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, not someplace where premium beans originate.
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:
Alternative Kona Coffee Beans At A Glance
What is Kona Coffee?
Kona Coffee is a world-famous origin of gourmet coffees from Hawaii.
Found on the Big Island, the beans grow in South Kona – also known as the Kona Coffee belt. On this side of the island, the climate and geography are ideal for growing coffee.
The best Kona results in clear, sweet, less acidic cups. Medium roasts have a variety of tasting notes with exceptional clarity for the perfect, rounded flavor profile. More generally, the best Kona beans can even be dark roasted but still avoid being bitter.
Why are Kona beans famous?
It takes many small miracles coming together for gourmet coffee to develop the flavor profile found in the best Kona coffee beans.
In certain conditions, the coffee plant focuses its energy on creating quality seeds to maintain the species. At this developmental stage, the acids and sugars of the 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.
It doesn’t stop there.
The harvested beans are 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.
Doesn’t Type I has awesome classification names? It’s also essential to mention that Type III aka Triple X isn’t even recognized as Kona coffee. This is due to a high bar for Hawaiian 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 and a better-developed flavor profile.
This, in a nutshell, is why Kona is famous.
What does 100% Kona taste like?
I have a simplified system when it comes to tasting coffee beans. It consists of three things: intro, body, and taste.
With that said, if you’re looking for a general description of Hawaiian Kona, here it is:
- The flavor profile clear and without particularly “strong” unpleasant bitterness.
- It has a light-to-medium 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 cup of coffee.
Where is Kona sold?
This is where it gets tricky.
It’s difficult to source 100% Kona coffee, which is freshly roasted. But, thankfully, it’s much easier to buy Kona Coffee online directly from Hawaiian roasters.
There is a caveat though…
You need to ensure the supplier that isn’t using the “Extra Fancy Kona Beans” as a label only. On your own, this will likely take some trial and error, but that’s why we’re here to try and guide you to suppliers that genuinely roast real Kona Coffee.
Stay away from anything classed as a blend too, if you want to sip on real roast Kona coffee. We talk through why this is towards the end of this post.
This is also why it’s still best to try and find a way to buy coffee 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 roast coffee directly from the brand.
The Best Kona Coffee Brands From Hawaii 2021
Below is a rundown of the best Kona coffee brands originating from or sourced 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.
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.
Koa Coffee was a mom & pop sized business in 1997. Since then, they have been roasting and delivering quality Kona coffee to brewers all over the world.
Dubbed the champagne of Kona, this triple pack contains a variety of rare medium to medium-dark roasts.
This tri-pack of Kona extra fancy grade from Koa coffee has a clear flavor profile, sweet, and near-zero bitterness. With a medium body that works well black but also great with milk. If you want to enjoy its complexity, try it as a pour-over or in a French press.
I recommend this pick for those who are still deciding on their favorite type of Kona coffee. This is a field trip of extra fancy standard beans 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. According to Forbes and I agree, this was “Best in America” at one point; and I agree – the private reserve beans are my favorite. While this is 100% pure Kona Coffee, it’s Koa’s secret blend (not a ‘blend’ with little real Kona) of different Kona coffee beans.
The Grand Domaine coffee beans, also included, won the Kona Coffee Cupping Contest for outstanding quality and balance.
Last in this bundle is the Estate Kona coffee. It’s their version of what we know as single-origin, where all the coffee beans in the bag are from one farm. As we all know by now, high elevation farms deliver pleasant surprises!
Overall, Koa is certainly the top of the list when it comes to the best Kona Coffee beans. I personally enjoy the medium-light bag of beans the most but the medium-dark roast beans are great too!
The brand Volcanica Coffee sources beans from volcanic locations all around the world.
Coffee beans thrive in high elevation locations with microclimates and volcanic soil. These peaberry Kona beans are no exception, coming from the slopes of the Mauna Loa volcano itself!
This peaberry roast is rich, aromatic, and nutty. Naturally low acid, medium-bodied and light enough to be served with or without milk. These beans are best enjoyed via hand-brew methods.
Overall, If we’re talking Hawaiian, 100% real Kona coffee, this is hands down one of my favorite picks. This is the taste that I associate with the big Island of Hawaii, and it’s something any gourmet coffee drinker would enjoy deconstructing. Grab this Peaberry Kona and enjoy some of the best coffee available today.
Related read: Sensitive stomach friendly coffee
This brand has an interesting history if you’re into that sort of thing. Being well-connected, they’ve acquired 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.
Each Royal Kona Peaberry coffee bean is rich, velvety, and sweet. More of a full-bodied pick, these beans are best enjoyed black and brewed by hand, in my opinion.
Overall, Royal Kona is one of the staple Hawaiian brands specializing in Kona. Aside from amazing coffee, they have great customer service. This is always a plus in any industry.
If you are less price-sensitive, this is great Kona coffee to order.
The Koa Peaberry Dark Roast is nothing like your usual dark roasted beans and it’s bursting with flavor.
This 100% Kona pick from the brand Koa Coffee is one of the three in the tri-pack from our top choice. These beans have medium acidity but still retain sweetness and a nutty edge. Medium-bodied, they work well as a base for milky espresso-based drinks but can also be enjoyed black for a bolder brew.
Be forewarned, if you connect “quality” with “more bitterness”, this pick from Koa coffee isn’t the choice for you.
As mentioned earlier, peaberry coffee has more sweetness and a developed flavor profile. This means that even with a darker roast, it is still complex and sweet.
The demand can get so high for these beans that Koa coffee 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 Kona a try as your base espresso.
Remember how Kona coffees have Types? This pick from the brand Keala coffee falls under the Extra Fancy classification, which falls under Type I of Kona brands.
This 100% Kona coffee is 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.
Keala’s is bold and balanced, with flavor notes of toasted coconut, passion fruit. It’s a flavorful black coffee best enjoyed via hand-brew methods like a pour-over or AeroPress.
Keala’s uses only the best of the best, unlike the Kona coffee blend you can pick up in your local supermarket. They do things right by sourcing from the farms and not adding inferior beans to make a blend.
This is why they’re one of my favorite Kona brands around. You can be confident that you will be getting quality Kona when you see 100% Kona from Keala’s.
Since this is a medium roast, expect a complex flavor from your first sip and the flexibility to brew this in different ways to enjoy your coffee.
The Buying Guide To Kona Coffee Beans
In case you want to look for Kona coffee outside of this list, here’s a quick guide so you can better understand the label on your Kona Coffee.
The first step is to understand the Types of Kona better. But first, to be clear – not every Hawaiian Coffee brand grows Kona. But, every Kona Coffee falls under the region of Hawaii and, more specifically, the Big Island of Hawaii. All Kona brands roast beans harvested from coffee plants surrounding the Mauna Loa volcano.
Cleanliness, color, roasting quality, allowance for defects, sizing, and moisture determines the classifications.
For example, there is a less -10% tolerance for undersized Kona Coffee beans by weight for Extra Fancy, Fancy, and Hawaii No. 1. For the rest, it’s optional.
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 of the Kona Hawaiian coffee, let’s run through imperfections. Hawaiian law counts physical imperfections as full and partial, based on an eye test of all Kona beans before roasting. Full defects found count as a point, while partial flaws are 1/5 of a point.
Kona Coffee Quality Bands
Below are the Kona Hawaiian coffee grade classifications by law:
EXTRA FANCY – These are the best Kona 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 beans, 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 Kona 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 beans.
HAWAII PRIME – It has the same clean aroma and flavor rule with Kona Select beans. This band allows defective coffee beans up to 20% of the total weight. This is no Extra Fancy, but it isn’t just your “premium” grocery selection coffee either.
HAWAII NO. 3 – Beans still with a clean aroma and flavor rule, but with a slightly higher defectives allowance.
HAWAII NATURAL PRIME – While there aren’t any strict requirements for these beans in regards to 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 – This is the lowest quality Kona coffee. Exact same tier as Natural Prime, although this tends to be more of a coffee blend.
Kona Industry Scammers
“Are Kona blends real Kona?”
Hawaiian coffee has a good name. If you want the best of the nation, Kona won’t let you down. But, remember, just the presence of the Kona name can make a coffee bean easier to sell.
It’s easy to claim to be Extra Fancy Kona, but sometimes the only “fancy” thing about fake sellers is their packaging.
This is why some sellers take advantage of claiming to be 100% Kona when the beans are actually more fitting in the Kona blends category.
So what’s a Kona blend? Well, by Hawaiian law, blends are only required to contain a minimum of 10% Kona coffee!
As a result, it’s best to stay away from Kona blends to avoid inferior quality beans and those who add super dark city whole beans thrown into the mix to mask the flavor.
Which Kona Coffee Brand Is The Best?
Ideally, you only want to buy Kona beans directly from sellers in the region who specialize in beans that aren’t only used for a blend.
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?
Most pure Kona brands like Koa Coffee also have fantastic customer service. I’d say it’s almost in Hawaiian culture!
Trying an original Hawaii coffee that’s sourced directly is the best opportunity to ensure your money goes to the growers of the beans first and foremost.
As I’ve repeatedly tried to debunk in this article, you need to understand your coffee before drinking it. Kona coffee 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 with these beans.
The Kona Quality Goalpost
Remember that quality is tied to the complexity and depth of flavors. It brings out a sweetness and balance in your cup of coffee; this applies if your brewing Kona beans or any other.
“All I need is good beans for great coffee flavor.”
True and false.
For example, Kona peaberry coffee 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 as you go deeper into your coffee journey, slowly invest in brewing equipment and improve your technique.
The Final Verdict
As I hinted at earlier, Koa Coffee Tri-Pack is my top pick, and we’re all fans here at Sip Coffee. The sweetness, the body, and pleasantly light lingering finish of these three coffee beans just stuck. It’s voted the best in America, and I tend to agree, especially the private reserve.
The three different beans and roasts from medium-light to medium-dark roast makes it easy to compare the differences between Kona roasts, so you can allocate a favorite for next time!
The Volcanica Coffee Kona Peaberry and Hawaii Coffee Company’s (HCC) Peaberry Medium Roast is a close (tie) second. From the same group of companies behind Royal Kona, HCCs outstanding customer service stuck with me aside from the premium quality coffee beans.
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 and remember to avoid any blend you might find!