As a blog about all things coffee, the question people ask us the most is this: “what’s the best brand of kona coffee?”. It’s a simple and fair question, and yet we have trouble answering it.
Why? For one, it depends on the time of day. We prefer brighter, more tart coffees in the morning and then we will go for smoother, darker and more chocolaty tasting coffees in the afternoon. It also depends on what your taste preferences are: do you like smooth, nutty coffees or floral, earthy type coffees? There’s great representatives of both in the wide-spectrum of available coffees from Hawaii.
Also, there’s so much choice. We’ve sampled a few dozen kona coffees from farms big and small. But since there’s over 600 farms (not to mention Ka’u, Oahu, Maui and Kauai farms!). we’re still going through all the available brands. But in order for a coffee to even be considered as one of our top picks, it has to meet the following criteria:
It has to say 100% Kona Coffee on the label. ‘Kona Blends’ are 10% Kona and 90% lower-quality ‘filler’ coffee from regions in Latin America.
The coffee must be made up of the higher Kona grades (i.e Extra-Fancy Beans, Fancy, Peaberry)
It’s gotta be smooth – I love smooth coffees. A little bite of acidity is okay, but on the whole I like coffee that goes down smooth.
1. Koa Coffee’s Estate Medium Roast
We’ve already written a review of Koa’s peaberry roast, but the Koa Estate Medium Roast is our go-to coffee mainly because it has a similar bright acidity while managing to have the subtle cocoa notes that we like so much.
Many people prefer the Koa dark roast because it lessens the acidity. We respect that, but we also like coffee that ends with a clean finish. Plus, it’s not like we’re talking about Starbucks breakfast blend, or any other super-acidic coffee that will leave your stomach in pain. An acidic kona coffee is probably less acidic than any single African coffee (that region is known for its bright and citrusy coffees). Koa’s Estate Medium Roast is also a good deal cheaper than the Peaberry Kona Roast: $40/pound for the medium roast, compared to $50/pound for the peaberry. We also joined up with their monthly coffee club, so it actually works out to $36 per pound. We drink a fair amount of coffee, and this price is one of the most budget friendly brands around.
Why This Coffee?
For one, this Estate coffee mixes the top three grades of kona coffee: extra-fancy, fancy and kona number 1 (with an inclination towards extra-fancy) in this coffee. These coffee beans are the largest, most pure coffee beans (click here for more info about kona coffee grades). These coffee beans hold the most moisture and, hence, the most flavor.
How We Brew It:
How you brew coffee can be as important as the coffee itself. Regular drip coffee makers filter out the natural flavor-creating oils of the coffee. I use the French Press to brew coffee mostly, since it preserves the natural oils in your coffee. It also enables you to detect all the subtle flavor notes of coffee that can sometimes be lost in the coffee brewing process.
It would be a disservice to exclude all the other great kona and other hawaiian coffees available right now. These are my picks for coffees that have served me well in the past. Again, coffee flavor is a matter of personal choice, but hopefully you will find the right coffee for you.
2. Green Coffee Traders: Extra Fancy Roasted Kona Coffee Beans
Okay, this coffee is spectacular: it’s made from extra fancy coffee beans (you know we love our Extra Fancy coffee here), and it’s made by a Master roaster with over 25 years of roasting experience. The beans are a city-roast (a medium roast). The result? A coffee that’s full-bodied, smooth, and has flavor notes of dark chocolate and cocoa.
We should mention that it’s also small-batch roasted after you order, so you’re getting the freshest-possible roasted coffee from Hawaii.
The only drawback? It’s a little pricier than your usual bag of coffee: last we checked it was $70 for a 14 oz. bag. If you want the best without consideration for cost, this coffee is great.
While we prefer the darker roast of Koa Coffee, everyone has their own tasting & roasting preferences.
If you’ve ever been to Kona, then you may have stopped in to the Kona Coffee & Tea cafe on Palani Rd. It used to be a Starbucks, but this company took it over and made it their own. If you ever visit, you have to try their cold-brew iced coffee.
We profiled Kona Joe Coffee recently because of their unique way of growing coffee. They use a ‘trellis’ method, essentially growing coffee trees on vines like wine. The result is that coffee beans get a more equal amount of sunlight and rain and creates a more uniform taste.
But how did it actually taste? Kona Joe actually has a lot of blackberry, dark chocolate and wine notes in their Espresso Blend coffee. As with nearly all 100% kona coffees, it has a smooth finish and would pair well with meals featuring berries. Whether it’s a piece of pie for dessert, or a yogurt with berries brunch, Kona Joe works as an after-dinner coffee and/or an early morning wake-up.
On a side note, if you ever take a trip to the coffee farms on the Big Island, Kona Joe has a great tour where they take you through the farm, roasting room as well as a free tasting (my favorite). They also have a bistro that you can relax and have lunch at. It also happens to have a spectacular view (all the coffee farms are at least 800 feet above sea level). That’s me at their restaurant (just ignore the comic-book t-shirt…). Just as a warning, there are a couple cute dogs that’ll come up to you hoping for bellow scratches.
Many options for Fedex and USPS Ships to Canada? Yes.
The Royal Kona pictured in the above image is 100% Kona Coffee and is actually really good. Why do I sound surprised? The company is more known for their flavored coffees where they add ‘vanilla macadamia nut’ and other artificial flavors to their coffees….things that overshadow the actual coffee itself.
But luckily I ended up trying their 100% Kona offering and it was really good. It’s a medium-bodied coffee that has the usual characteristics of low-acidity and smooth finish.
It’s also the most budget-friendly of these coffees: $19.95 for a 7oz. bag. So if you’re really wanting to try out some pure 100% kona but don’t want to break the bank just yet, this coffee will do the trick.
Volcanica’s coffee is really, really good. Instead of your usual chocolate notes that you find in most coffees from this region, this Extra Fancy Roast has a nutty finish. It also has a very-light acidity, and comes brimming with lively floral notes.
The official tasting profile says it has notes of ‘jasmine’. Personally, I couldn’t find them. If you do, let me know!
6. Best Ka’u Coffee: Rusty’s Hawaiian 100% Ka’u Peaberry Coffee
Ka’u coffee has been making waves in the coffee world recently. The relatively new coffee region has won numerous coffee tasting competitions. This coffee by Rusty’s is my favorite because it has a mixture of chocolate and caramelly notes to start. These flavors then give way to a citrusy and floral aftertaste that is truly relaxing. Drinking a cup of this truly is an experience.
There you have it. This list is not meant to be ‘exhaustive’ by any means, and it reflects my own personal preferences for coffee as anything. If you know what kind of coffee you like, what kind of flavors, then by all means try a few of these coffees, or even a few different roasts of one coffee company just to see what you like. We’re all on a coffee journey.