Kona Coffee History

Coffee was first brought to Hawai’i on visiting ships. It is thought that the first coffee was carried to the islands by Don Paulo Marin, a ship provisioner, who planted it in 1817. Marin is known to have planted his coffee in Honolulu near the headwaters of Pauoa stream, but his coffee plants are not those that Kona’s coffee industry is traced to.

“In 1825, King Kamehameha II, his wife Kamamalu, and a retinue that included Boki, Governor of Oahu, visited England. A few weeks after the arrival of the party both the King and Queen died of measles. The British government arranged to have the bodies returned to Hawai‘i on a British warship, the Blonde, commanded by Captain George Anson, Lord Bryon.

While in England Governor Boki made arrangements with an agriculturalist named John Wilkinson, a former West Indian planter, to cultivate sugar and coffee on Boki’s land in Manoa Valley. Wilkinson returned with Boki on the Blonde, which paused at Rio de Janeiro to pick up some young coffee plants for the project.

Wilkinson planted about seven acres of sugar, and a small field of coffee. Apparently he did an effective job under difficult conditions, but unfortunately he died in March 1827 just as his first coffee plantings were showing vigorous growth.
After his death, the coffee fields were left to grow with little care or attention. This Manoa field, however, was the seed bed of the island coffee industry.” (Kona Coffee from Cherry to Cup, Woodrum)

The first known location where there was a concerted effort to grow coffee commercially was in the Hanalei Valley on Kauai. In 1845 they exported about 245 pounds.

The person most often credited with bringing coffee plantings to Kona is Reverend Samuel Ruggles, one of the first American missionaries to Hawai’i. He is said to have brought cuttings from Boki’s land in Manoa in 1828 to Napo’opo’o, South Kona. The cuttings flourished in the fertile volcanic soil. In 1892 Herman Widemann introduced a bean from Guatemala that farmers and brokers found to be of higher quality; this bean became known as Kona typica or Kona Coffee.

Coffee farming is difficult work, but in its 180 year history, Kona Coffee has been developed to its premier position in the marketplace today. Hundreds of Kona Coffee Farms abound in the Kona District; a tourism niche has grown around the Kona Coffee culture of West Hawai’i; and 100% Pure Kona Coffee has a gourmet fan base that spans the globe.