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Why Kona Coffee

Why Kona Coffee

Coffee trees were first brought to the Hawaiian Islands in 1817 by Don Francisco de Paula Marin – a Chilean counsel and provisioner of ships, King Kamehameha I’s interpreter and physician and a distiller – who planted the first coffee seeds on Oahu.  But it was in 1825 that Chief Boki, governor of Oahu, who had been to England and enjoyed the coffee houses there, made a special stop in Brazil to pick up coffee trees, that the industry really got started.  Besides the trees, he also brought an English agriculturist back to Hawaii, who was able to successfully start a coffee orchard. The coffee was established on Oahu, and from there introduced to the neighbor islands.

Reverend Samuel Ruggles brought coffee trees to Kona, on the "Big Island" of Hawai'i in 1828. In the 1830s, coffee became a commercial crop in the Hawaiian Islands. In the 1890s the world coffee market took off. Americans and Europeans invested in Kona coffee and brought in the era of the large plantations.

In 1885 Japanese immigrants were brought to Big Island sugar plantations to work, often under severe conditions. Many made their way to Kona to work as coffee pickers. They were hard workers, saved their money and began to desire small holdings of coffee trees of their own.

In 1899, the world coffee market crashed. World coffee prices plummeted because of an oversupply on the world market, bringing Kona coffee prices down sharply. At the same time, world sugar prices skyrocketed. This combination of events prompted investors to begin to shift their money from coffee to sugar production. At this time, Hawaii had nearly 6,000 acres under cultivation for the production of coffee.

Kona Coffee BeltThe era of the large Hawaiian coffee plantations had ended. The Kona coffee industry was near extinction. Steep terrain and scarce water, however, made large scale sugar cultivation in Kona impossible. So the big coffee plantation owners leased out their land in small 3 to 12 acre parcels, mostly to their Japanese workers. This marked the beginning of the transition from large coffee plantations to small family farms. This transformation saved and revolutionized the Kona coffee industry.

The tradition of family farming continues throughout Kona today. Presently Kona Coffee is grown in an area about 20 miles long and 2 miles wide on the slopes of volcanoes Mt. Hualalai and Mauna Loa. Farm sizes in Kona average 3 acres each, with a few farms of over 50 acres. Total Kona coffee acreage is over 2000 acres, and annual production is generally over two million pounds. Elevation ranges from 500 to 3,000 feet.

Kona Coffee is painstakingly grown and hand picked in limited quantities. Careful pulping, drying, milling, grading, and expert roasting result in a consistently superior artisan product.

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