would be different. That's like saying all estate coffee from columbia should taste the same.

                                  1. re: piero

                                    I don't think the average person realizes the difference in microclimates there are in these islands, or even on any given island. The wettest recorded spot on the planet is the top of the mountain on Kauai (Mt. Waialae'ale), but other areas both on Kauai and other islands qualify as true desserts because of the lack of rain. And with elevations ranging from sea level to over 13,000 feet (yes, thirteen thousand) there is a huge range in temperatures as well. Finally the distance from Princeville on Kauai to South Point on Hawaii Island is almost 340 miles. Quite a distance for determining climates.

                                    1. re: KaimukiMan

                                      When Lion Coffee was on Queen St. I always went there for my cuppa.. Since they moved to Kalihi, it is just inconvenient to go there if you work in town. They always have the best coffee in town.

                                      1. re: roro808

                                        i work near lion coffee. they have cold brewed, which is my preference. i like the feel of the cafe, there is no pretension, it's simple and comfortable.

                                        across from occc in the puuhale market parking lot is the zebra striped wild bean truck with the naked girls serving coffee and espresso. their coffee is not the best, but not bad. as you probably surmise, it is expensive and there is an extra charge to pose for pictures.

                                        1. re: indelibledotink

                                          I have not seen women buying coffee at that coffee truck... Suppose guys enjoy paying more for their coffee for the minimally clothed ladies....

                                          1. re: indelibledotink

                                            Are they still in operation? Saw the truck at the back of Puuhale market on jacks.

                                            1. re: roro808

                                              as of last week they were open. they close super early.

                                              i have been doign job training this week and have driven by but not during my usual times.

                                              perhaps they were vandalized?

                                              there is also a truck in kakaako.