Best Kona Coffee Brands That Exemplify This Premium Bean (Updated For 2020)

Best Kona Coffee Brands That Exemplify This Premium Bean (Updated For 2020)

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.

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

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.

We've rated and ranked each option you need to know about. Without further ado, here are our official reviews for the Best Kona Coffee Beans.

Hawaii Roasters 100% Kona Coffee

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.

Pros of the Hawaii Roasters 100% Kona Coffee

Pros of Hawaii Roasters 100% Kona Coffee

Cons of the Hawaii Roasters 100% Kona Coffee

Cons of Hawaii Roasters 100% Kona Coffee

Hawaii Roasters 100% Kona Coffee Overview

All-natural, farm-roasted, sun-dried, and handpicked. This medium roast is chestnut brown in color with a mild, delicate flavor that’s as smooth as a baby’s bottom.

Artisan micro-roasting carried out in small batches seals in the freshness of the Kona coffee beans in each and every packaged bag.

Where can you find the Hawaii Roasters 100% Kona Coffee?

Where can you find Hawaii Roasters 100% Kona Coffee?

Find it on Amazon →
Find it on 1stInCoffee →
Find it on →
Check out the instead →

Imagine 100% Kona

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.

Pros of the Imagine 100% Kona

Pros of Imagine 100% Kona

Cons of the Imagine 100% Kona

Cons of Imagine 100% Kona

Imagine 100% Kona Overview

This coffee is not only rich and sweet, but it also has dashes of berries. If you like fruity brews, this is for you. These beans are also low acid and suitable for those of you with sensitive stomachs.

This bean has been air-roasted which is often employed in artisan roasting. This process prevents burning and charring. The brewing methods suggested by the company are cold brew, French press, and drip. We recommend what they recommend, too.

Where can you find the Imagine 100% Kona?

Where can you find Imagine 100% Kona?

Find it on Amazon →
Find it on 1stInCoffee →
Find it on Buddha's Cup →
Check out the instead →

Hualalai Estate 100% Kona Peaberry Coffee

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.

Pros of the Hualalai Estate 100% Kona Peaberry Coffee

Pros of Hualalai Estate 100% Kona Peaberry Coffee

Cons of the Hualalai Estate 100% Kona Peaberry Coffee

Cons of Hualalai Estate 100% Kona Peaberry Coffee

Hualalai Estate 100% Kona Peaberry Coffee Overview

Where can you find the Hualalai Estate 100% Kona Peaberry Coffee?

Where can you find Hualalai Estate 100% Kona Peaberry Coffee?

Find it on Amazon →
Find it on 1stInCoffee →
Find it on Hualalai Estate →
Check out the instead →

Kona Gold Trading Co. 100% Kona

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.

Pros of the Kona Gold Trading Co. 100% Kona

Pros of Kona Gold Trading Co. 100% Kona

Cons of the Kona Gold Trading Co. 100% Kona

Cons of Kona Gold Trading Co. 100% Kona

Kona Gold Trading Co. 100% Kona Overview

Kona Gold Trading Co. has won several awards, one of which was first place in the Kona Crown Cupping Competition held in 2016.

These beautiful little beans are graded Extra Fancy, which is the highest grade possible for Kona coffee beans.

After picking and processing, the Kona coffee beans are sun-roasted and air-dried on the plantation, the most natural way of extracting the aromatic flavor from the beans.

You’ll enjoy sweet, crisp flavors of peach, apple, and raspberry with subtly complex notes of melon, brown sugar, clove, and molasses.

Where can you find the Kona Gold Trading Co. 100% Kona?

Where can you find Kona Gold Trading Co. 100% Kona?

Find it on Amazon →
Find it on 1stInCoffee →
Find it on Kona Gold Trading Co. →
Check out the instead →

Mountain Thunder 100% Kona

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.

Pros of the Mountain Thunder 100% Kona

Pros of Mountain Thunder 100% Kona

Cons of the Mountain Thunder 100% Kona

Cons of Mountain Thunder 100% Kona

Mountain Thunder 100% Kona Overview

Fun fact: This coffee won 1st place in the Gevalia Cupping Contest in both 2003 and 2009.

Low in acidity, handpicked, and sustainably farmed, it is then roasted and shipped in vacuum-sealed bags for maintaining its freshness.

Deserving of the Extra Fancy tag, it’s also sun-ripened.

Where can you find the Mountain Thunder 100% Kona?

Where can you find Mountain Thunder 100% Kona?

Find it on Amazon →
Find it on 1stInCoffee →
Find it on →
Check out the instead →

Koa Coffee 100% Kona

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.

Pros of the Koa Coffee 100% Kona

Pros of Koa Coffee 100% Kona

Cons of the Koa Coffee 100% Kona

Cons of Koa Coffee 100% Kona

Koa Coffee 100% Kona Overview

I was first introduced to Kona coffee when I visited Hawaii in 2014.

Wow.

A medium roast with a big, rich flavor, you can almost taste the Big Island Kona coast’s recent volcanic past. And less oily than most beans on this list, they’re perfect for superautomatic espresso machines.

Most Kona coffees you’ll find are blends with perhaps 10% Kona coffee. That’s not what this roast is. It’s the real 100% Kona experience. Just be ready to pay through the nose for this pure, high-quality, regional roast.

Where can you find the Koa Coffee 100% Kona?

Where can you find Koa Coffee 100% Kona?

Find it on Amazon →
Find it on 1stInCoffee →
Find it on Koa Coffee →
Check out the instead →

Blue Horse 100% Kona

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.

Pros of the Blue Horse 100% Kona

Pros of Blue Horse 100% Kona

Cons of the Blue Horse 100% Kona

Cons of Blue Horse 100% Kona

Blue Horse 100% Kona Overview

A great 100% Kona coffee, Blue Horse was my go-to for a whole year before I decided to switch things up.

(Now I’m drinking Ethiopian and Kenyan coffees.)

This roast is similar to the Koa Coffee 100% Kona above but it’s a little heavier on the chocolaty flavors.

Where can you find the Blue Horse 100% Kona?

Where can you find Blue Horse 100% Kona?

Find it on Amazon →
Find it on 1stInCoffee →
Find it on →
Check out the instead →

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.

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