[Updated 1/2/2024] Aloha fellow coffee lovers! If you’re one of those people who loves trying new exotic coffee flavors, then you may have heard about Hawaiian coffee at some point. Hawaii is the only state in the U.S. that grows and exports coffee with Kona coffee in specific being its most globally-recognized product. As the lone coffee-producing state, these utopic islands are known for producing some of the finest and rarest coffee in the world. So why are Hawaiian coffee beans so special and why are they worth buying? These are the questions we will answer in this article.
Best Kona Coffee and Hawaiian Coffee Picks of 2024 (at a Glance)
Big Island Roasters
Royal Kona Coffee
Later in this guide, we’ll offer our full list of the best Hawaiian and Kona coffees which goes into more detail about each brand.
Why is Hawaiian Coffee & Kona Coffee Special?
The flavor of a coffee bean is largely determined by climate. Hawaii’s high elevation and unique tropical climate offer the ideal environment for Kona coffee beans. While every Kona bean differs based on a variety of factors, the end result is typically a bright, crisp, and distinctly clean flavor that coffee lovers around the world would die for. What’s even more unique is that this bright profile is combined with delicious hints of brown sugar, honey, and milk chocolate.
Hawaii is full of volcanoes which means the island has an abundance of volcanic soil. Volcanic soil is especially rich in minerals and nutrients that allow coffee plants to flourish.
The largest growing district in Hawaii is the Kona region which is where the famous Kona coffee is produced.
When buying Kona coffee, it’s best to avoid blends which can contain as little as 10% Kona if you’re looking for the authentic experience. In these cases, the remaining 90% is often filled with low quality beans. In other words, you probably won’t even taste the Kona coffee if you go with blends. Instead look for coffee that’s made from 100% Kona which should cost more than $20/lb. Anything below that price is a red flag that it’s not 100% Kona. While there’s nothing inherently wrong with blends, it does open the door for lower quality beans to sneak into the bag.
In the end, beware of the blend.
Other popular coffee-growing regions are found in Ka’u district and the Hawaiian island of Maui. While there are many different types of Hawaiian coffee, none are as famous as coffee produced in the Kona district (Kona coffee). Hawaiian Coffee also has a standardized set of metrics to gauge quality. They are as follows: Kona Coffee Grades
- Kona Extra fancy (the highest quality and largest beans)
- Kona Fancy
- Kona No.1
- Kona Select
- Kona Prime (smallest beans that can contain up to 20% defective beans)
We’ll go into more details about the Kona Grading system later in this article.
Because not all soil is created equal it should come to no surprise that not all Hawaiian or Kona coffee is created equal. The term “Hawaiian Coffee” is often used to suggest high quality coffee. However, while these group of islands are known for some of the best coffee in the world, it doesn’t mean all of their coffee is good. This is why always checking the “grade” of the coffee is important. Truly identifying the best Hawaiian coffee brews involves doing your due diligence in order to not fall to any misleading marketing tactics.
We’ve seen our fair share of quality Kona and Hawaiian coffees. However, there are certain brands and brews that stand head and shoulders above the rest in our opinion. These brands are worthy of your hard earned coffee dollars and more importantly, will treat you to one of the best Hawaiian coffee and Kona coffee experiences possible.
With that, we present to you the top Hawaiian and Kona coffees on the market. As you’ve already seen, the top 4 beans on this list all source only Grade 1 Extra Fancy Kona beans. As an added bonus for our coffee pod lovers, we also include our top picks for the best Kona K-Cups and Coffee Pods currently on the market. Please note that while the “extra fancy” designation does indicate a Kona bean with the least amount of defects, there are still plenty of quality Kona coffees beans out there that aren’t extra fancy.
What’s the best roast for Hawaiian and Kona Coffee?
While everyone has their own preferences, it’s widely agreed upon by coffee connoisseurs at least that it’s best to roast Kona coffee at a light to medium roast. This is because these roasts allow more of the beans natural flavors to express themselves. In the case of Kona, you’ll be able to taste the fullest chocolatey and nutty notes while also savoring its more floral and fruity qualities. In my humble opinion, going with a overly dark roasted Kona would be like cooking a filet mignon extra well done. But once again this will boil down to a matter of preference.
While the light and medium roasts are most popular, do not discount a medium dark roast if it’s done well and by the hand of a truly artisan roaster. A prime example of this is the Big Island Roaster’s Kona Peaberry. This particular brand has won more awards that any other craft roaster in Hawaii and after tasting this coffee, this fact comes as no surprise.
Best Hawaiian Coffee + Best Kona Coffee: (No Blends )
This 100% Kona Peaberry coffee was the best Kona peaberry and second-highest rating in a cupping of Hawaiian coffees for Coffee Review’s May 2019 tasting report. Peaberry coffees tend to have a greater density of flavor, sugars, and lipids compared to regular coffee beans. You could think of these Kona peaberry beans as being the ‘only child’ of a coffee cherry, enjoying all the nutrients to itself. Check out our full Big Island Roasters review to learn more about easily one of the best Hawaiian coffees we’ve ever tasted.
Peaberry coffees are rare, comprising only 3-7% of the total crop. These pea-shaped, natural formations of the coffee bean are thought to form when several pistils get knocked off the coffee flower, causing only one seed to form inside the coffee fruit rather than two.
- 100% Kona Coffee
- Rare Peaberry coffee comprising only 3-7% of total crop
- Medium Light Roast
- Cinnamon, caramel, plum, a hint of cacao and cedar. Deeply sweet and rich
Starting of this list is none other than the Hawaiian Coffee company. They are actually made up of a number of sister companies that sell some of the most authentic Kona and Hawaiian coffee on the market. We’ve tried their Kona products and can recommend the company without hesitation. Their estate medium roast delivers the full and true Kona experience and offers one of the smoothest coffees ever to grace the coffee market. Using 100% true Kona beans, this brew offers a superbly clean flavor while being attractively priced.
Out of the Grey Coffee offers an impeccable 100% organic single origin medium dark roast with a wide arrange of complex yet well-balanced flavors. Look for fruit-toned notes of strawberry and watermelon highlighted by dark chocolate. This is a rich coffee with a uniquely vibrant acidity and dry finish. Out of the Grey Coffee consistently finds themselves on our best coffee lists because of their commitment to an unbelievably high standard of coffee. It’s no surprise to us that they’ve made the list of best Hawaiian coffees as well.
Volcanica Coffee has slowly but surely earned its place as a household name among elite coffee lovers. Their Hawaiian coffee uses the top grade of Hawaiian beans (Extra Fancy) so you can be assured you’re getting the cream of the coffee crop. This medium roasted, shade grown coffee offers a very rare balance of low acidity and robust flavor which in my opinion, is one of the coveted sweet spots on the flavor profile spectrum. This coffee isn’t cheap coffee nor should it be. This is ideal for the coffee drinker who care about quality and is willing to pay the premium for it.
Hayman is a celebrated brand that’s well-known for its exotic specialty coffees. To little surprise, it finds a place on our list of the best Hawaiian coffees available. Like many others on this list, they offer 100% pure Kona coffee that aren’t mixed with any other types of beans. Their single origin coffee showcases a genuinely flavor profile that is sweet, balanced, and supremely smooth while being lined with impressive caramel flavor notes. Their Kona is roasted in small batches and shipped on the same day the coffee is shipped. This ensures the freshest coffee experience possible. As an added bonus, Hayman offers their Kona brew in Nespresso-compatible pods as well.
- 100% Kona Coffee
- Medium Roast
- Sweet, balanced and very smooth, with impressive caramel flavor notes
This is a great choice for anyone looking to try different award-winning varieties of authentic Kona. When you consider the price of top-rated Kona, this Tripack is an incredible value. Koa Coffee is yet another well-established brand that has a very highest of standards to uphold. This Kona coffee tri pack includes 3 x 1lb bags coffees
- Grande Domaine Kona Coffee, a Kona Coffee Cupping Contest Winner for outstanding quality and balance.
- Award-winning Private Reserve Kona Coffee, the Kona Coffee that Forbes called “Best in America”
- Estate Kona, from a high elevation, single estate farm; a classic taste of Aloha
Carta Coffee hasn’t been around as long as some of these other 100% Kona brands, but they produce a quality Kona coffee that’s just as impressive. Their Meridian roast is light roasted to perfection allowing all of the bean’s subtle nuances and flavors to express themselves. It’s slightly sweeter than other Kona coffee’s I’ve tried which is by no means a bad thing. If you’re palette leans to the sweeter side, this would be a good option for you. The brew also has a very creamy texture. Loaded with a variety of natural flavors, Carta Coffee’s brew really gives you a sense of what a well-balanced Kona should taste like. If you’d like more details, check out our full Carta Coffee review.
Social Brew, as its name suggests, is a coffee company dedicated to not only high-end Kona coffee, but also social good. On the coffee side of things, their brews are made of 100% Kona coffee beans and are not blends. These single origin beans deliver a delightfully soft, smooth, and balanced coffee experience worthy of making this list of best Hawaiian coffees. What’s notable about the flavor of Social Brew’s Kona coffee is that it’s bright while also offering an grounded earthen flavor. In this regard, it brings together the best of two flavor worlds. In addition to producing quality Kona coffee, they also donate 50% of their proceeds toward the fight against human trafficking.
- Mild Arabica
- Semi-sweet flavour
- Medium effervescence
- Rich, prominent aroma
- 100% single-origin Kona beans
Best Kona K Cups and Coffee Pods
Most Kona coffee will come in the form of whole bean. However, for those who have a Keurig brewing system or coffee pod machine, fret not. There are a number of excellent Kona K Cups to choose from. We share our top picks below:
Fresh Roasted Coffee is a company with a sterling reputation and has been around for over a decade. Their 100% Kona coffee pods are organic, single origin, direct trade, and medium roasted to perfection. With tasting notes of spiced cinnamon and sweet honeyed toast, these Kona coffee pods deliver an authentic Kona experience in the convenience of a coffee pod deliver form. It’s mild body is complemented by a deliciously refined and uniquely sweet flavor. This organic Kona K Cup compatible coffee pod serves as a great introduction for anyone looking to sample the world of Hawaiian coffee. This makes for an excellent choice for those who love the rare flavors afforded by exotic K Cups.
Sourced from Hala Tree Farm in Southern District of Kona.
For some reason, finding 100% Kona coffee in K-Cup or coffee pod form can be a challenge. Fortunately, Blue Horse offers a superb 100% Kona K Cup that gives you the true Kona experience but with added convenience. With their pesticide-free, sun dried, rain-water washed coffee, you rest assured that you’re getting nothing but the good stuff. These 100% Kona K Cups are also Keurig 2.0 compatible.
Best Kona Mushroom Coffee
If you want to experience an even more exotic coffee experience, consider trying Kona Mushroom Coffee. The thought of mushrooms may initially sound unappealing for some coffee lovers, but mushroom coffee as a subset of the coffee industry has exploded in popularity over the last few years. It’s often most appreciated by health-conscious coffee lovers.
Mushroom coffee actually doesn’t taste like you’d expect….that is, like mushrooms. Many have described it as being smoother and less acidic than traditional coffee.
One of the most popular types of mushroom coffee is Kona coffee with lion’s mane mushroom extract. Perhaps the flavor profile of premium Kona beans is conducive to producing especially good mushroom coffee. Lion’s mane is a type of mushroom that has been traditionally used in Chinese medicine. It is said to have a number of health benefits, including boosting the immune system, improving cognitive function, and reducing anxiety and depression. In this regard, it’s considered a nootropic coffee.
Malama Coffee produces an impressive cup of Kona coffee blend with the added benefits of Lion’s Mane.
This organic coffee blend combines the renowned quality of Kona beans with a potent mushroom extract, offering a unique combination of flavor and functionality.
- It’s made from 10% organic Kona beans and a 90% mixture of Fairtrade and organic beans from South and Central America.
- The mushroom extract is derived from eight different mushrooms, including reishi, chaga, turkey tail, maitake, shiitake, and tremella
- Steam processed for bio-availability & absorption
Making Your Own Kona K Cups and Coffee Pod?
The reality is that even the best Kona K Cups can’t deliver the same freshness as the same coffee in whole bean form. Those who opt for K Cups and coffee pods are usually prepared to sacrifice quality for convenience. To get around this, you can use a reusable K Cup adapter and simply make your Kona K Cups at home. It’s true that this method requires a little more time, but when you’re dealing with such a premium bean, I think it’s more than worth the extra few minutes. Follow the steps below to make your own Kona K Cup at home:
- Buy whole bean Geisha Coffee
- Grind it while being sure to only grind what you need. Whole bean coffee stays fresher for longer than ground coffee.
- Pour the coffee grinds into a reusable K-Cup Adapter
- Place the adapter into your coffee pod brewer and brew as usual
Related Link: If you’re looking for exotic K cups, we’ve got a wide selection for you to choose from.
FAQ on the Kona Grading System
The Kona grading system is based on a number of factors. We’ve outlined them below so you can have a better idea of what you’re buying when you purchase quality Kona.
- Kona coffee is graded based on the size, shape, and density of the coffee beans.
- Extra Fancy grade is the highest quality of bean. The beans that make this grade will have no defects, be large in size, and be well-shaped. As such, these beans will typically yield the most robust and strongest flavor possible. Extra Fancy Kona beans make up only 20% of the available Kona beans. If your budget can afford it, definitely go with Extra Fancy for those authentic Kona experience possible.
- Fancy grade is the second-highest quality and includes beans that are slightly smaller or have minor defects. These are still relatively large beans, they’re just smaller than the extra fancy ones. Fancy grade beans are allowed 12 imperfections for every 300g.
- These beans are still of high quality, but not as uniform in size and shape as Extra Fancy beans.
- Kona #1 grade includes beans that are smaller with an allowance of 18 defective beans per 300 grams. The fact that they’re named Kona #1 may leave some coffee lovers feeling a little confused since they’re third best on the Kona scale.
- Kona Select is the level down on the Kona grading scale. These specific beans do not need to pass any color or size requirements. As a result, Kona select beans can end up being quite small. Kona Select can have 5% defective beans. The difference in taste will be significant between Kona select and Extra Fancy.
- Kona Prime is basically the same thing as Kona select except they’re allowed to contain 20% defective beans.
It is important to keep in mind that if a batch of Kona coffee has a 35% defective beans, it does not meet the quality standards required to be labeled as Kona coffee. In such cases, the coffee must be labeled as “Hawaiian Coffee” instead.
Best Hawaiian Coffee: Final Thoughts
Even though Hawaii produces about .04% of all the coffee in the world, what it does produce it does exceptionally well. Hawaiian Coffee is easily one of the most sought-after and exotic coffees in the world and the coffees on this list are a true testament to this fact. Remember, the best Kona coffee will only source Grade 1 Extra Fancy beans. As such, be aware of marketing phrases such as “Hawaii-inspired”, “Kona-inspired,” “Kona blend,” or “Kona-roast.” Such coffee are almost guaranteed not to be 100% Grade 1 Extra Fancy.
As you can see, there are many things to consider when purchasing the best Hawaiian coffees especially Kona coffees. Hopefully this article will help you be wise with your hard-earned coffee bucks and ensure that you get the best and most authentic Hawaiian coffee experience possible.
Those who appreciate a quality Hawaiian coffee will likely have a palate that can also appreciate a wide variety of exotic coffees. If you’re someone who enjoys such unique flavors but in the convenient form of a coffee pod, we encourage you to check out our selection of exotic coffee pods.
Related Article: Best K Cups and Coffee Pods for Coffee Snobs