Kona Coffee Country
On Hawaii’s Big Island
article and images by Carole Terwilliger Meyers
Mark Twain slept here
When you finally tire of lazing on a perfect beach on the enchanting Big Island, doing nothing more than gazing out at the horizon or, if particularly energetic, perhaps reading a bit, perk up with a leisurely drive into the scenic Kona coffee country found along the old Mamalahoa Highway (it is sometimes referred to now as Highway 11). Departing from the desolate moonscape seen around the airport, it begins about 10 miles south of Kailua-Kona where the terrain is green and lush and hilly.
Mark Twain described Kona coffee as having “a richer flavor than any other,” and most coffee connoisseurs agree. On this excursion you’ll have the chance to learn about how this special coffee is grown and harvested, to sample some of the delicious island brew, and to get a bit of a buzz yourself while you find out what the buzz is all about.
Coffee was introduced to Hawaii as an ornamental plant by a missionary in 1828. By 1900 the Kona district had become a haven for Japanese immigrants escaping life on sugar plantations. It offered them a chance at independence through owning a coffee farm. Today there are more than 700 coffee farms in this compact area.
With rich volcanic soil, a high elevation, seasonal rainfall, and a cloud cover in the afternoon that shades the delicate coffee cherries (each holds two beans) from the strong sun, the conditions along the Kona Coffee Belt are perfect for producing smooth Kona coffee.
As you drive south, the destinations below make particularly interesting stops. Always call ahead to confirm directions and hours of operation, and note that the busy harvest season is September through December.
●Sugai Kona Coffee 79-7098 Mamalahoa Hwy., in Holualoa. Located south of the Keauhou Store and toward the ocean. Complimentary brewed coffee.
This beautiful plantation has been farmed since 1910 by three generations of the same family. It has 35 acres of coffee trees, 25 acres of macadamia nut trees, and also some avocado and lychee trees.
●Kona Joe Coffee 79-7346 Mamalahoa Hwy., in Kainaliu. Located just below and to the right of Lanakila Church. Free coffee tasting and tour; Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
No herbicides or pesticides are used on this organic farm. Coffee cherries grow here on trellises just like grapes do in vineyards, producing up to 35 percent more berries.
●Greenwell Farms 81-6581 Mamalahoa Hwy., in Kealakekua. Located between mile marker 111 and 112. Free coffee tasting and 20-minute farm and mill tour; Monday through Saturday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.
General Manager Tom Greenwell says, “We base our business on the same principles that my great-grandfather, Henry Nicholas Greenwell, used when he first began exporting Kona coffee from Greenwell Farms back in the 1870s. Like him, we believe the final quality of the coffee from Greenwell Farms should be the finest quality Kona coffee possible.”
●Kona Coffee Living History Farm 82-6199 Mamalahoa Hwy., in Kealakekua. Located across from mile marker 110. Tours on the hour Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.; reservations required; adults $15, under 13 $10.
Sponsored by the Kona Historical Society, guided one-hour living history tours of the historical Uchida family farm take you to the orchards, farm house, gardens, and processing mill. You’ll see how coffee was grown and processed in the 1920s and ‘30s and meet Tuffy the donkey, known as a “Kona nightengale” because of its braying. After, sample the farm’s sun-dried 100% Kona coffee, macademia nuts, and seasonal fruit.
●Lions’ Gate Kona Coffee Farm and B&B On Mamalahoa Hwy., in Honaunau. Located at mile marker 105. Call for hours.
In business since 1993, this farm’s busiest season is November through February–when fragrant “kona snow” coffee blossoms deliciously perfume gentle breezes. Macademia nuts are also grown here.
Overnight guests wake up to birdsong and a bountiful breakfast of tropical and exotic fruits plus the farm’s own macadamia nuts and Kona coffee. Facilities include an outdoor hot tub with ocean view.
Each year in early November the Kona Coffee Cultural Festival percolates with delicious ethnic foods and colorful dances and music. In a salute to the 175+-year Kona coffee heritage, events are scheduled from the sandy shores of Kailua Bay to the verdant coffee fields along the slopes of Mount Hualalai. Festivities include a lantern parade, coffee-picking contest, and a judging for the best Kona coffee. A detailed Kona Coffee Country driving map available at website.