Best Kona Coffee Beans: Top Brands That Exemplify This Premium Bean (Updated For 2021)

Best Kona Coffee Beans: Top Brands That Exemplify This Premium Bean (Updated For 2021)

In the same way that only sparkling white wine from the Champagne region of France can be labeled “Champagne,” only coffee that is grown in the Kona district of Hawaii can be described and marketed as “Kona.”

Unfortunately, that’s rarely the case. I’ll address why shortly.

First, let's take a quick look at the best Kona coffee beans.

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Quick Picks
Best Kona Coffee Beans

What's best for us may not be best for you. Let's expand upon the Top Picks above and highlight a few more of the Best Kona Coffee Beans by category:

Not sure which is right for you? The next section should help...

3 Tips When Buying

Before we get to the individual Best Kona Coffee Beans reviews, let's take a look at the rankings.

Overall
95
Hawaii Roasters 100% Kona Coffee

Hawaii Roasters 100% Kona Coffee

Hawaii Roasters 100% Kona Coffee

Hawaii Roasters 100% Kona Coffee

All-natural, farm-roasted, sun-dried, and handpicked. This medium roast is micro-roasted in small batches to seal in the freshness of Hawaii Roasters' 100% Kona coffee beans in each and every packaged bag.
Overall
94
Imagine 100% Kona

Imagine 100% Kona

Imagine 100% Kona

Imagine 100% Kona

Not only rich and sweet but with dashes of berries, Imagine 100% Kona is naturally low-acid and air-roasted to prevent burning and charring for a complex profile featuring strong fruity and nutty notes.
Overall
94
Hualalai Estate 100% Kona Peaberry Coffee

Hualalai Estate 100% Kona Peaberry Coffee

Hualalai Estate 100% Kona Peaberry Coffee

Hualalai Estate 100% Kona Peaberry Coffee

This medium roast 100% Kona Peaberry is one you should be saving for guests you want to impress. Prized for its low acid content, the Kona Peaberry beans are believed to be the champagne of Kona Coffee.
Overall
93
Kona Gold Trading Co. 100% Kona

Kona Gold Trading Co. 100% Kona

Kona Gold Trading Co. 100% Kona

Kona Gold Trading Co. 100% Kona

Hand-picked and Extra Fancy (the highest grade) this Kona Gold 100% Kona has crisp flavors of peach, apple, and raspberry with subtly complex notes of melon, brown sugar, clove, and molasses.
Overall
93
Mountain Thunder 100% Kona

Mountain Thunder 100% Kona

Mountain Thunder 100% Kona

Mountain Thunder 100% Kona

A smooth roast with caramel and floral nuances, Mountain Thunder 100% Kona medium roast has a velvety texture and is sun-ripened, low-acid, and hand-picked for exceptional quality.
Overall
90
Koa Coffee 100% Kona

Koa Coffee 100% Kona

Koa Coffee 100% Kona

Koa Coffee 100% Kona

There's a lot of fake Kona coffee out there, but this 100% Kona roast from Koa Coffee is legit. Shade-grown in rich volcanic soil in the near-perfect climate of Hawaii's Big Island, it's a vacation in every cup.
Overall
90
Blue Horse 100% Kona

Blue Horse 100% Kona

Blue Horse 100% Kona

Blue Horse 100% Kona

An authentic, 100% Kona roast from the volcanic soil of Hawaii's Big Island, Blue Horse 100% Kona is dark and rich with strong chocolate notes and a raw, volcanic flavor that screams Hawaii.

Is This Guide For You?

Our editors have rated and ranked each option. Without further ado, here are our official reviews in this all-encompassing buying guide.

Hawaii Roasters 100% Kona Coffee
Overall Rating
95
Flavor & Aroma (50%)
95
Freshness (20%)
95
Balance & Acidity (10%)
94
Body & Mouthfeel (10%)
93
Roaster Reputation (10%)
93
The Bottom Line
All-natural, farm-roasted, sun-dried, and handpicked. This medium roast is micro-roasted in small batches to seal in the freshness of Hawaii Roasters' 100% Kona coffee beans in each and every packaged bag.

Hawaii Roasters 100% Kona Coffee Pros

Hawaii Roasters 100% Kona Coffee Cons

Hawaii Roasters 100% Kona Coffee Features & Specifications

  • Roast: Medium
  • Grade: Select
  • Flavor: Complex yet rich with fruity and nutty notes

Hawaii Roasters 100% Kona Coffee Pros

Hawaii Roasters 100% Kona Coffee Cons

Hawaii Roasters 100% Kona Coffee Features & Specifications

  • Roast: Medium
  • Grade: Select
  • Flavor: Complex yet rich with fruity and nutty notes
Imagine 100% Kona
Overall Rating
94
Flavor & Aroma (50%)
95
Freshness (20%)
95
Balance & Acidity (10%)
94
Body & Mouthfeel (10%)
93
Roaster Reputation (10%)
91
The Bottom Line
Not only rich and sweet but with dashes of berries, Imagine 100% Kona is naturally low-acid and air-roasted to prevent burning and charring for a complex profile featuring strong fruity and nutty notes.

Imagine 100% Kona Pros

Imagine 100% Kona Cons

Imagine 100% Kona Features & Specifications

  • Roast: Medium
  • Grade: Extra Fancy
  • Flavor: Complex yet rich with fruity and nutty notes

Imagine 100% Kona Pros

Imagine 100% Kona Cons

Imagine 100% Kona Features & Specifications

  • Roast: Medium
  • Grade: Extra Fancy
  • Flavor: Complex yet rich with fruity and nutty notes
Hualalai Estate 100% Kona Peaberry Coffee
Overall Rating
94
Flavor & Aroma (50%)
94
Freshness (20%)
95
Balance & Acidity (10%)
93
Body & Mouthfeel (10%)
93
Roaster Reputation (10%)
93
The Bottom Line
This medium roast 100% Kona Peaberry is one you should be saving for guests you want to impress. Prized for its low acid content, the Kona Peaberry beans are believed to be the champagne of Kona Coffee.

Hualalai Estate 100% Kona Peaberry Coffee Pros

Hualalai Estate 100% Kona Peaberry Coffee Cons

Hualalai Estate 100% Kona Peaberry Coffee Features & Specifications

  • Roast: Medium-dark
  • Grade: Peaberry
  • Flavor: Smooth and slightly spicy

Hualalai Estate 100% Kona Peaberry Coffee Pros

Hualalai Estate 100% Kona Peaberry Coffee Cons

Hualalai Estate 100% Kona Peaberry Coffee Features & Specifications

  • Roast: Medium-dark
  • Grade: Peaberry
  • Flavor: Smooth and slightly spicy
Kona Gold Trading Co. 100% Kona
Overall Rating
93
Flavor & Aroma (50%)
93
Freshness (20%)
92
Balance & Acidity (10%)
93
Body & Mouthfeel (10%)
93
Roaster Reputation (10%)
92
The Bottom Line
Hand-picked and Extra Fancy (the highest grade) this Kona Gold 100% Kona has crisp flavors of peach, apple, and raspberry with subtly complex notes of melon, brown sugar, clove, and molasses.

Kona Gold Trading Co. 100% Kona Pros

Kona Gold Trading Co. 100% Kona Cons

Kona Gold Trading Co. 100% Kona Features & Specifications

  • Roast: Medium-dark
  • Grade: Extra Fancy
  • Flavor: Crisp, fruity notes with creamy hints of molasses and brown sugar

Kona Gold Trading Co. 100% Kona Pros

Kona Gold Trading Co. 100% Kona Cons

Kona Gold Trading Co. 100% Kona Features & Specifications

  • Roast: Medium-dark
  • Grade: Extra Fancy
  • Flavor: Crisp, fruity notes with creamy hints of molasses and brown sugar
Mountain Thunder 100% Kona
Overall Rating
93
Flavor & Aroma (50%)
93
Freshness (20%)
92
Balance & Acidity (10%)
93
Body & Mouthfeel (10%)
93
Roaster Reputation (10%)
92
The Bottom Line
A smooth roast with caramel and floral nuances, Mountain Thunder 100% Kona medium roast has a velvety texture and is sun-ripened, low-acid, and hand-picked for exceptional quality.

Mountain Thunder 100% Kona Pros

Mountain Thunder 100% Kona Cons

Mountain Thunder 100% Kona Features & Specifications

  • Roast: Medium
  • Grade: Extra Fancy
  • Flavor: Smooth caramel and floral notes

Mountain Thunder 100% Kona Pros

Mountain Thunder 100% Kona Cons

Mountain Thunder 100% Kona Features & Specifications

  • Roast: Medium
  • Grade: Extra Fancy
  • Flavor: Smooth caramel and floral notes
Koa Coffee 100% Kona
Overall Rating
90
Flavor & Aroma (50%)
90
Freshness (20%)
88
Balance & Acidity (10%)
92
Body & Mouthfeel (10%)
91
Roaster Reputation (10%)
90
The Bottom Line
There's a lot of fake Kona coffee out there, but this 100% Kona roast from Koa Coffee is legit. Shade-grown in rich volcanic soil in the near-perfect climate of Hawaii's Big Island, it's a vacation in every cup.

Koa Coffee 100% Kona Pros

Koa Coffee 100% Kona Cons

Koa Coffee 100% Kona Features & Specifications

  • Roast: Medium
  • Origin: Hawaii
  • Notes: Smooth, fruity
  • Organic: No

Koa Coffee 100% Kona Pros

Koa Coffee 100% Kona Cons

Koa Coffee 100% Kona Features & Specifications

  • Roast: Medium
  • Origin: Hawaii
  • Notes: Smooth, fruity
  • Organic: No
Blue Horse 100% Kona
Overall Rating
90
Flavor & Aroma (50%)
90
Freshness (20%)
87
Balance & Acidity (10%)
92
Body & Mouthfeel (10%)
91
Roaster Reputation (10%)
88
The Bottom Line
An authentic, 100% Kona roast from the volcanic soil of Hawaii's Big Island, Blue Horse 100% Kona is dark and rich with strong chocolate notes and a raw, volcanic flavor that screams Hawaii.

Blue Horse 100% Kona Pros

Blue Horse 100% Kona Cons

Blue Horse 100% Kona Features & Specifications

  • Roast: Dark
  • Organic: No, but from a small single-family farm in the Kona region of Hawaii Island, Hawaii
  • Origin: Kona, Hawaii Island, Hawaii
  • Notes: Chocolate, hints of almond and vanilla, almost raw and “volcanic” in flavor

Blue Horse 100% Kona Pros

Blue Horse 100% Kona Cons

Blue Horse 100% Kona Features & Specifications

  • Roast: Dark
  • Organic: No, but from a small single-family farm in the Kona region of Hawaii Island, Hawaii
  • Origin: Kona, Hawaii Island, Hawaii
  • Notes: Chocolate, hints of almond and vanilla, almost raw and “volcanic” in flavor

Why is it called Kona coffee?

It started with Lady Washington, an American brig that picked up a Spaniard named Francisco de Paula Marín. The ship arrived at Hawaii in 1794. In 1817, de Paula Marín tried to plant coffee in the archipelago.

Lady Washington sailing along the Hawaiian coast. (Flickr)

But he failed. Badly.

No one else tried to plant coffee in Hawaii until 1825 when Chief Boki, the Royal Governor of the island of Oahu, tried the same thing. He brought coffee plants from Brazil and tried to plant them in the Manoa Valley. He didn’t fail as badly.

Actually, he kind of succeeded.

In 1836, the first commercial operation started in Koloa on the island of Kauai. Shortly thereafter, more than 1,000 acres of coffee were planted on Kauai.

In the 1980s, when sugarcane ceased being profitable, many of the cane plantations switched to coffee, kick-starting the current boom period of coffee growing across the state.

Today, coffee is a huge business in Hawaii

Despite the slow start, coffee is now a hugely important crop for the state of Hawaii. Though all of the islands were created by volcanoes, they each have unique climates and geography.

As a result, there are a bunch of different coffee varietals grown in the state, of which Kona is just one (though arguably the best).

Coffee is Hawaii’s 2nd-largest export but makes up just 0.04% of the global coffee market. (Source)

I’ve seen this Kona stuff at Target, right?

Not quite.

First of all, the typical “Kona coffee” you find at your local Target or Walmart is of average specialty (and probably not real Kona coffee at all).

Kona coffee is grown in a small strip of land on the western coast of Hawaii’s Big Island, shown in red below.

The red region above is where Kona coffee is grown. (Wikimedia Commons)

There isn’t much of this stuff on the market. As a result, most of the Kona coffee you see is watered down with cheaper beans or isn’t even Kona at all.

The best Kona Coffee is sold farm-direct.

What does Kona coffee taste like?

Many folks think Kona coffee has a strong, roasted flavor. This is understandable. Black, oily coffee looks great in magazine advertisements and coffee canisters, but it tastes like it looks–burnt.

Kona coffee cherries at various stages of ripeness. (Flickr)

When treated with the respect it deserves, Kona coffee is unparalleled in flavor and deserving of its lofty price tag.

While the taste varies slightly from farm to farm, all Kona coffee beans produce a brew that’s rich, mellow, smooth, and full of flavor.

Let me tell you about the first time I drank a cup of Kona coffee. I’ll narrate this in second person so you can feel like you’re there.

Your first Kona coffee experience

With a fresh-brewed cup of Kona coffee in front of you, the first thing you notice is the sweet fragrance that the brew exudes.

You tilt the cup towards your lips. It’s sweet and rich at first taste but not overpowering. More subtle than anything. Then comes nutty, honey-like notes accompanied by flavors like caramel, butter, and cocoa.

Being naturally low in acidity, it’s gentle on your stomach and smooth on your palate.

While you bask in all of the savory glory of the nectar of the Hawaiian Gods, you also notice that there is a lingering aftertaste of citrus and nuttiness that’s both bitter and sweet. If you weren’t already sitting, you are now.

Physically speaking, you don’t get the jittery over-caffeinated feeling either. In fact, well-roasted Kona does the opposite to you, making you feel lively and rejuvenated.

This is the good stuff. If only you broke college students could afford it.

What makes Kona coffee, well, Kona coffee?

There are a couple big factors.

Environment

The volcanic slopes of Hualālai and Mauna Loa in the Kona district provide an ideal climate for growing coffee.

Mauna Loa is a volcano on the southern side of Hawaii’s Big Island, shown above covered in a large cloud. (Wikimedia Commons)

What makes this region so unique?

  • Soft, sunny mornings
  • Afternoon cloud-cover provides shade when the sun is beating down hardest
  • Porous, mineral-rich volcanic soil allows optimal draining and nutrition
  • Cool nights that never get too cold

Few places in the world have growing conditions like Kona.

Processing

Kona coffee farmers work really hard compared to coffee farmers in other regions.

Like, really hard.

From late-August to late-January, farmers toil in pursuit of the ripe red coffee cherry. Farms are carefully tended and coffee cherries are picked by hand.

Kona coffee being harvested by hand. (Flickr)

Note: Coffee cherries don’t taste like either coffee or cherries and, speaking from experience, I recommend you DON’T try to find out what they taste like for yourself.

Trees will be picked several times throughout the year as not all cherries ripen at the same time.

Within 24 hours of picking, the cherry is run through a pulper. The beans are separated from the pulp and placed in a fermentation tank overnight. Fermentation takes roughly 12 hours at lower elevations or 24 hours at higher elevations.

The beans are rinsed and spread to dry on a hoshidana, or drying rack.

Kona coffee beans drying the natural way – under the pure, Hawaiian sun. (Flickr)

Traditional hoshidanas have a rolling roof to cover the beans in rain. It takes 7-14 days to dry beans to an optimal moisture level.

From here, the beans are stored as a parchment. The parchment is milled off the green bean prior to roasting or wholesale.

100% Kona coffee vs Kona coffee blend

Under the guise of selling cheaper alternatives (due to the expensive nature of Kona coffee), some retailers sell “Kona Blends.” These retailers want to use the Kona name because of its reputation.

Note: These blends are not combinations of different Kona beans; they’re a blend of foreign coffees with Kona. If the blend has at least 10% authentic Kona coffee, it can still call itself a “Kona blend.”

Current Hawaiian law requires blends to state only the percentage of Kona coffee, but not the origins of the other 90%. To be considered pure, authentic Kona coffee, Hawaiian laws require the roast to display “100% Kona Coffee” in huge, bold letters.

And people still pay good money for these mystery Kona blends. Even quality Colombian coffee at specialty coffee shops is often $9 per pound. Kona blends online and in airports are often $18 per pound or more.

Don’t be fooled into buying a “Kona blend.”

Pro Tip: If you want to blend Kona coffee, either for taste preferences or to save money, buy 100% Kona coffee and any other bean you like. Then, blend them yourself so you know exactly what you’re getting.

Kona coffee is graded by the Hawaii Department of Agriculture

What’s the difference between high-quality and merely “meh” coffee? The Hawaii Department of Agriculture has some guidelines that roasters must abide by.

This chart by Kona Coffee and Tea does a great job explaining it.

A note about peaberry coffee

Kona beans are classified according to seed. Namely, Type 1 and Type 2 (very creative).

Type 1 beans

Type I beans consist of two beans per cherry: one side flat, the other oval. Extra Fancy, Fancy, Number 1, Select, and Prime fall under this classification.

Type 2 beans

Type II beans, also known as peaberry because of their shape, consist of one round bean per cherry.

Read more about peaberry coffee here.

Best Kona Coffee Beans

The Coffee Maven's Top Pick

Hawaii Roasters 100% Kona Coffee

Hawaii Roasters 100% Kona Coffee

All-natural, farm-roasted, sun-dried, and handpicked. This medium roast is micro-roasted in small batches to seal in the freshness of Hawaii Roasters' 100% Kona coffee beans in each and every packaged bag.

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About The Coffee Maven
bryan de luca
Bryan De Luca

I'm Bryan but most people know me as The Coffee Maven. I grew up outside Boston, Massachusetts and received my Bachelor's degree in Biochemistry from Providence College. My first introduction to coffee was during my college days, when I used it as a source of caffeine to fuel late-night study sessions, but soon I became obsessed with the chemistry of coffee. How did changes to water temperature or contact time affect its taste? Why do beans from Africa taste fruity while beans from Indonesia taste spicy? I launched The Coffee Maven in February 2017 to explore these questions and help others brew their perfect cup. Welcome to my site, and thanks for reading!