One little word and all the coffee lovers in the room go a bit wild!
Kona coffee is award-winning, delicious, and extremely expensive. There are Kona fan clubs, Kona addicts and, unfortunately, Kona scams.
As Coffee Dorks, we love Kona. Like a fine wine or tray of gold-leaf encrusted chocolate truffles, picking the best can be a tricky job. But once done, you can enjoy one of the best gourmet beverages in the world.
Let us explain what all the hype is about with a detailed explanation of Kona coffee and a guide to our 5 favorites.
These pure Kona beans by Imagine are grown in a rich volcanic Hawaiian soil region. They belong to a single estate and are handpicked to deliver an extraordinary taste. These beans bring sweet and robust taste without the acidity or bitter aftertaste. At Coffee Dorks, we highly recommend the medium dark roast premium as we have found it to have the smoothest taste.
Stop compromising on taste today!
Why Kona Coffee
Kona coffee is special.
Besides sounding like the name of the Kardashian’s private coffee estate, Kona coffee stands for excellence among coffee grown in Hawaii.
The Kona region, or belt, stretches up the volcanic slopes of Mauna Lau and Hualalai up to 3000 feet. This stretch of land has the perfect conditions for growing coffee, and that creates supreme complex flavors that are unique. Even with all the other coffee beans in the world at your fingertips, creating a blend to replicate the complex flavors of Kona would be near impossible.
How To Tell Real Kona Coffee
Calling your coffee blend “Kona” instantly adds a whole lot of $$$ to the price tag. And, unless you know what the flavor should be, you wouldn’t necessarily be able to tell if it’s real.
As you can imagine, this does lead to fake and misleading Kona bean sellers on the web. So, keep your eye out for these:
Kona Blends and Hawaiian Gourmet Coffee
Keep a close eye on the name of the coffee and take a look at the list of ingredients/origin. A Kona blend can contain as little as 10% Kona coffee – or none at all, just named after the region. Not all coffee from Hawaii is Kona!
Sellers from Other Countries
The Hawaii government has strict guidelines surrounding Kona coffee. No blend can be labeled Kona unless it contains at least 10% of the Kona bean, for example.
Make sure you’re buying directly from Hawaiian sellers who are subject to Hawaii’s rules. Buying from a seller elsewhere in the world is risky – who knows what amount of Kona is in their coffee?
No Awards or Recognition
Kona is a gourmet coffee that experts love to review. If you’ve gone to the trouble of growing Kona, then you’re more than likely to be picked up at some point or another by a reviewer. All Kona brands on our list have been recognized, even if it’s just a nod from the Food and Wine Magazine a decade ago (like Volcanica’s Kona Peaberry).
A real Kona doesn’t slip under the radar.
No HDA Grade
Kona beans have their own grading system. If the coffee isn’t labeled with a grade, or it’s the lowest grade but priced as if it’s the highest, approach with caution.
Extra Fancy – the best of the best. A pack of Extra Fancy Kona beans are the largest beans, with less than 10% defects per 1lb.
Fancy – second best!
No. 1 – the third best, but confusing called No. 1. This is the coffee grade that’s blended with others most frequently.
There are further grades (Kona Select, Kona Prime, No. 3 and Natural Prime) but these are harder to find online and, if you want good tasting Kona that’s noticeably better than normal gourmet coffees, you’re better off paying extra for the best.
Buying Kona from Amazon is both simple and wise. There are clear details about the seller for you to check out and many reviews you can read.
You can also check out the seller’s website for more information.
Going about it the other way around, however, is a good way to stumble onto a scam. You can write what you like on your own website! Watch out for false claims. If they’re not selling on Amazon with shining reviews, mentions from critics and a super clear explanation of the how much Kona and which grade Kona is in their coffee, just walk away.
The 5 Best Kona Coffee Brands
Our best Kona Coffee brands are all exceptional and many have won awards to prove it. Flavor and blend are spot-on, so all you need to worry about is keeping the beans fresh!
Kona Coffee Beans by Imagine
These Kona Beans are not just grown to be the best, they’re picked to be the best. Imagine only include Kona beans graded extra fancy, rather than blending delicious yet still lower grade Kona beans grown on the estate. The highest grade of Kona bean ensures less than 10 imperfect beans per pound and the largest size bean available.
These beans are grown at elevations of 2220 feet in dark volcanic soils (as standard) which does classify them as SS. What sets this estate apart is the Macadamia nut trees that cast a partial shadow over the coffee plants, creating a distinct and unique nutty flavor that compliments the complex Kona notes. Expect that usual sweet and robust flavor with low acidity, notes of caramel and crème Brulee, and a smooth body.
After being hand selected and sun-dried, Imagine use an air roasting method to achieve a medium-dark roast on their Kona. This modern method of roasting coffee beans elevated on a bed of hot air allows for an extremely precise and even roast. This makes it particularly ideal for using a French press, cold brewer and drip coffee machine where a longer brew time is required without enhancing bitter, charred notes.
The medium dark roast whole bean is available in 4, 8 and 16oz bag sizes (no de-gassing valve) from Buddha’s Cup. Imagine is just one roast of Kona available, which earned the Paris Gourmet 2018 Gold Medal and was rated 95 by the President of Whole Cup Coffee Consulting.
Other blends available from this company include the dark roast Kona Kulana (notes of cinnamon, brown sugar and lavender), and medium roast Manny’s Brew which isn’t Kona but still worth trying (notes of citrus, sandalwood, and creamy milk chocolate).
Koa Dark Roast Kona Coffee
A tri-pack of classical dark roast Kona beans from Koa Coffee. Quality is varied, but all packs are 100% Kona of various grades. Included are:
- Grande Domaine Kona coffee – a Vienna roast that puts it on the dark side of the medium-dark roast scale. It’s the most balanced of the 3 with typical notes from the Mauna Loa region in Hawaii. It contains a blend of different grade Kona beans from a single estate, including some Peaberry Kona. It won the Kona Coffee Cupping Contest.
- Private Reserve Kona coffee – a secret blend of Kona beans grown by Koa Coffee – one of their bestsellers. Bold, smooth and low caffeine, this blend is award-winning and praised by Forbes as ‘Best in America.’ It’s ideal as a dessert coffee to enjoy the smooth flavor without any bitterness to disrupt the palate or caffeine to keep you up late.
- Estate Kona coffee – the classic from Koa Coffee, grown at high elevations from a single estate farm. Enjoy the typical flavors of Kona in a dark roast. The taste of “Aloha”.
All beans used by Koa are handpicked and sorted. Only the ripe red cherries are roasted – again, all by hand. The tri-pack is available in 3x 8oz bags or 3x 1lb bags. Single bags from Koa are much larger than other Kona coffee suppliers (8oz, 1lb, 2lb 5lb), which is a small issue for solo coffee drinkers.
Another Kona coffee from Koa worth mentioning is the Swiss Water Decaf Kona. It’s a clean and chemical free process that removes nearly all the caffeine from Kona coffee using just water, temperature and time. We love that this perfectly removes caffeine without altering that outstanding Kona flavor.
The 3 pack is ideal for those that like a variety of coffees, from espresso to cold brew. The flavors are subtly different, and we thoroughly enjoyed testing our palates out on them.
Big Island Coffee Roasters
The Kona Bloom from Big Island Coffee Roasters is stuffed full with only the best Extra Fancy grade Kona beans. Unlike many other Konas on this list, the Kona Bloom is made of a blend of Extra Fancy beans from small farmers. This does affect the flavor balance of the Kona blend (positively, in our opinion) but it also supports small, local farmers in a way that the big-Kona-brand single estate farms don’t.
These Kona beans are cultivated from Kona Typica, an Arabica variety, and local heritage. These are handpicked, washed and medium roasted in small batches (weekly) to create Big Island’s award-winning gourmet coffee. It has a delightful butteryness, with sweet and bright notes enhanced by the roasting.
Other tasting notes include toffee, cocoa, floral peach, and nougat. It’s smooth and light on your palate and is ideal for pour over and drip coffee methods. We also tried it in a French press and were delighted with the results. Best enjoyed black but a dash of milk won’t harm the flavors.
The beans are packaged in 10oz or 5lb bags with de-gassing valves for freshness. There’s always a roasted date on the bag so you know how fresh it is.
Big Island Coffee Roasters aren’t just coffee growers, however. They also offer coffee roasting and milling services, consultations and Q cupping evaluations. The sign of true coffee lovers! You know that Big Island Coffee Roasters really are the experts; they’re passionate about coffee and know how to roast it perfect for drinking.
There are many other roasts and blends from Big Island Coffee Roasters, including a Kona Peaberry, Maui Mellow and Hawaiian Harmony. We recommend checking out the multi-packs, either Bright & Sweet or Dark & Deep, to try a bit of everything.
Volcanica Kona Coffee
16oz of pure peaberry Kona coffee, medium roasted, expertly packaged – that will set you back around $100! But ask us if Volcanica Kona Coffee is worth the price, and the answer will definitely be yes.
In case you didn’t know, most coffee cherries grow with 2 seeds within giving that appearance of two round shapes pressed together. Peaberry cherries grow with just 1 seed instead of 2. This gives them a rounder shape and a more intense flavor. Basically, you’ve got the strength and flavor of a normal cherry compressed into a half cherry.
Rich and volcanic, these peaberry Kona beans are shade grown on the volcanic soils of Mauna Loa. Only 5% of the coffee harvest is peaberry, hence why it’s so expensive and sought after. The flavor is more intense than regular or extra fancy Kona, with a smooth full flavor and low acidity. You can expect a nutty aroma with a complex, winy taste.
The peaberries are hand-picked from over 600 small farms partnered with Volcanica. The farmers are paid a fair-trade price for their coffee before it’s processed and roasted by Volcanica.
The coffee is only roasted after you place your order, then packed up into bags with de-gassing valves to keep it fresh and delicious.
If it’s a little out of budget, Volcanica also offer a Kona Extra Fancy pack ($80 for 16oz) and Kona Coffee Hawaiian Gourmet Blend. The gourmet blend contains different Hawaiian beans, 20% of which is Kona Extra Fancy, at just $30 per 16oz. Volcanica is a huge company that brings the best coffee from all over the world to your pantry. In exchange, you lose some of the satisfaction in knowing where your coffee is from down to the estate and the farmers that grew those beans.
Volcanica donate 1% of sales from their website to ‘charity: water’ to provide clean, safe drinking water to developing countries. It just makes every mouthful of their Kona coffee that more satisfying.
Royal Kona Coffee
Last but not least on the list is Royal Kona, owned by the Hawaiian Coffee Company. You have 8 different choices of Kona whole beans alone from this brand. The most notable are the Private Reserve Medium Roast (very smooth and aromatic) and the Estate Medium Roast (graded extra fancy with a slightly lighter roast for brighter notes).
The Private Reserve is only available to buy in 2lb bags, however. So, we also recommend the Pure Kona Sampler Collection. This gets you 3x 7oz bags of whole bean including the Estate, Private Reserve and medium roast peaberry. Expect all those delicious and complex Kona flavors to be highlighted in these 3 roasts.
If you’re looking for a budget option, you can also find Sam Choy’s Volcano Roast. It only contains 10% Kona but is beautifully blended into an 8oz bag. It’s a medium light roast with the classic Kona flavors packed out with a blend of other gourmet coffee beans. For just under $10, it’s certainly worth trying.
The brand Royal Kona really is coffee royalty. This was the first Kona, the original. Long before Kona tantalized taste buds around the world, Royal Kona was busy tending to Kona coffee in Hawaii. Now, as part of Hawaiian Coffee Company, they are endorsed by Chef Alan Wong and the largest roaster of Kona coffee in the world.
The Kona beans are roasted by Lion Coffee in Hawaii, all by machine and conveyer belt. You can actually take a tour around the mill and roasting factory if you’re visiting Hawaii!
Kona For Coffee Dorks
Our overall favorite that we go to the time and again is Imagine’s Kona coffee. The small bag sizes make it affordable, the quality never fails to be superb and we love that subtle nuttiness from the Macadamia trees.
If you’re looking for luxurious, the $100 bag of Volcanica peaberry is an excellent choice. It’s a great gourmet gift for coffee lovers, whether it’s a birthday, wedding or anniversary.
Big Island are our winners if you want something incredibly fresh and medium roasted to mellow those complex flavors a little. But, to be honest, all Kona beans are renowned for their supreme quality and flavor. Follow our tips to checking if a Kona bean is really Kona and you can’t go wrong.
Anthony is a professional barista in the city of Chicago. He has written for many online publications on various topics related to coffee.