See working farms, pick blush-red beans, and sip on Kona coffee at its source.
Hawaii is the only state in the U.S. that grows and produces coffee on a commercial scale, so it’s no wonder that coffee is one of the most valuable commodities produced on the islands and one of the most sought-after souvenirs for visitors to tote home.
After Spaniard Don Francisco de Paula Marin brought coffee to Hawaii in 1817, attempts were made to grow it commercially. But the industry didn’t really take off until the 1980s when sugarcane stopped being profitable due to rising labor costs and fields were replanted with coffee instead. Now, about 900 coffee farms thrive on five different islands, according to the Hawaii Coffee Association.
“The industry is growing,’’ says Chris Manfredi, the association president. “We have strong demand, relatively high prices, and we’re getting better at managing coffee berry borer’’—a beetle that can destroy the fruit that surrounds and protects each bean.
Get your Hawaiian caffeine fix with these top purveyors:
Greenwell Farms, Big Island
British adventurer Henry Nicholas Greenwell was one of the first exporters of Kona coffee in the late 1800s. Today, his great-grandson Thomas Greenwell oversees the 85-acre Greenwell Farms in Kona, where all the planting and picking is still done by hand. This premium coffee grower debuted a new coffee varietal, Mamo, in 2018 that took 20 years to develop and boasts notes of spice, raisin, blackberry, and cocoa. The farm offers complimentary tours of its fields and processing plant, which concludes with tastings of its coffees.
UCC Hawaii, Big Island
Founded in 1989 by the Ueshima Coffee Company, one of the largest coffee companies in Japan, UCC Hawaii’s 35-acre estate boasts more than 15,000 coffee trees growing at 1,509 feet above sea level at the foot of Mount Hualalai. The farm offers three types of tours: a complimentary overview of the estate, a seasonal harvest tour ($35) that offers the opportunity to pick coffee berries and receive a gift bag of roasted beans, and the ultimate roastmaster ($45) that lets you create your own label and custom roast beans to take home.
Monarch Coffee, Big Island
With floral and fruity qualities and delicate acidity, Kona Geisha was crowned grand champion at the 2018 State of Hawaii Cupping Competition, putting Monarch Coffee on the map. Owners Greg and Susy Stille settled on the perfect name for their farm after discovering the area is home to Monarch butterflies. With help from their daughter and son-in-law, they do the majority of the farming and processing themselves. They are committed to sustainable practices, including turning leftover coffee pulp into compost that gets mixed into a special fertilizer blend to nourish the coffee trees.
Ka’u Coffee Mill, Big Island
The Ka’u Coffee Mill is part of the sprawling Edmond C. Olson Trust II, named after a private landowner dedicated to sustainable agriculture and cultural legacy preservation. The on-site mill processes, roasts, and packages coffee grown on the estate in addition to beans from 60 other local coffee farmers. Free tours are offered of the orchards and the milling and roasting processes. The gift shop sells not only coffee but chocolate bars embedded with coffee beans and estate-grown macadamia nuts.
Honolulu Coffee Company, Oahu
What started out as one small kiosk in downtown Honolulu in 1992 now numbers more than 36 locations not only on Oahu, Maui, and the Big Island, but as far away as Canada, Guam, and Japan. The best place to learn about the Honolulu Coffee Company, though, is at its flagship store, the Honolulu Coffee Experience Center just outside Waikiki, where all its beans are roasted daily. The centerpiece of the former Hard Rock Café space is a working vintage roaster. There’s also a glass-walled cupping room to observe coffee being evaluated, an exhibition bakery, and a café that serves freshly baked sweet treats along with cups of Kona joe.
Kauai Coffee Company, Kauai
With more than 4 million coffee trees over 3,100 acres, Kauai Coffee Company is Hawaii’s largest coffee grower. It began in the early 1800s as McBryde Sugar Company, one of the first sugar farms in Hawaii, before being transformed into a coffee farm in 1987. It touts its coffee as less acidic and with broader flavor profiles than what is grown on Kona. Enjoy a free, self-guided tour daily or a $20 personalized, guided tour on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, or Sunday mornings that begins with a perky cup of estate coffee.
MauiGrown Coffee, Maui
MauiGrown Coffee is the grower of Ka’anapali Estate Coffee and located on the West Maui Mountains near the historic town of Lahaina. The 500-acre estate grows several varieties of Arabica but is perhaps best known for the Maui Mokka that’s been described as the "Champagne of coffee." MauiGrown is the only producer of the tiny, round beans that brew up an exceptionally smooth cup with prominent chocolate notes. Visit the company store to taste for yourself.