Hawaii has traditionally been the largest state in the United States that produces coffee.
Table of Contents
History of Coffee in Hawaii
To retrace the origins of coffee in Hawaii, we need to talk about the following key moments:
Gardener Don Francisco de Paula Marin brings the first coffee plants to the island of Hawaii, with the unfortunate result that the plants die because they are unable to adapt to the ecosystem.
The gardener John Willkinson, who comes to Hawaii on behalf of George Byron, brings coffee plants from Brazil.
The governor of Oahu gave him land in the Manoa Valley for planting.
John Wilkinson dies. However, the trees are not thriving, and some cuttings have to be moved to other areas around Honolulu. Other Manila plants were also bred by British Consul Richard Charlton.
Additional trees will be planted in the Niu and Kalihi valleys near Honolulu.
The Reverend Joseph Goodrich begins cultivating coffee in the city of Hilo, Hawaii, to fulfill his priestly ministry. He does this work in Hilo for 12 years, but he also teaches Native Hawaiians how to grow coffee, vegetables, and tropical fruits so they can produce their own food and earn money.
Reverend Samuel Ruggles, after his transfer from the Hilo Mission to Kealakekua Church, brings some coffee seedlings to the Kona District. Coffee is not initially considered a priority as Hawaii is a major importer of sugar.
It is noteworthy that over the years Kona has been reported to become Hawaii’s most successful coffee-growing area.
The plants brought by Ruggles are a bourbon strain called Kanala copy.
1830 – 1850
Sugar plantation owners are gradually starting to switch to coffee plantations.
The first commercial coffee company is founded on the island of Kauai, which fails as does the second, which opens in 1845.
More than 405 hectares are planted with coffee on Hanalei.
The first records of production are made and only 248 pounds of coffee are grown on Kauai and the island of Hawaii.
The first coffee deliveries go to California.
The Great Mahele (redivision of Hawaiian soil proposed by King Kamehameha III) allowed private land ownership for the first time. Large areas of Maui’s coffee are grown at this time, but this is later replaced by sugar cane and other crops.
Coffee production begins to struggle to survive due to bad weather, lack of labor and pests. By the 1860s, coffee had all but disappeared from the Hawaiian Islands.
Coffee plantations in Kauai’s Hanalei Valley are being destroyed by the coffee rot.
Coffee exports total 49,000 pounds.
Coffee exports rise to 452,000 pounds.
English merchant Henry Nicholas Greenwell, who moved to the Kona region to establish coffee as a recognized brand, achieves his goal and is recognized at the World’s Fair in Vienna for his outstanding Kona coffee.
Coffee exports fall to less than £150,000.
Jhon Gaspar builds the first coffee grinder in Hawaii in Kealakekua Bay.
Many immigrants from Japan and China start working on the plantations, attracted by the coffee industry.
Hermann Widemaan introduces a variety of Guatemalan coffee beans to the island. This variety is known today under the name “Kona Typica” and is the most commonly grown in Hawaii.
The United States begins occupying the Hawaiian Islands.
The global collapse in coffee cultivation, caused by oversupply, is sending coffee prices plummeting, and coffee plantation owners are being forced to turn to sugar production again.
Tariffs on sugar cane shipped from Hawaii to the United States will be eliminated.
Coffee production in Hawaii is about 2.7 million pounds.
The situation for coffee in Hawaii begins to improve as World War I significantly boosts domestic demand for coffee. The island is also benefiting from the plight of Brazil, whose coffee crop is devastated by a frost, leading to a global coffee shortage.
Many Filipinos come to Hawaii to work on the coffee farms during the harvest months and then on the sugar cane plantations in the spring.
With the onset of the global economic crisis, coffee prices begin to fall. Many farmers have defaulted on their loans.
1930 – 1940
Debt continues to mount and coffee prices continue to fall, creating a difficult situation for coffee growing in Hawaii.
1941 – 1953
The entry of the United States into World War II and the significant increase in coffee prices after the war ended are helping Hawaii’s coffee rebound. Likewise, the 1953 freeze in Brazil led to another worldwide coffee shortage, which also favored the coffee recovery in Hawaii.
Coffee production in Hawaii peaks at over 18 million pounds.
Hawaii officially becomes a US state.
The coffee plantations are beginning to compete with the tourism industry for labor.
High production costs, labor shortages and low prices lead to the eventual demise of coffee in Hawaii.
Coffee prices are rising again and a new generation of coffee farmers is emerging. This is in large part due to the closure of several sugar and pineapple plantations on the island.
Coffee production amounts to 10 million pounds.
2008 – 2009
There are about 790 farms on the island of Hawaii and 40 on other islands. The average yield is 1400 pounds per acre. In total, coffee is grown on 7,800 acres (3,200 ha) across the country. More than half of the acreage is outside of the island of Hawaii, specifically on the island of Kauai.
The coffee berry borer (Hypothenemus hampei), the most harmful insect to Arabica coffee growing, is discovered by a University of Hawaii student in the coffee plantations of Kona. As a result, the Hawaii Department of Agriculture imposes a quarantine on all green beans leaving the island.
2010 – 2018
Crop damage from the CBB is causing a significant drop in production per acre in Hawaii. Additionally, the cost of spraying crops multiple times per year reduces profits.
The Hawaii Department of Agriculture permits the importation and use of a concentrated natural mushroom called Beauveria bassiana to control the CBB pest.
2015 – 2016
Total production is 31,740,000 pounds from 6,900 acres.
Green coffee sold is £30,137,000. This amount is estimated to make 753,425 8-ounce cups.
It should be noted that the coffee cherry sells for $1.56 per pound.
2016 – 2017
Hawaii experiences heavy and persistent rainfall throughout the year.
2016 – 2017
There is a total of 9600 hectares in production resulting in a total production of 29,260,000 pounds.
Green coffee sold weighs 28,571,000 pounds. It is estimated that approximately 714,275 8-ounce cups will be produced with this quantity.
It should be noted that the coffee cherry sells for $1.71 per pound.
2017 – 2018
There are a total of 7200 acres in production resulting in a total production of 25,416,000 pounds.
Green coffee sold is £24,592,000. It is estimated that this amount makes about 614,800 8-ounce cups.
Note that the coffee cherry sells for $1.78 per pound.
2019 – 2020
Hawaii’s unroasted coffee is valued at $102.91 million while roasted coffee is valued at $148.48 million.
The coffee berry borer (Hypothenemus hampei) is found on Maui, Lãna’i, Kauai, and Oahu.
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) reports that nearly 6,900 acres of land are used for coffee cultivation throughout the state of Hawaii.
Farmers are raising raw coffee prices by $1.50 to $3 per pound due to the emergence of the coffee berry borer (CBB).
Coffee yields plummet by up to 50 percent due to a wave of attacks by exotic pest species.
In which regions is coffee grown in Hawaii?
Here are the different coffee growing areas in Hawaii to keep an eye on:
Coffee farms: 315
Production: 2 million pounds of coffee cherries
- The region is mountainous and features a variety of microclimates.
- There are about 600 hectares of coffee cultivation with a very diverse harvest.
- Maui Mocha is the most famous variety on Maui. This traditional variety gained global recognition in 2012 when it outperformed other coffees and was eventually chosen by Starbucks to be part of their Special Reserve coffee line.
- Maui farmers are more willing to try new bean varieties and processing techniques that will help them grow the local coffee industry.
Cultivated area: 18 hectares
- The region is located on the northwest coast of the Big Islands, more specifically on the north slope of Mauna Loa at an altitude of 889 – 2000 masl.
- About 150 hectares of coffee are grown on it.
- A large part of the coffee farms are family-owned. The beans are harvested there by hand.
- The region has recently switched to coffee growing, having previously specialized in sugar production.
- There are 45 small farms in the region.
- The region produces smaller amounts of coffee than Maui, Kona, and Ka’u.
Coffee farms: 500
Production: 4.8 million pounds of coffee cherries
- The region is on the southern slope of Mauna Loa in Southeast Hawaii.
- The sunny days, mild nights and mineral-rich volcanic soils contribute to the production of quality coffee.
- The first coffee tree in the region was planted in 1997.
- Most of the coffee farms are less than 5 hectares in size and are between 1,000 and 2,127 meters above sea level.
- Ka’u was an area known for sugar production, but switched to coffee after the sugar market collapsed.
- The region has seen tremendous growth in coffee production over the past 25 years. Over 351,000 pounds of coffee were grown in the 2016/2017 season.
Coffee farms: 20
- Has approximately 51 hectares of coffee cultivation, all at an altitude between 300 and 800 meters above sea level.
- Puna is the youngest coffee-growing region on the Big Island of Hawaii.
- Most of the coffee is grown in lava, giving it high acidity.
- It is the driest region on the island as it has a cold and cloudy climate.
Coffee farms: 1
Cultivated area: 60 hectares
- The region has fertile volcanic soil and a stable climate.
- Arabica variety Catuai is grown in the region.
- The region has around 150 hectares of coffee-growing area.
Coffee farms: 900
Cultivated area: 3,800 hectares
Production: 20 million pounds of coffee cherries
- Kona region owes its name to the fact that it occupies much of the western half of the island.
- There are sunny mornings, humid afternoons and mild evenings.
- The 900 coffee farms are located in a strip approximately 30 miles long and 2 miles wide.
- The Kona cathetas flower from January to February and the fruits are harvested from August to December.
- Many types of coffee are grown in Kona, including the Kona variety typical.
- The region’s coffee farms are located on the western slopes of the Hualalai and Mauna volcanoes Loa at elevations from 4,000 to 10,000 feet This stretch of land is known as the Kona Coffee Belt.
- The coffee grown in this region is highly regarded worldwide.
- Kona coffees are classified as Kona Extra Fancy, Kona Peaberry and Kona Fancy divided.
- Kona is the largest coffee-growing region in Hawaii.
- The volcanic soil of the region is very fertile, which favors the conditions for coffee growing.
- Kona is the only region in Hawaii where coffee has been continuously grown since the 19th century to the present day.
Coffee farms: 3
Cultivated areas: 1,000 hectares
Production: 10 million pounds of coffee cherries
- The region has a consistent climate all year round with plenty of sunshine and warm nights.
- It is the only coffee-growing region in Hawaii that has not yet been attacked by the coffee berry borer.
- Most of the coffee is grown on the lower slopes of Mount Waialeale, where rainfall is plentiful.
- It was the most popular region before Kona caught the attention.
Classification of green coffee in Hawaii
The coffee industry in Hawaii has 5 classes to classify green coffee which we mention below:
- Minimum sieve size is 18.
- 12 imperfections are allowed in a 300-gram sample.
Hawaii Extra Fancy:
- The minimum screen size is 19.
- Up to 8 imperfections are allowed in a 300-gram sample.
- All beans are green in color and must be clean.
- The minimum grid width is 16.
- Up to 18 defects are allowed in a 300-gram sample.
- There is no grid size.
- The beans must be clean and must not contain any acidic flavors or aromas.
- Up to 5% of Hawaiian coffee may contain defects, as long as no more than 2% of the beans are foul, bitter, or moldy.
- 15% of the beans may be defective provided no more than 5% are bitter, stinky, black or moldy beans.
- 35% of the beans may be defective as long as no more than 5% are fetid, black, bitter, or moldy beans.
Out of category:
- Any exported batch that does not meet the minimum requirements of the Hawaii No. 3 classification.
Aspects to consider
- The coffee industry in Hawaii is worth approximately $250 million in both production and consumption.
- The Hawaiian coffee industry developed through the efforts of local small farmers and migrant workers, mostly from China and Japan.
- Kona after their employment contracts expired.
- During the 2014-2015 season, Kaui produced 10.45 million pounds of cherry coffee and 2.45 million pounds of green beans.
- In the 2015-2016 season Kaui produced 1.8 million pounds of green beans with an average of 4600 pounds of cherries per acre. Yield was lower than the previous season due to rain during the peak harvest season and the invasive Maunaloa vine.
- In the 2016-2017 season, 10 million pounds of coffee cherries were produced on Kaui. The yield could have been higher but due to the heavy summer there was a 50-60% water deficit.
- Hawaii produces about 0.04% of the world’s coffee supply.
- Pineapple and sugar were the main crops in Hawaii in the 19th and 20th centuries.
- In the 2015-2016 season, the Puna coffee growing region produced 3500 pounds of coffee, a significantly lower amount due to heavy rains that resulted in a loss of about 30%.
- In the 2016–2017 season, there were a total of 500 acres in Ka’u that produced 4.8 million pounds of cherry coffee and 351,750 pounds of green beans.
- Hawaii’s overseas coffee exports were worth $9.2 million in 2019.
- During the 2015-2016 season, there were two commercial coffee farms in the Oahu region totaling more than 175 acres.
- Oahu region had 155 acres of the Typica variety that produced 423,000 pounds of cherries and 100,000 pounds of green beans.
- In Hawaii, it is common for farmers to work on specialty coffee production. Many of them even let scientists conduct various experiments on their plants.
- Most coffee farms in Hawaii are family-run with less than 2 acres.
- More than half of the coffee produced in Hawaii comes from Maui, Kaui, and Oahu.
- Approximately 3,800 acres of land were used to grow Kona coffee alone. This acreage produced 20 million pounds of coffee.
- Approximately 2.4 million pounds of Kona coffee was produced during the 2016-2017 season.
- Approximately 3,800 acres of land were used to grow Kona coffee alone. This acreage produced 20 million pounds of coffee.
- The second largest ethnic group in Hawaii are Japanese.
- Isla Custom Coffees and Alliance for Coffee Excellence have a private collection of coffees that stand out for their innovation.
- A washed Kona Farm Direct SL 34 was the winner of the first coffee from a private collection auction in Hawaii. The coffee farmers responsible for this coffee were Kraig and Leslie Lee. The latter is also known for managing other farms in the Holuanola area that also took part in the competition, such as Noelani Farm, which placed fourteenth with a washed and fermented Typica, and Uluwehi Farm, which won with a yeast-fermented, anaerobic washed Red Bourbon took third place.
- Hawaiian coffee is typically slightly more expensive than other types of coffee because the labor on the island is more expensive.
- Coffees produced on the various islands of Hawaii can have more floral notes than others.
- Processing methods in Hawaii are washed and semi-washed.
- Honey-infused coffees have become increasingly common in Hawaii recently as growers learn to diversify their offerings.
- Big Island Coffee Roaster is known for its wide range of coffees, including Ka’u Maragogipe natural, Puna Caturra barrel-aged, Ka’u Maragogipe washed and ka’u Typical honey black.
- The most common types of coffee in Hawaii are Red Caturra, Yellow Caturra, Red Catuai, Geisha, Red Yellow Bourbon and Maragogipe .
- In the 2014-2015 season, 1,750,000 pounds of coffee were produced in the Maui coffee growing region.
- In the 2015-2016 season, 500,000 pounds of coffee were produced on Maui.
- In the 2016 – 2017 season, 2 million pounds of coffee were produced on Maui.
- There are over 1000 farms throughout the state of Hawaii.
- The Hawaiian coffee industry depends on tourism.
- In Hawaii, donkeys were the backbone of the industry when coffee became a cash crop. A fully-grown donkey could carry up to 125 pounds of coffee.
- The Hawaii green coffee industry is worth $113.01 million annually.
- In the 2014-2015 season, 285,000 pounds of coffee were harvested in the Molokai region.
- In the 2015-2016 season, 123 hectares of Red coffee were grown in the Molokai region Catuai cultivated.
- The College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources at the University of Hawaii creates materials and educates Hawaiian growers on best known management practices to combat CBB. Activities include webinars, field days and various workshops.
Factors that make coffee unique in Hawaii
In contrast to many other producing countries, coffee can be grown in Hawaii at lower altitudes of around 1000 m above sea level. i.e. M. are grown, which means that the coffee has a lower acidity. This means less acidity in the cup and therefore more sweetness.
In addition, coffee grown in Hawaii is recognized as one of the fairest coffee supply chains in the world.
As a U.S. state, Hawaii must comply with federal minimum wage laws. An example of this is that around 40% to 60% of the costs paid by consumers go directly to producers, while in most other countries in the world it is only 5% to 10%.
Hawaiian coffee has 2 other important benefits:
- Its worldwide popularity enhances the tourism potential of local events like the Kona Festival.
- Hawaiian coffee is shelf stable, which is very attractive to the souvenir market.
Coffee berry borer in Hawaii
The coffee berry borer is a small bug that nests in the coffee cherries and ruins potential beans.
The CBB has been spreading rapidly in Hawaii for several years, causing annual yield losses of up to 70% and more.
According to the Coffee Association of Hawaii, the following measures are required to effectively combat CBB:
- Supporting farmers to replace their existing fields with CBB-resistant varieties.
- Government approval of the most effective fungicides and subsidies for farmers to buy them.
- Supporting research into the best CBB resistant strains that will maintain the quality of coffee in Hawaii.
- Support for the import, propagation and distribution of CBB-resistant varieties, including the expansion of plant quarantine facilities.
- Assisting in the development of strategies for optimal CBB management in Hawaii and assisting in educating farmers about these strategies.
- Support other opportunities to build capacity and resilience in farming communities.
The main coffee farms in Hawaii
The following are the most important coffee farms in Hawaiian history.
Kaua’I Coffee Society
- 1,255 hectares.
- It is the largest coffee farm in the United States with a total of 4 million coffee trees.
- The farm produces half of the Arabica beans grown in the United States.
- The parent company of the estate, Massimo Zanetti Beverage Group, is one of the largest coffee roasters in the world.
- The estate’s coffee is known for its smooth body and balanced taste.
- The estate has a visitor center where guests can sample 30 types of coffee and roasts.
Waialua Estate Coffee and Chocolate
- The estate covers 150 hectares.
- It is located on the North Shore of Oahu.
- The estate grows Typica Arabica beans, the same variety used for the popular Kona coffee.
- The farm is 85 hectares.
- It is one of the largest and oldest farms in Kona. In fact, it was founded when Henry Greenswell came to Kona from England.
- The farm cultivates another 60 hectares of coffee for various owners.
Ka’u Coffee Mill
- It covers 34 hectares.
- It is the largest ka’u farm.
- The farm’s coffee is smoother, richer, and fuller-bodied than Kona coffee, with floral and nutty flavor profiles.
- The farm owns 400 hectares.
- It is located on Maui.
- The farm began operations in 2001, a difficult time for the coffee industry given the fall in international coffee prices.
- It is the only commercial farm in the world that grows the mocha coffee variety.
- Kimo Falconer is the owner of the farm.
- The farm harvests approximately 500,000 pounds of coffee per year.
Hawaii has some of the best coffee in the world, although it doesn’t make up a large portion of the world’s coffee supply.
The amount of coffee produced has remained stable despite environmental factors such as weather and pests.
However, the state’s coffee industry faces a major challenge, which is getting rid of the coffee berry borer, which has hampered production levels in recent years.