While visiting the Big Island of Hawaii, I drove up to Kona to visit Heavenly Hawaiian Kona Coffee Farm, the highest rated coffee farm tour in Hawaii!
Kona coffee is grown on the North and South districts of Kona, the Big Island of Hawaii and makes up 95% of all coffee grown there. The mineral rich volcanic soil along with Hawaii’s sunny and rainy tropical weather gives the perfect environment for the coffee to grow in along with having its unique taste. Don Francisco de Paula Marin, a horticultural experimenter is credited as being the first to attempt to grow coffee in Hawaii in 1817 then which Samuel Ruggles succeeded bringing coffee in Hawaii in 1828. Flash forward to today, we have Kona Coffee which is the islands best-selling coffee and one of the world’s most expensive!
Heavenly Hawaiian Kona Coffee Farms offer tours to guests which runs Monday through Saturday 9-5pm, beginning at every hour with the last tour being at 4pm. Konalani Coffee Bar, which is their farm side coffee bar, offers 100% Kona coffee and different brews along with house made ingredients. The farm offers a work stay program, where you can volunteer on the property for a few months in exchange for living and food! Be sure to check out their coffee club on their website where you get free shipping on your coffee, FedEx 2-day shipping to your door. It is a fantastic way to get ethically grown coffee and its free to join!
When we got to the tour, we were greeted by the warm and friendly staff and were offered different blends of Kona coffee to try, along with some treats to eat! We had the best tour guide, Collin who originally hails from Texas. His passion for the farm and history of coffee really impressed me and I had to get an interview! Heres our Q & A:
What makes Kona Coffee Special?
Kona Coffee is special in a couple ways. First its a way of life for a lot of the coffee farmers here, most farms are family owned passed down through generations. The average coffee farm is only 4 acres, and typically doubles as a residence as well for most farmers. The prestige of Kona coffee is another thing that makes it special, it’s been almost 200 years since coffee came to Kona and since then has won numerous awards on the world stage as some of the best coffee in the world. The reason our coffee is so good is because of the fact that our growing conditions here are perfect for coffee, our weather patterns create the perfect mix of shade and sun for the plants, the volcanic soil has the perfect amount of nutrients as well. All of these growing conditions help make the best cup of coffee possible.
Is the process of preparing the beans at Heavenly Hawaiian Coffee different from how other farms harvest and prepare coffee beans?
For Kona coffee our process is pretty normal across the Kona region. Our only difference in our farm is the sheer size of us. Due to our large size we are able to grow multiple varietals of coffee (the progeny and typical) as well as experimenting with other beans as well such as our geisha and our big bean coffee. The processing is a little different for us since we can do multiple wash processes, but for most farmers they do hand picking and sun drying as well.
You spoke about how Kona beans are stolen and then cut with cheaper beans and sold off as 100% Kona coffee. What can we look out for in terms of labeling or marketing when it comes to buying and searching for the real deal.
For the stolen Kona beans that does happen however to my knowledge most companies don’t try to knowingly sell stolen Kona. Something that is prevalent is that some coffee retailers and Kona farmers will take off grade Kona coffee (The lowest quality) and combine that with other cheap coffees. Typically this means 10% off grade Kona coffee with whatever else. They will also pre-grind it too so that you cant look at the quality of the bean yourself. This off grade coffee typically will have either beetle damage or major defects, so they just grind it up so you cant see. When looking for the real deal, I would recommend two things: one, looking for the 100% Kona label, especially with the most recent lawsuit I brought up on the tour all retailers should be legally abide by the label now. Also Its always better to get your coffee in whole bean, that way you can see for yourself if your coffee is good. (it also helps keep coffee better for longer)
Costco and other businesses were mentioned how they were selling Kona Beans as 100% authentic when in fact they weren’t, and at the Kona coffee price. What did farmers do to stand up for their rights?
For the Costco/other retailers suit I was talking about they sold coffee blends in other states (since the rules were different in Hawaii) They would be very ambiguous about the contents of their coffee. You would see labels like “pure Kona” “real Kona” pretty much anything that could give you wiggle room in the contents of your bad. There was actually just a recent lawsuit made up of multiple Kona Coffee Farmer associations that successfully sued these companies. Their argument was that these labels were artificially devaluing 100% Kona coffee. They successfully won the case and the companies now are going to be more transparent about whats in their coffee.
Do the other Kona coffee bean farms work together and support one another or are their competition between everyone?
Kona Coffee farmers have an interesting relationship with another. For the small farmers most help one another out when necessary and there are multiple associations representing a lot of smaller farmers to make sure that their interests are being accounted for. (like when suing the big guys) However since these are businesses some of the larger farms do compete and try to outdo each other when it comes to the coffee experience (like tours and special products) So I would say there is a healthy amount of both competition and camaraderie between farmers.
How does living with strangers in a communal setting work out, have you ever experienced something like this before?
For the work stay program at Heavenly it was actually a happy accident for me. I was a recent college grad who was let go from my job in my college town so I moved back in with my parents. I had no clue what I was going to do until grad school. That was until I went on vacation with my parents to Big Island. I had a burgeoning love of coffee and wanted to learn more about Kona Coffee since I heard it was pretty good. I took a tour at Heavenly Hawaiian and learned about this work stay program. Heavenly Hawaiian made me feel welcome and the culture of the workers was just too attractive to say no to. (It also helped that I could live in Hawaii without major payments for 6 months) And that initial feeling has been vindicated. I love this program and the people in it too. I have made so many friendships that will outlast my time on this island and beyond. I would recommend this program to anyone who has an open mind, positive attitude, and someone who is capable of living independently and away from the mainland (it can be a challenge) and anyone who is willing to put forth the hard work and effort necessary to keep a farm up and running!
What does a day in the life of a Kona Coffee Bean farmer look like?
Living with so many strangers in one house is definitely interesting. You pretty much see someone you work with from the time you get up to the time you go to bed. We try our best to not step on other’s toes and respect privacy when you are working on something important, but its hard sometimes to find a quiet space in the house. And don’t get me started on the Bathroom! But in all seriousness its a great little family where we all try to keep the chores done and keep this house in working order.
How can we support Kona Coffee and Heavenly Hawaiian Coffee?
The best way of supporting Kona Coffee is to buy local! Heavenly Hawaiian offers 2 day delivery to anywhere in the US and we also have a strong international support as well. We have a coffee club membership where you can order coffee at whatever frequency of your choosing with no delivery fees whatsoever. Our website has all the info on both options. Supporting the farmers directly is the best way to ensure that they are getting the support needed to keep this industry going. We try our hardest to pay everyone who works with us a fair and decent living wage and make sure everyone in our farm is supported. You can also support us by following us on our social medias @heavenlyhawaiiancoffee (Instagram) where you can keep up with what is going on on the farm! We sometimes send photos of our new kittens too.
Collin, you previewed us your personal project. Local honey infused with coffee beans. What inspired you to make this and when can the public purchase this?
My coffee honey is a direct byproduct of our amazing work stay program at Heavenly. Every Work stayer is given the opportunity to express themselves by making something original. Our Konalani coffee bar was a special project, our social media was a continuation of a special project, and so many other amazing things came about because of our work stay special projects. My manager was talking with me about suggestions and he mentioned we had an abundance of honey- we have 30 beehives on the farm that help with pollination and coffee production. When bees give you honey you make new products. One of our tour guides swears by putting honey in her coffee so I just flipped it around by putting coffee in our honey. I got to play around with recipes and got feedback from our guests and coworkers and it turned into an amazing product. It should be available by the end of this month at the latest!
Highly recommend this tour, and be sure to check out their website and coffee club.
Address: 78-1136 Bishop Rd, Holualoa, HI 96725
Phone: (808) 322-7720