If you’ve kept your ear to the ground over the last few decades in the coffee world, you would have heard about Kona Coffee Beans. These beans have excited coffee snobs and connoisseurs for over the last hundred years, but they’ve seen a particular boom in popularity since the 80s.
Be warned though, these beans are in short supply and high demand. This makes them a good deal pricier than other origins. If you’re someone who’s not willing to fork out more than a couple bucks to get your java, this might not be for you.
If you fancy yourself a coffee aficionado, or if you’re looking to explore the flavors of the world without having to leave the comfort of your home, then you’ve come to the right place.
It’s been an absolute blast drinking our way through pounds of some of the world’s most expensive coffee, and we’ve gathered a list of our favorites.
If you’re curious, stick around to the end where we’ll go over some useful tips and tricks when buying these coveted beans. We’ve also got some pointers on what to look out for to avoid being ripped off.
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The Best Kona Beans Money Can Buy
Koa Coffee beans are handpicked on the decades-old plantation on the slopes of the Mauna Loa Volcano on Hawaii’s Big Island. Their beans are as good as they come, and their Whole Bean Kona Tri-Pack is a great offer for anyone looking to get serious about their coffee collection.
The beans are all certified and of the highest grade: Extra Fancy. The Tri-Pack contains three bags of either 8oz or 1lb bags with three different varieties.
The Grande Domaine Kona is the highest quality on offer. It was selected as a Konda Coffee Cupping Contest winner and it hasn’t given an inch in terms of quality in the years since. It has a deliciously rich and nutty aroma. Whenever a cup of Grande Domaine was on the brew the smell was good enough to make you float.
Along with the flagship range of beans that Koa Coffee offers, the Tri-Pack comes with two equally tasty roasts. The second is the Private Reserve, which is a selection of beans grown across the entire farm. They are medium roasted, which highlights the delicate but deep savory flavors hidden in the bean.
Finally, the Estate Kona guarantees all its beans come from a single farm. These beans are grown at a high elevation and the milder weather keeps the beans cool throughout the year, giving them ample time to ripen and develop on the vine.
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Why We Like It: If you’re looking to learn about Kona beans this is a great place to start. Three different cultivars give you more than enough room to experiment and figure out which roast is the one for you.
2. Lion 24K Gold French Roast
If you drink a lot of coffee, odds are you’ve heard of the Lion. Although you may not have heard that they even had 100% Kona beans on offer. In fact, it’s a recent development in the company’s long history of growing coffee.
Out of the long list of coffees that Lion has on offer, the Lion 24K Gold is the only pure Kona it stocks. Unlike the other roasters on this list, Lion is not a single origin bean. This doesn’t mean that the beans aren’t Kona, or that they’re bulked up with inferior beans sourced from elsewhere in the world.
All the beans that go into a bag of Lion 24K Gold are pure, certified Kona berries. Like many wine farms, Lion buys berries from other farmers in the Kona region and roasts them.
Lion is one of the darker roasts of Kona you will find. More roasting breaks down the caffeine in the berry. So if you’re looking for something a bit easier on your stomach or something that won’t keep you up all night, this one’s for you.
The bags are only available in 7oz packs, which can disappear pretty fast if you’re drinking the stuff regularly. Luckily, the beans are all whole, which keeps the coffee from going stale too quickly.
Lion Kona will set you back less than its pricier cousins; you can thank the multiple sources for that. But it also uses inferior beans, as farms tend to hold onto the highest quality ones for themselves and sell off the rest.
Why We Like It: Just because it’s cheaper doesn’t mean it’s cheap. Lion still makes a seriously good cup of coffee.
3. Mountain Thunder 100% Kona
Mountain Thunder is one of the most highly decorated coffee farmers in the biz. They boast pages and pages of awards and medals, as well as placing first in the coveted Kona Coffee Cupping Competition (try saying that three fast three times), and a Gold from the Kona Coffee Council.
They have a wide variety of coffee on offer, every one of which is pure, unadulterated Kona beans. So you can trust that they have the experience to know what they’re doing.
Their beans are all hand-picked and machine-graded. It’s plain to see that they take pride in ensuring their customers get the best coffee possible.
The cream of the Mountain Thunder crop must be their 16oz Peaberry beans. We’ll go over exactly what makes the Peaberry so sought after in coffee-drinker circles in our buyer’s guide section. This is one of those “bucket-list” beverages, and the Mountain Thunder is no joke.
From the moment you start grinding, these little pearls of flavor burst full of rich, nutty aromas.
It’s available in both French or Viennese roast: dark or medium-dark roasts respectively. You can also choose between whole bean or ground coffee. Be warned though, ground coffee ages much faster than the beans.
Why We Like It: You can trust that Mountain Thunder knows what they’re doing when it comes to Kona coffee. Their experience in the field is evident in every sip of coffee.
4. Volcanica Coffee Company
Volcanica has rocketed into view over the last two decades. Starting as a small roasting facility in Atlanta, they now blend and roast beans from almost every continent on Earth.
Part of Volacnica’s mission statement is to bring gourmet coffee from across the globe into your home, while sustainably supporting the hard-working farmers and workers who make it possible.
The Gran Reserve is Volcanica’s premium Kona Peaberry coffee. It uses only the highest quality Extra Fancy beans to produce a wonderful array of smells and flavors in your cup.
It’s a medium roast, which brings out its best features. The Volcanica Peaberry is a touch more acidic than most others. The acidity complements the notes of cinnamon and fennel. I was reminded of a fancy Spanish wine when I drank it.
The Volcanica has a lovely rich taste without being overwhelming or astringent. The low acidity makes for a surprisingly gentle and easy-to-drink brew. The quality and attention to detail earned it a place in Food & Wine Magazine’s Top 10 Coffees across the world.
The beans are available in 16oz, 3lb, or 5lb bags and are all certified 100% Kona by the State of Hawaii.
Why We Like It: It’s always nice to know you can enjoy a cup of coffee without guilt. Volcanica offers Kona coffee that goes toe-to-toe with any other farm in Hawaii.
5. Onouli Estate Coffee by Greenwell Estate
Greenwell is a much smaller farm relative to its competitors. The beans that make up the Onouli come from a tiny 12-acre plot. If you ever have the luxury to make it to the island, be sure to pay them a visit for a guided tour and tasting experience.
The coffee is all of single-origin, so there is a very limited supply each year. Greenwell estate has been in the same family for over a hundred years, and some of the producing trees are as old as the estate itself.
Because of the age of the trees, the coffee takes on a deep and mature flavor. This is not something you would offer to someone unless they took their coffee very seriously. It is full of earthy notes but is far from bitter.
The moment the brewing begins, your kitchen will fill with the smells of roasted chestnuts and dark cacao. Less acidic than some other Kona berries, it has a surprisingly smooth finish despite the bold flavors that sit at the back of the tongue.
It’s best drunk black. Milk or creamers can tend to disguise some of the subtler tones of the beverage.
Greenwell packages the Onouli in 16oz sealed bags, specifically designed to maintain freshness. The beans are only available whole which could conceivably drive away anyone looking for something more convenient.
But you don’t drink Kona for convenience, you drink it for the taste. The Onouli is certainly a taste sensation.
Why We Like It: In a world full of Starbucks franchises it’s heartening to know that small, independent coffee makers still exist. They’ve been around for over a hundred years and their experience shows.
6. Chameleon Blend by Greenwell Estate
If you are familiar with Kona coffee, and the way in which some companies pretend to supply it, the word ‘Blend’ is probably throwing up all sorts of red flags. But fear not, everything is in order.
The Chameleon Blend is a drink with a bit of a sense of humor. It’s not a blend in the traditional sense of the word. In fact, all the beans are of single-origin straight from the Greenwell Estate farm.
The blend is made up of equal parts of medium-, full city-, and dark-roasted beans. The coffee takes on lovely notes of deep earth which are tempered by higher acidity from the lighter roasts.
These factors play together and result in a coffee that is balanced and easy to drink. It’s more likely to be something you put out with a fancy cheese-board to entertain your friends than a cup of long black to get you up in the morning.
Since the ratios of dark and lightly roasted beans will change with each scoop, you will never get the exact same cup of coffee twice. If there are more dark beans in your drink, expect something a little deeper. More light beans will result in a more acidic, flavorful beverage.
If you agree that variety is the spice of life, embody that philosophy in the coffee you drink. It’s like opening a Christmas present every time you make a cup, not quite sure what you’re going to get out of it.
Why We Like It: If you’re looking to get a taste of what Kona beans have to offer without breaking your wallet, The Chameleon is a great place to start.
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Kona Coffee Beans Buyers Guide
So that’s a lot of information to take in all at once. But before you start thinking about forking over all that money for some expensive Hawaiian beans, you should make sure you know what you’re looking for.
As mentioned earlier, some companies jump through some pretty shady loopholes to trick people into buying what they think is Kona. But what are these tricks, and how do you avoid them? Well, keep reading.
We put together a basic information pack along with some tips and tricks to find the right coffee to scratch that Kona itch.
What makes Kona, Kona?
All of the coffees listed in this review are 100% Kona. That means that each and every single bean in the bag was grown in the small Kona district on Hawaii’s Big Island.
Similar to the way that Port can only be made in Portugal, or how Champagne must come from the region of the same name in France, Kona beans must be grown in this small area to gain the Kona name.
Because of its unique terroir, nestled high in the volcanic mountains, the Kona beans take on a flavor of their own. The plants grow in relatively cool weather, exposed to the warm sun in the morning and summer showers in the afternoon.
Knock-offs and Rip-offs
It’s no surprise that copycats would try and jump onto the lucrative Kona bandwagon. In reality, because the region is so small, there are only around 600 Kona farms in the world, all of them located on Big Island.
Not all of the beans grown on these farms make it into 100% Kona coffee bags. Foreign companies will often buy inferior Kona beans in bulk to be repackaged.
In order to sell Kona coffee, these companies only need their product to contain a minimum of 10% Kona beans. The remaining 90% is bulked up, often with Brazilian or Colombian arabica beans.
This lets these producers dishonestly palm off their grocery-store quality beans for exorbitant prices. The 10% Kona beans are drowned out by the other beans. There is really no reason to ever buy these blends.
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So now that we know the practical difference between the genuine article and its imitators, how do we avoid buying the wrong thing?
There are a few tell-tale signs to look for when buying Kona coffee. Once you have these under your belt you’ll be able to shop confidently.
Current laws around the labeling of coffee in Hawaii require producers to list only the percentage of Kona coffee, but they do not have to include other coffee origins. A lawsuit in the 90s unsuccessfully tried to protect the name “Kona Coffee.”
As a result, the Department of Agriculture in the state set up a “100% Kona Coffee” certification that is given to any pure, unadulterated Kona coffee. Any bag of coffee without this certification is most likely a fake.
It’s also a good idea to buy directly from the suppliers. Most of them have online shops attached to their websites. This ensures the quality of what you’re buying.
Online and large-scale retailers have been caught misleading customers in the past as to the origin of their coffee. Going directly through the farmer is a great way to support small businesses as well as guaranteeing your product.
Be on the lookout for anything that labels itself “Kona Style” or “Kona Roast,” as these are most likely not the luxurious Kona beans you’re looking for.
If Kona is the champagne of coffee, Peaberry Kona is that bottle you keep hidden away for a special occasion. They are widely considered to be the very best of the Extra Fancy grade coffee. But what are they?
Peaberries earned their name from their interesting shape. Unlike normal coffee beans, which are flat on one side, the peaberry beans are almost perfectly round.
They are the same variety of beans. In fact, peaberries will grow on the same tree as standard beans. A mutation occurs during the growing stage where the coffee berry will only form one seed.
This mutation affects between 5-10% of the crop annually, which is why the beans are so expensive.
They are prized for their shape. Because they are rounder than standard beans, heat is dispersed more evenly over the bean during the roasting process. This means more flavor can be extracted from the bean without having to worry that the edges of the berry will burn and turn bitter.
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With so many options to choose from, and there are so many more farms that we haven’t reviewed, it can be a bit overwhelming to commit to a decision. So where would we recommend?
Everyone has their own tastes when it comes to coffee, especially a boutique experience like Kona. Even so, our decision was nearly unanimous. Greenwell Estate’s “Onouli” gave us a coffee that was equally deep and charming. There was just something about its flavor that kept us coming back for more.
If you’re looking to drop some serious money on the Peaberry experience, we would recommend the Volcanica brand. Its aroma was unmatched and the taste was incredible.
Alternatively, if you want to buy good quality in bulk, why not consider something like the Koa Coffee Tri-Pack that lets you experience a range of beans and roasts?