Sample a cup of Kona’s gourmet brew and you’ll savor the richness of its multi-cultural heritage that has been percolating for nearly 175 years. Each sip shares a story of Kona’s widespread coffee traditions that produced this true American legacy.
In 1813 the first ornamental coffee tree arrived in Honolulu by way of Kamehameha the Great’s Spanish interpreter and physician Don Francisco de Paula y Marin. Fifteen years later Reverend Samuel Ruggles, an American missionary, transplanted a Coffea arabica cutting from an orchard on Oahu to Kona, and it soon flourished. Kona’s rich volcanic soil, bright sunny mornings, afternoon cloud cover, ample rainfall and higher upslope elevation furnished the perfect recipe for success. Some say Kona’s gourmet beans get their full-bodied flavor from this very special place in paradise.
Early on, coffee was grown throughout the Big Island, but by the second half of the 19th century production centered mainly in the Kona district. Large coffee plantations flourished in Kona until the world coffee market crashed in 1899. Hardy immigrants from Japan seized an entrepreneurial opportunity and leased the failing lands in 3- to 5-acre parcels for $30 a year and a portion of the cultivated coffee. These family-run farms revolutionized the coffee industry and kept it alive.
The Kona coffee story is one often told throughout America – that of hard work and commitment to cultivate a dream for a better life. Immigrants to Hawaii from China, Portugal, Japan, Philippines, Korea and Puerto Rico along with Hawaiians and Caucasians endured endless hours of hard farm work, planting and picking the choicest coffee berries by hand. These Kona coffee pioneers added cultural diversity and a mix of ethnic traditions as they embraced “Aloha” as a shared value.
Today fifth generation coffee farmers work alongside newcomers to cultivate more than 600 estate and commercial Kona coffee farms as they continue to uphold the tradition of quality that has made Kona a coffee success.