Luaus, big waves, and hula dancing may be the first things that come to mind when you think of Hawai’i, but our Pacific island-state is also very serious about its incredible coffee. For nearly 200 years, Hawai’i has been growing some of the world’s finest coffee beans. This month, from November 3–12, the Kona Coffee Cultural Festival celebrates that heritage.
In the late 1820s, a missionary planted the first coffee trees in Kona, the sunny region that stretches down the west side of the island of Hawai’i (a.k.a. The Big Island) on the leeward side of the Hualalai Volcano. Sheltered from the area’s harshest wind and rain, Kona’s rich volcanic soil, semi-arid climate, and year-round warm temperatures make it perfect for coffee to thrive.
By the mid-1840s, the first coffee plantations had been established. Soon, Kona coffee would win international acclaim when it received an award of excellence at the 1873 World’s Fair in Venice. By the end of the century, 6,000 acres had been dedicated to growing coffee. By the time Hawai’i was annexed as a state in 1959, annual crops were worth $6.5 million. Today, about 650 farms cultivate coffee across 3,500 acres in the Kona district, producing 3.8 million pounds a year and valued at $14 million.
This month, the 10-day long Kona Coffee Cultural Festival, which began in 1970, celebrates the harvest. Farms offer guided tours, food tastings abound, and music and dancing and culture are everywhere. Each year, Miss Kona Coffee and Miss Aloha are crowned during academic scholarship pageants. The Kona Coffee Recipe Contest and Cupping Competition bring out the best and brightest in their fields. And, of course, everywhere you turn, there is plenty of that wonderful, bold, dark, and delicious Kona coffee – still known to be among the world’s finest.