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Kona Coffee is a rare commodity. And because there aren’t any federal regulations protecting Kona Coffee, anyone outside of Hawai’i can use the word “Kona” in whatever way they find the most profitable for them. And it can make for a confusing coffee marketplace for the consumer.
The growing phase of Kona Coffee starts with the blossoming of small white flowers that begin to appear on the plant in late January. The flowers eventually turn into green coffee berries, and then into the red coffee cherry. Harvesting begins when the ripe coffee cherry is picked by hand and put into containers awaiting processing. Each Kona Coffee plant is handpicked again and again, usually between 6-9 times over, during the harvesting season stretching from July to December. An average Kona Coffee tree can yield up to 30 pounds of coffee cherry each year, and it takes about 8 pounds of coffee cherry to yield one pound of roasted 100% Kona Coffee.
Maintaining the integrity and quality of what is deemed to be 100% Kona Coffee is extremely important to the industry, and the grading system is integral to this determination. The usual grades of Kona Coffee are: Peaberry, Extra Fancy, Fancy, #1 and Prime. Peaberry results when a single bean grows in the coffee cherry instead of the usual two beans. Many coffee connoisseurs value the rich taste of this coffee said to be distinctive because of its added weight. Fans of Extra Fancy, Fancy and #1 grades all claim that their favorite has the best cupping qualities. Prime grade, sometimes difficult to find because it is bought up by mainland coffee roasters to be used in master blends, is the minimum grade of bean that is allowed by law to be called Kona Coffee.
The issue of Kona Coffee blends can get quite heated in Hawai’i. The term “Kona Coffee Blend” is not a blend of coffees grown in Kona. Rather, “Kona Blend” only means that the package of coffee must legally contain “not less than 10% Kona Coffee”. The other 90% of the coffee in the package does not have to be identified as to origin. The inferior beans are mixed at a ratio of 9 foreign to 1 Kona, packaged and marketed with the “Kona” name prominently displayed. Roasted Kona Blend coffees command a considerably higher market price simply because of the fine reputation of pure Kona Coffee.