Best Kona Coffee: Expert Guide to Top Choices in 2023

best kona coffee

When it comes to indulging in a cup of coffee that is rich, flavorful, and smooth, few options can match the exquisite taste of Kona coffee. Grown in the fertile volcanic soil of the Kona region in Hawaii, Kona coffee has earned a reputation for its exceptional quality and unique characteristics. In this article, we will explore the world of Kona coffee, its history, qualities, brewing methods, and the best brands available. Whether you’re a coffee connoisseur or simply someone who appreciates a good cup of joe, join us on this journey as we dive into the world of the best Kona coffee.

What is Kona Coffee?

Kona coffee refers to coffee beans cultivated in the Kona district of Hawaii, particularly on the slopes of the Mauna Loa volcano. The region’s unique climate, with its combination of sunny mornings, mild afternoons, and rich volcanic soil, creates an ideal environment for coffee cultivation. Kona coffee is renowned for its smoothness, low acidity, and delicate flavor profile, making it highly sought after by coffee enthusiasts worldwide.

History of Kona Coffee

The history of Kona coffee dates back to the early 19th century when Samuel Reverend Ruggles introduced the first coffee plants to the Kona region. Over the years, coffee cultivation thrived, and Kona coffee gained recognition for its exceptional quality. Today, Kona coffee is a proud symbol of Hawaii’s agricultural heritage and is protected by strict regulations to ensure its authenticity.

What Makes Kona Coffee Unique?

Kona Region

The Kona region is located on the Big Island of Hawaii and produces a very rare, highly desirable coffee. The unique climate and distinct growing conditions in the South and North districts of Kona contribute to this rare gem of coffee production.

Volcanic Soil

Kona coffee is grown in rich volcanic soil, providing an excellent environment for the coffee plants to thrive. The porous nature of this soil helps with drainage and retains the essential nutrients and minerals necessary for healthy growth. The connection between coffee and its volcanic origin contributes to Kona coffee’s unparalleled taste.

Climate and Microclimate

The Kona region enjoys a unique island microclimate which plays an important role in shaping the coffee’s distinct taste. The climate is characterized by warm sunny mornings, afternoon cloud coverage, and mild rainfall. This combination of factors creates a favorable environment for coffee cultivation, allowing the beans to develop slowly and evenly.

Arabica Coffee

Kona coffee is produced using only Arabica coffee plants, which are known for their high-quality beans and excellent flavor profiles. Arabica beans produce coffees with delicate flavors and nuanced aromas, truly distinguishing Kona coffee from other coffee varieties.

By embracing the factors that contribute to Kona coffee’s uniqueness, such as the Kona region, volcanic soil, distinct climate, and Arabica plants, you can better appreciate the extraordinary flavors and complexities that this truly exceptional coffee has to offer.

Types and Grades of Kona Coffee Beans

Kona coffee beans at a farm in Hawaii

Type I

Type I Kona coffee beans are the classic beans that you may be familiar with. These beans have two flat sides and a visible seam. Type I beans generally receive higher grades due to their size, shape, and consistency.

Type II

Type II Kona coffee beans are often smaller and rounder than Type I beans. They are sometimes called peaberries because of their resemblance to small peas. These beans have a single, round side and no visible seam. Despite their size and shape, Type II beans can still produce a high-quality cup of coffee with a unique flavor profile.

Peaberry Coffee

Peaberry coffee is a rare and highly prized form of Kona coffee. Peaberry beans are distinct in that they are round and smooth, unlike the typical flat-sided coffee beans. This unique shape is due to the bean developing as a single seed within the coffee cherry, rather than the usual two seeds. Often preferred by coffee connoisseurs, peaberry coffee beans can produce a brighter, more flavorful cup of coffee.

Extra Fancy

Extra Fancy is the highest grade of Kona coffee available. To earn this prestigious grade, beans must be sorted by size using a screen size of 19, yielding a larger bean. These beans take longer to develop, allowing them to absorb more nutrients from the tree, resulting in a more rich and flavorful coffee.


Fancy grade Kona coffee beans are slightly smaller than Extra Fancy, but still produce a high-quality cup of coffee. Beans of the Fancy grade have been sorted using a screen size of 18 and are considered to be an excellent option for those seeking a delicious, medium-roast Kona coffee.

Estate Coffee

Estate coffee refers to Kona coffee beans that are sourced from a single coffee farm or estate, rather than being blended with beans from various sources. This method of production allows for a more consistent flavor profile and showcases the unique flavors and characteristics of the specific farm where the beans were grown. While not necessarily a specific grade, Estate coffee typically includes beans from several different grades to create a well-rounded and balanced cup of coffee.

By understanding the different types and grades of Kona coffee beans, you can make a more informed decision when choosing the perfect coffee to suit your preferences and taste. Happy brewing!

Top Kona Coffee Brands

In this section, we will look at some top Kona coffee brands, focusing on Koa Coffee, Royal Kona Coffee, Green Coffee Traders, and Hualalai.

Koa Coffee

Koa Coffee is a Hawaii-based company known for its authentic taste of Aloha. They offer a variety of award-winning 100% Kona coffee that has even been featured on Forbes’ 50 of America’s Best list. Some popular options from Koa Coffee include:

  • Koa’s Estate Medium Roast: At $36 per pound for their monthly coffee club members, this medium roast offers a balance of flavor and affordability.
  • Peaberry Kona Roast: More expensive at $50 per pound, this peaberry variety is considered a rare find and a unique coffee experience.

When selecting Koa Coffee, keep in mind that the higher elevation where the beans are grown results in a denser, richer taste, especially with their medium-light roast options.

Royal Kona Coffee

Royal Kona Coffee’s reputation is built on their high-quality products, with the Royal Kona Estate Medium Roast being a standout choice, thanks to its flavorful, dense coffee grown at higher elevations. This medium-light roast keeps the coffee lively and interesting, making it a great option for those who appreciate beans with unique characteristics.

Green Coffee Traders

Green Coffee Traders is best known for their Kona Select, Kona Prime, and Hawaii No. 3 beans, each with different quality standards:

  • Kona Select: Offers a clean aroma and flavor profile, allowing for up to 10% of defective beans in the mix.
  • Hawaii Prime: Similar to Kona Select, but allows for up to 20% of defective beans.
  • Hawaii No. 3: Maintains a clean aroma and flavor, but with a higher percentage of allowable defects.

To enjoy the best that Green Coffee Traders has to offer, opt for their Kona Select beans.


Lastly, Hualalai’s Hawaiian Lion 24K Gold Roast is an excellent choice for a top ground Kona coffee. This medium-roast coffee boasts a smooth, robust flavor, providing a delightful drinking experience. It is available in a convenient drip grind, perfect for those who appreciate ease and efficiency.

In summary, these four brands offer a range of options for Kona coffee lovers. Throughout your exploration, you will be sure to find the perfect blend that suits your taste and budget.

Roasting and Brewing Kona Coffee

Classic French Press

Kona coffee is renowned for its smooth, nutty flavor and medium body. To fully enjoy its unique qualities, consider using a French press for brewing. This method enables you to extract more flavor, while maintaining the coffee’s smooth, balanced character. Here’s how to do it:

  1. Measure out 1 rounded tablespoon of ground Kona coffee per 4 ounces of water.
  2. Pour the hot water over the coffee grounds in the French press, making sure all the grounds are saturated.
  3. Stir the mixture to allow the coffee grounds to interact fully with the water.
  4. Let the coffee steep for 3 to 5 minutes.
  5. Slowly plunge the filter to separate the grounds from the liquid.

Following these steps will provide you with a rich, aromatic cup of Kona coffee that highlights its distinctive taste and medium body.

Coffee Roast

Roasting plays a crucial role in bringing out the best flavors in Kona coffee. As a rule of thumb, opt for beans with a medium roast for a well-balanced taste that retains the coffee’s natural characteristics. A few recommended Kona coffee brands include:

  • Hawaii Prime (mid-level Kona): Clean aroma and flavor, allows up to 20% defective coffee beans.
  • Hawaii No. 3: A clean aroma and flavor with a slightly higher number of defects allowed.
  • Lion Coffee Gold Roast Decaf: This brand decaffeinates its coffee using water, rather than harsh chemicals. This process preserves the distinctive flavor and uniqueness of Kona coffee.

Remember to grind your Kona coffee beans just before brewing. For optimal results, use a burr grinder to ensure a consistent grind size. Aim for a 16:1 water-to-coffee ratio – that’s approximately 20-25g (4-5 tablespoons) of freshly roasted Kona coffee for a standard pour-over method.

By taking care in the roasting and brewing process, you can elevate your Kona coffee experience and savor the exceptional qualities this coffee offers.

Sustainable and Authentic Kona Coffee

Kona coffee tree Hawaii

Organic Kona Coffee

In your quest to find the best Kona coffee, it’s important to consider the environmental and health benefits of organic coffee beans. Grown within the Kona Coffee Belt on the Big Island of Hawaii, organic Kona coffee is produced without synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, or other chemicals. This method not only contributes to a healthier farming ecosystem, but it also ensures a cleaner, more natural taste for your cup of coffee.

One option to explore is a certified organic Kona coffee blend, which ensures that the beans adhere to the strict organic farming standards. By choosing an organic blend, you’re not only enjoying the unique taste of Kona coffee, but also supporting sustainable and environmentally-friendly agricultural practices.

Single-Origin Beans

To truly appreciate the authentic Kona coffee experience, it’s essential to select single-origin beans. The term “single-origin” means that the coffee beans come from one specific location—in this case, the Kona Coffee Belt. By selecting single-origin beans, you can be sure that you’re tasting the distinct flavors and characteristics unique to the Kona region.

Avoid Kona coffee blends that mix Kona beans with beans from other regions. These blends often contain only a small percentage of the prized Kona beans, so the flavors you expect from authentic Kona coffee may be diluted. Instead, look for coffee labeled as “100% Kona” to ensure you’re getting the authentic, single-origin experience.

In summary, to fully enjoy sustainable and authentic Kona coffee, consider choosing a certified organic blend grown within the Kona Coffee Belt, and always opt for 100% single-origin beans. This not only guarantees a premium coffee experience but also supports responsible and sustainable coffee farming practices.

Shopping for Kona Coffee

Blends vs 100% Kona Coffee

When shopping for Kona coffee, you’ll want to make a choice between blends and 100% Kona coffee. Blends typically contain a mix of Kona beans and other coffee beans, and although they can offer some of the Kona flavor, they might not provide the full experience. If you’re looking for the highest quality and most authentic taste, aim for 100% Kona coffee. Some top choices include:

  • Royal Kona Estate Medium Roast Coffee
  • Hawaiian Lion 24K Gold Roast
  • Koa’s Estate Medium Roast


While Kona coffee is known for its premium quality, it’s possible to find options that won’t break the bank. For example, Koa’s Estate Medium Roast is available for around $40 per pound, making it more budget-friendly than some other choices. As you compare prices, take note of what each brand has to offer, such as certifications, roasting styles, and bean grading.


Consider subscribing to a Kona coffee club to save on your favorite beans. Some companies, like Koa Coffee, offer a subscription service that grants you a discount off the standard rate. By joining their monthly coffee club, you can enjoy Koa’s Estate Medium Roast for about $36 per pound, rather than the standard $40.

Additionally, a subscription enables you to regularly experience fresh Kona coffee directly from the source, ensuring consistent quality and flavor. If you’re interested in trying more than one type of Kona coffee, a Koa Coffee Tri-Pack offers a sample of three different roasts to explore the range of flavors.

Remember to shop around, compare your options, and prioritize what matters most to you when it comes to Kona coffee. Whether it’s grading, affordability, 100% Kona beans, or a subscription, take your preferences into account for the best possible coffee experience.

Specialty Kona Coffee Drinks

Decaf Kona Coffee

If you’re looking for a decaffeinated option without sacrificing quality, decaf Kona coffee is a great choice. You can still enjoy the smooth and rich taste of Kona coffee, without the caffeine content. Decaf Kona coffee is treated with a process that removes the caffeine while preserving the unique flavors and aroma that Kona coffee is known for. Enjoy a cup of decaf Kona coffee any time of the day, without worrying about sleepless nights.

Hawaiian Lion 24K Gold Roast

One of the standout Kona coffee brands is the Hawaiian Lion 24K Gold Roast. This medium-roast Kona coffee boasts a smooth, robust flavor profile and a pleasant drinking experience. Made from premium Kona beans, the Hawaiian Lion 24K Gold Roast is available in a convenient drip grind, making it both easy and enjoyable to savor. Start your day with a cup of this top quality Kona coffee, and your taste buds will thank you.

Grande Domaine

Grande Domaine is another exceptional Kona coffee that you can indulge in. Grown in the prestigious Kona Coffee Belt of Hawaii, the beans for Grande Domaine coffee come from carefully selected plantations. This attention to detail results in a rich and satisfying taste with a velvety body and subtle acidity. The lush and tropical climate of the Kona District, combined with the dedicated artistry of Grande Domaine’s roasting process, produces a truly exceptional coffee experience that you won’t want to miss.

In conclusion, the world of Kona coffee is a captivating journey that unveils the secrets of Hawaii’s finest coffee beans. From its humble beginnings to its renowned status today, Kona coffee continues to mesmerize coffee lovers worldwide. Whether you prefer a light roast or a dark, bold flavor, the rich and smooth taste of Kona coffee is sure to leave a lasting impression. So, indulge in the flavors of the Kona region and experience the joy of sipping on the best Kona coffee.

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