Kona coffee is famous world wide for its full flavor, infused from the rich volcanic soil on the southwest side of the Big Island of Hawaii. So naturally visitors to the islands often include Kona coffee on their souvenir and gift lists. Kona coffee is available at many Hawaii locations including big box stores, convenience stores, groceries and specialty shops. Kona coffee is also available at some stores on the US mainland and online. Prices can vary widely according to where you shop but there is another factor to consider when making a purchase.
Is it really Kona coffee?
Coffee beans grown in Kona are processed by many different companies and bagged for sale under a variety of labels. The name 'Kona coffee' has a strong influence on the buyer so it is always prominent on the packaging. But most consumers are not aware that a content of as little as 10% real Kona coffee permits the package to be label with the Kona name. That's ten per cent.
The Kona Coffee Farmers Association has recently asked the Hawaiian government to require blenders to disclose the full contents of their blends in order to protect the integrity of the Kona name. Currently labeling is 'voluntary' and few are willing to comply. The 'Coffee Origin Disclosure Bill' asks that the remaining 90% be identified (usually South or Central American) and that the label be made more readable.
This has been an issue in Hawaii for over 20 years with both the growers and the packagers trying to influence Hawaiian lawmakers and regulators while the customer is left on his own. The emergence of the Hawaiian Ka'u brand, a neighbor of Kona and now sold at 250 Starbuck's, may also become an issue for those growers.
So for now it is up to the consumer to beware. If that bag of 'Kona coffee' looks surprisingly inexpensive the surprise may be that there is very little genuine Kona coffee in there. Real Kona coffee is always labelled 100% Kona and will be more expensive than the blends. Ten percent blends will always be labelled as such but that is often in the 'fine print'.
Frank MacMillan is owner of Withouraloha.com, a provider of Hawaiian flowers, leis and gifts since 2000.