The 5 Best Kona Coffee Brands from Hawaii in 2020

“Kona coffee.” 

This is a very specific (but common) phrase I hear from new and old coffee lovers alike.

When first learning about it years back, I initially assumed it might be a specific brand, and not someplace in Hawaii where exceptional beans originate from.

However, since you’re already here, it’s clear you already value or know something or the other about Kona coffee beans.

The next step is to know and understand your preferences so you can find the best Kona coffee for you! If you’re in a hurry here’s our top choice:

Top Pick
Whole Bean Kona Coffee Medium Roast Tri-Pack

Dubbed the champagne of Kona, this triple pack contains a variety of rare medium to medium-dark roasts.

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alternatives at a glance

Peaberry Pick
Volcanica Coffee Kona Peaberry - Gran Reserve 16 oz

100% Pure Kona Peaberry. Grown on the Mauna Loa and wet-processed. Hand picked and roasted on order.

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Luxuriously Self-Indulgent
Hawaii Coffee Company - Whole Bean Peaberry Medium Roast 100% Kona Coffee

A medium roast with a smooth and sweet taste. Full-bodied and best served black for an indulgent experience.

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Best Brewed With Milk
Peaberry Dark Roast Whole Bean 100% Kona

This 100% Kona dark roast has medium acidity and is complimented by sweet to nutty undertones.

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Best Brewed Black
100% Kona - Keala’s Hawaiian Coffee

A sip of paradise! One of the rarest coffees on this list, it's graded extra fancy, and it's 100% pure Kona!

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What is Kona Coffee?

Kona is a world-famous origin of high-quality coffee beans in Hawaii.

Found on the Big Island, the beans grow in South Kona. On this side of the island, the climate and geography are ideal for growing coffee.

The best of Kona coffee results in clear, sweet, less acidic cups. Medium roasts have a variety of flavor notes with exceptional clarity. The best Kona coffee beans can even be dark roasted but they are still not bitter in taste.

Why are Kona beans famous?

It takes a lot of small miracles coming together for Arabica coffee beans to develop flavors like those found in Kona beans.

In certain conditions, the coffee plant focuses its energy on creating quality seeds as a means for maintaining the species. At this developmental stage, the acids and sugars of the coffee beans have more time to develop.

Kona is one of the few origins in the world where all the above, plus volcanic soil, high farming standards, and coffee friendly local laws combine to make it a unique place. One such location you might want to keep in mind is the Mauna Loa.

It doesn’t stop there.

The harvested beans get sorted (from most premium to lowest quality) as Type I (highest grade), Type II, and Type III, depending on factors that affect quality. Here are further classifications of each Type:

TYPE I: Kone Extra Fancy, Kona Fancy, Kona Number 1, Kona Select, Kona Prime

TYPE II: Peaberry Number 1, Peaberry Prime

TYPE III, also known as Triple X.

It’s important to note that Type I has awesome classification names. How can you not want to go through each level?! It’s also important to mention that Type III aka Triple X isn’t even recognized as Kona coffee beans. This is due to a high bar for Hawaiian coffee quality standards!

That’s as insane as it is great for their coffee culture.

You might have noticed Type II as well.

In case you’re wondering what “Peaberry” means, it’s a good kind of mutation.

What happens is that instead of the coffee cherry developing 2 beans inside (this happens at least 95% of the time), it ends up developing only 1.

The effect? More sugars to develop per bean, better-developed flavors for your Kona coffee.

This, in a nutshell, is why Kona coffee beans are famous.

What does Kona taste like?

I have a simplified system when it comes to tasting coffee. It consists of three things: intro, body, and taste.

After that first sip, I try to perceive the flavor notes on the bag or by the supplier. It then becomes a checklist or a guide for brewing better next time!

With all that said, if you’re looking for a general description of Hawaiian Kona coffee, here it is:

  • The flavors are clear and without particularly “strong” unpleasant bitterness.
  • It has a light-to-full body, depending on what you’re used to (I find it to be perfect). The finish is lingering, clean, and pleasant.

All in all, I would describe it as an aromatic, sweet, complex, full-bodied cup of coffee.

Where is Kona sold?

This is where it gets tricky.

Have you heard of the saying “The best things in life aren’t found at the supermarket”?

Alright, I made that up to point out that with supply, you will have to work harder for this caliber of coffee beans.

To answer your question, it’s sold in a lot of places online! A tiny coffee shop usually has a good chance of at least talking about their Kona coffee experiences. High-chance they have their own Hawaiian-sourced beans as well!

What you need to watch out for, is choosing a supplier that isn’t using the “Extra Fancy Kona Beans” as a label only. That will take some trial and error, but that’s why we’re here to try and guide you down the right path.

This is also why it’s still best to try and find a way to buy from the island, from the farmers themselves. You get authentic and quality coffee beans while rewarding farmers directly and it ensures you only buy the freshest roasts.

The Best Kona Coffee Brands From Hawaii 2020

Below is a rundown of my favorite coffee beans from the Big Island, ranked from best to great alternatives. Part of the ranking forms by how they move across brew methods, and how versatile they are to prepare.

I like shuttling back-and-forth between espresso and pour-over methods.  On most days I prefer black coffee, but there are some days I crave for lattes. The decision on hot versus cold is usually decided by weather and time of day.

With these preferences, I gravitate towards medium roasted beans. Why? Medium roasts are more versatile. They have the most flavors I like, are sweet, with enough of that nostalgic coffee finish that I love.

The difference when making coffee with Hawaiian Kona beans is the flavorful finish. It never gets old!

Now let’s go through this list so that you can choose to get some of the best legit Kona coffee for your own brewing pleasure.

1. Medium Roast Whole Bean Kona Coffee Tri-Pack

Koa Coffee was a mom & pop sized business in 1997. Since then, they have been delivering quality Kona coffee beans to brewers all over the world.

Top Pick
Whole Bean Kona Coffee Medium Roast Tri-Pack

Dubbed the champagne of Kona, this triple pack contains a variety of rare medium to medium-dark roasts.

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Summary:

  • Medium roast
  • Clear flavors, sweet, near zero bitterness
  • Medium to heavy body
  • Works well black, but also great with milk
  • Try as pour-over or french press

I recommend this pick for those who are still deciding on their favorite type of coffee. This is a field trip from medium-light to medium-dark roast.

Speaking of, 1 out of the 3 packs included in this bundle is the award-winning Private Reserve Kona Coffee. This was “Best in America” at one point, according to Forbes. While it is 100% Kona coffee, it’s Koa’s secret blend of different Kona coffee types.

The Grand Domaine Kona Coffee, also included, won the Kona Coffee Cupping Contest for outstanding quality and balance. You may come across some Vienna roasts at the supermarket. But experiencing pure Kona at this roast level? You won’t get this from many other origins.

Last in this bundle is the Estate Kona coffee. It’s their version of what we know as single-origin, where all beans in the bag are from one farm. As we all know by now, high elevation farms deliver pleasant surprises!

2. Volcanica Coffee Company – Kona Peaberry Coffee Gran Reserve

Coffee beans thrive in high elevation locations with microclimates and volcanic soil. These peaberry coffee beans come from the slopes of the Mauna Loa itself!

Peaberry Pick
Volcanica Coffee Kona Peaberry - Gran Reserve 16 oz

100% Pure Kona Peaberry. Grown on the Mauna Loa and wet-processed. Hand picked and roasted on order.

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Summary:

  • Medium roast
  • Rich, aromatic, and nutty
  • Low acidity, medium-bodied
  • Versatile and served with or without milk
  • Best with hand-brew methods

If we’re talking Hawaiian, 100% Kona coffee beans, this is hands down one of my favorite coffee brands. This is the taste that I associate with Hawaiian coffee. It’s a combination of the roast, the volcanic soil, and even the packaging!

Related read: Sensitive stomach friendly coffee

3. Hawaii Coffee Company – Whole Bean Peaberry

Hawaii Coffee Company has an interesting history if you’re into that sort of thing. Being well-connected, they’ve morphed and partnered with others in the local Kona coffee industry.  From 1864 with Lion Coffee Company, Royal Kona Coffee in 1968, and Royal Hawaiian Coffees in 2013.

They are a self-proclaimed largest roaster of Kona coffee in the world. This is quite a feat given the limited supply of pure Kona coffee beans.

Luxuriously Self-Indulgent
Hawaii Coffee Company - Whole Bean Peaberry Medium Roast 100% Kona Coffee

A medium roast with a smooth and sweet taste. Full-bodied and best served black for an indulgent experience.

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Summary:

  • Medium roast
  • Rich, velvety and sweet
  • Full-bodied
  • Try it black
  • Best brewed by hand

Royal Kona is one of the staple Hawaiian Kona coffee brands. Aside from amazing coffee, they have great customer service. This is always a plus in any industry.

If you aren’t price-sensitive, these are great Kona coffee beans to order for home-use.

4. Peaberry Dark Roast

The Koa Peaberry Dark Roast is nothing like your usual dark roasted beans.

Best Brewed With Milk
Peaberry Dark Roast Whole Bean 100% Kona

This 100% Kona dark roast has medium acidity and is complimented by sweet to nutty undertones.

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Summary:

  • Dark roast
  • Medium acidity, sweet, nutty
  • Medium-bodied
  • Works well with or without milk
  • Espresso and hand-brew compatible

Be forewarned, if you connect “quality” with “more bitterness”, this isn’t the choice for you.

As mentioned earlier, peaberry coffee has more sweetness and developed flavor. This means that even with a darker roast profile, it is still complex and sweet.

The demand can get so high for these beans that Koa has to buy from a private reserve or two to maintain supply. If you enjoy your morning cappuccinos or afternoon lattes, you might want to give this a try.

5. Keala’s Hawaiian Coffee

Remember how Kona coffees have Types? This is under the Extra Fancy classification, which falls under Type I of Kona coffee brands.

100% Kona comes from Keala’s Hawaiian Coffee company, run by a born-and-bred local. It’s safe to say that he knows how to grow premium Hawaiian Kona coffee beans.

Best Brewed Black
100% Kona - Keala’s Hawaiian Coffee

A sip of paradise! One of the rarest coffees on this list, it's graded extra fancy, and it's 100% pure Kona!

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We earn a commission if you click this link and make a purchase at no additional cost to you.

Summary:

  • Medium roast
  • Bold and balanced, with hints of toasted coconut, passion fruit
  • Flavorful black coffee
  • Try with hand-brew methods like pour-over or french press

100% Kona coffee uses only the best of the best. They do things right by sourcing from the farms. This is why they’re one of my favorite Kona coffee brands around. You can be confident that you will be getting quality Kona coffee beans when you see 100% Kona coffee on the label.

Since this is a medium roast, expect a fancy complex flavor from your first sip. But, remember to wait until your coffee reaches a drinkable temperature…It’s well worth the wait.

The Kona Coffee Buying Guide

In case you want to look outside of this list, here’s a quick guide so you understand the label of your coffee better.

The first step is to understand the Types of Kona better.

Cleanliness, color, roasting quality, allowance for defects, size, and moisture determine the classifications.

For example, there is a less -10% tolerance for undersized beans by weight for Extra Fancy, Fancy, and Hawaii No. 1. For the rest, it’s optional. Can you imagine how even your brew is with the top pure Kona coffees?!

As for moisture, they allow 9-12% from Extra Fancy to Hawaii No.3. It then becomes 8-13% for Hawaii Natural Prime and Hawaii Mixed Natural Prime.

Before I get on with a quick list summary, let’s run through imperfections. They count physical imperfections as full and partial, based on an eye test. Full imperfections found count as a point, while partial imperfections are 1/5 of a point.

Kona Quality Bands

Below are the classifications by law:

EXTRA FANCY – These are the best Kona coffee beans: clean, uniform in color, of premium roast quality, but only up to 8 full imperfections per 300 grams. Type I is a size 19, while Type II is a size 13.

FANCY – Like Extra Fancy, these are clean Kona beans, uniform in color, of good roasting quality, but up to 12 full imperfections per 300 grams. Type I is a size 18, while Type II is a size 12.

NUMBER 1 – Still clean, uniform in color, of above average roasting quality, but up to 18 full imperfections per 300 grams. Type I is a size 16 while Type II is a size 10. This is the last of the top-tier Kona beans.

HAWAII SELECT – The first major rule for this band is that “there should be no undesirable aroma or flavor when brewed”, and that defective beans should be no more than 5% of the total weight. It’s the best of the mid-level Kona coffee beans.

HAWAII PRIME – It has the same clean aroma and flavor rule with Select. This band allows defective coffee beans up to 20% of the total weight. This is no Extra Fancy but it isn’t your “premium” grocery selection as well.

HAWAII NO. 3 – Still a clean aroma and flavor rule, but defectives up to 35% of total weight can pass. This is closer to a level that coffee brands hover around.

HAWAII NATURAL PRIME – While there aren’t any strict requirements on color, roasting quality, and size, defects are only permissible for up to 20% of the weight. Limits are in place to protect the name of Hawaiian coffee.

HAWAII MIXED NATURAL PRIME – Exact same tier as Natural Prime, although this tends to be more of a coffee blend.

Kona Industry Scammers

“Are blends real Kona?”

Hawaiian coffee has a good name. If you want the best, Kona coffee won’t let you down. Just the presence of the name can make beans easier to sell.

This is why some sellers take advantage of claiming to be Kona coffee.

It’s easy to claim to be Extra Fancy, but sometimes the only “fancy” thing about fake sellers is their packaging.

Did you know that a Kona coffee blend should at least be 10% real Kona coffee beans?

It’s rules like this that have protected the reputation of Hawaiian beans, which is why when it comes to good coffee, in Kona we trust.

What’s the solution?

Buy Kona From Hawaii directly

Ideally, you only want to buy directly from sellers in the region.

Most Kona coffee brands like Royal Kona have amazing customer service. I’d say it’s almost in Hawaiian culture! 

After this entire discussion on Kona, it’s only right to get the full experience of the best Kona coffee. What better way to do it than to experience interacting with the people closest to the actual product?  

Trying original Hawaii coffee sourced directly is the best opportunity to ensure your money goes to the growers first and foremost. Evidently, it’s also helpful that this way you get the freshest beans. For me, buying beans directly from farms completely altered the trajectory of my coffee journey!

“Good coffee is stronger!!!”

As I’ve repeatedly tried to debunk in this article, you need to understand your coffee before you drink it. Kona is no different. If you expect it to be more bitter the higher up the quality ladder you go, you’ll be setting yourself up for disappointment.

The solution?

The Kona Quality Goalpost

Remember that quality is tied to the complexity and depth of flavors. It is bringing out a sweetness and balance in your cup of coffee, Kona, or no Kona beans brewing.

“All I need is good beans.”

True and false.

Kona peaberry coffee, for example, is so good that for baristas like me, they’re very hard to mess up. However, that’s also because I brew with great equipment.

So when it comes to Kona coffee, I find it heartbreaking to see failed expectations after brewing. Imagine all the hard work behind the bag of Kona coffee you’re holding, only to miss the mark with brewing.

The solution?

Brew Kona Correctly

As you go deeper into your coffee journey, slowly invest in brewing equipment and improve your knowledge.

High quality beans will be something noticeably different, but for the full experience, invest more in yourself by taking a holistic view on your coffee experience.

The Verdict

As I hinted at earlier, Koa Coffee Tri-Pack is my top pick. Of the big island coffees, the sweetness, the body, and pleasant lingering finish of these three coffee beans just stuck. The three different beans make it easy to compare the differences, so you can allocate a favorite for next time!

Top Pick
Whole Bean Kona Coffee Medium Roast Tri-Pack

Dubbed the champagne of Kona, this triple pack contains a variety of rare medium to medium-dark roasts.

SEE PRICE NOW Learn More
We earn a commission if you click this link and make a purchase at no additional cost to you.

The Volcanica Coffee Kona Peaberry and Hawaii Coffee Company’s Whole Bean Peaberry Medium Roast is a close (tie) second. From the same group of companies behind Royal Kona, aside from quality coffee beans, their amazing customer service stuck with me.

And so as great as the peaberry is, what I love about the coffee industry is that it wouldn’t be nearly as good as it is without the human touch.

This wraps up my quick take on Kona coffees, definitely a must-try. What’s left for you to do is to plan how you want to get brewing when you come across one that compels you to start clicking away!

Enjoy!

Miguel Papa

Miguel Papa

Barista and coffee writer

Miguel Papa is a coffee fanatic with a passion for brewing. During the weekdays, you can find him experimenting with different drinks while he works as a barista. Otherwise, he’s likely writing here for Sip Coffee or enjoying the outdoors.

2 thoughts on “The best Kona Coffee Brands of 2020”

  1. Hey,
    Helpful and informative review. One thing that I have been wondering for a while is whether you think Kona Coffee is still some of the best coffee out there? I know that it used to be often given this accolade but these days it does seem that in the specialty coffee movement the shift has been more towards geisha beans for instance. Thoughts?

    1. Hi James,

      The Panamanian Geisha variety is indeed considered as some of the best (and most expensive) coffee on the planet. However, I personally think Kona beans still have their place, especially given the unique growing conditions found on Mauna Loa . The crux of the issue is that it’s difficult to assert what is genuine Kona, especially given the many Kona blends sold under the guise of being associated with Kona.

      Also, when you’re looking at price points – Geisha is significantly more expensive when compared to Kona (although it warrants it and indeed is considered a more speciality bean).

      Cheers
      Miguel

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