Coffee Beans & Hawaiian Dreams
These are 6 Coffee farms that everyone should visit in Hawaii.
A visit to Hawaii is often described as a trip of a lifetime. The beautiful beaches, the lush scenery – Hawaii really is paradise.
But for a truly unique experience, take some time to explore the working coffee farms. There’s nowhere else on earth that can compare with the intimate visits offered in Hawaii and they offer more than just a chance to learn about history and agriculture. It’s a way to really connect to the people of Hawaii and immerse yourself in the labor of love that is the lifeblood of their farms.
Even if you aren't a coffee drinker, you’ll still enjoy a visit!
Which Locations to Visit - And Why
1.) Most comprehensive and best history:
If you are only going to do one Kona coffee tour on your visit to the Big Island, make sure it is Greenwell Farms along the Mamalahoa Highway. This historic property, in the same family for over a century, gives a friendly, welcoming tour that is both very comprehensive and also easy for novices to appreciate. It covers all aspects of coffee growing and production and features the most generous selection of coffee samples – there were 8 for us to try, including two flavored coffees (they also dabble in macadamia nut production, and use their own mac nut oils for flavoring). Their next door neighbour, H.N. Greenwell Store Museum is part of the Kona Historical Society and is well worth a visit.
2.) Best for non-coffee lovers:
Their coffee is amazing, butKona Blue Sky Coffee will also make the non-coffee fans very happy. Their tour of the estate focuses less on coffee and more on the diverse and beautiful flowers, plants, and produce. It’s amazing to see so many fruit trees hidden among the lush, tropical plant life and I found the grounds to be fascinating. Non coffee lovers will also enjoy their shop – they also sell nuts, mugs, shirts, Hawaiian pancake mixes and Tahitian vanilla shipped in from the owners’ sister based in the South Pacific. There’s a friendly house dog on site as well.
3.) Best views:
If you have a modest interest in coffee but are short on time, stop by Hula Daddy Kona Coffee. The tours are basic, but their views are spectacular and you will feel so relaxed sipping coffee samples on the deck. If someone in your party is lingering in the shop, you can melt away with the gorgeous ocean views. It’s worth mentioning that the self-serve samples come with cream, sugar, and mini ceramic mugs. (Most Kona coffee samples are black coffee, so you can more easily appreciate the coffee’s flavor). They also have a fascinating cupping room/kitchen/laboratory you can see.
5.) For the fantasy:
Drop dead gorgeous house on a hill top overlooking an endless expanse of ocean, surrounded by acres of coffee? This is a reality at Lahaina’s Maui Grown Coffee, which has a separate retail store and welcomes you to pick up a map and drive around the coffee estates (and maybe even imagine which plot you’d put your own house on!). They have a wide range of local beans and roasts, some of which are quite rare, and the little store is welcoming and interesting. Perfect to pick up a large coffee or café au lait, and a few muffins in the early morning before exploring Maui.
4.) For the purists:
Holualoa Kona Coffee has a very basic, self-guided tour and not much in the way of fancy finishes. But this is the real deal – just small batches of great coffee. When they replaced the old roaster with a newer model, they noticed a slight change in the coffee flavor. To make sure customers continued to be happy, the old roaster got a death row reprieve and now they sell coffee from both to cater to their customers’ discerning palettes. You’ll appreciate why they have such a loyal following. They also offer mini ceramic mugs, cream, and sugar with their samples.
6.) For pure love:
A tiny community on the northern shore of Oahu is just steps off the tourist track and faces potential economic devastation when the sugar factory closes. Instead, the community rallies and revamps the site into the Old Sugar Factory, a hot bed of commerce and creativity. Island X Coffee roasters will welcome you in their facility, give you a hands-on tour of their coffee growth and production out back, and has samples to try. Oh, they also grow and process chocolate, one of the rarest single source cocoas in the world! They also carry coffee from neighbouring islands, and we usually get their Molokai Peaberry when it’s in stock. Your coffee and gift shop purchases are supporting real people, a real family, and a vital community. Whatever you do, don’t leave without purchasing a few packs of their homemade pancake mix (I love Pineapple). This was our first experience meeting Hawaiian coffee growers and really set the stage for our love affair.
The Hawaiian Coffee Tour Experience
Take the Time to Educate Yourself Before You Choose Where to Visit
If you aren't used to drinking single source, fresh coffee, you might be taken aback by the taste. Growing on the volcanic soil neutralizes the coffee’s acidity, while the handpicked harvesting method ensures quality through the process. (Most regions strip or shake the tree, mixing over and under-ripe beans while simultaneously stressing the plant).
Most people agree that Hawaiian coffee is incredibly smooth, lacking in bitterness, with no aftertaste and a built-in creaminess. But it will taste much different from instant coffee, pre-ground coffee, blends, flavored coffees, and especially coffee that is laden with powdered creamer and artificial sweeteners. Start by taking small samples, and try as many as possible. Tell the staff what you usually drink, as they can direct you towards something that will be complimentary to your tastes. Start with light roasts before experimenting with darker.
Some coffee tour etiquette: Feel free to try lots of samples –there is nothing wrong for going back for seconds, thirds, fourths or more! But do be neat and reuse your cup if you can. If there’s no cream or sugar on display, don’t ask for it. They want you to taste their coffee in a pure, simple fashion. During the tour, feel free to take tons of photos - they will tell you if there’s a private area that’s off limits. Don’t touch any equipment and definitely don’t touch any part of the coffee plant unless invited. Chances are there will be “demo” plants that you are allowed to touch or smell later on.
Your tour will have been free, as would be the endless samples, so it’s good form to make a small purchase at the gift shop. Fortunately, even if you are not a big coffee fan, there are plenty of small options, such as mini coffee packages that are perfect for gifts, and food items like pineapple pancake mix.
These are living, working farms and it’s important to show your appreciation for their time and effort. It’s not appropriate to bargain like you might at a flea market or even a farmer’s market, but it is okay to ask if there’s a different in price if you buy 5 or 10lbs of one variety – usually you’ll save a dollar or two per pound.
It’s perfectly fine to ask the difference between two beans that appear similar but have two different price points – you’ll learn a lot, there will be no pressure, and you can make an educated decision.
These coffee farms all stressed the importance of a sense of community and cooperation between the coffee growers. Of course, not all farms are created equally. There shouldn't be any reason to pay for a tour, unless you are doing a special day long experience. There are plenty of amazing, free experiences out there.
Nor should you be tempted by too cheap coffee beans. There are plenty of roadside booths in Kona advertising “ brown bag” beans for low prices. For a visitor, it’s harder to trace the origin of these beans and, unless you are an experienced local, it would be hard to know which of these roadside vendors sell quality product.
One final word about choosing a farm: think twice about a place that brags too much about how many TV and magazine feature’s they've experienced. We visited one “famous” coffee farm, but were disappointed by the measly sample selection, the large scale machinery, the restricted tour, and the hard sales push at the end.
Certified organic coffee is rarely worth the mark up. Most farms are very open and happy to discuss their environmentally friendly farming practices. Many operate a very environmentally friendly farm that is almost entirely organic, but cannot afford to go through the certification process or simply cannot find a certified organic farming component (like an organic manure or grass seed). One thing we loved about Hawaiian coffee farms – the use of cute chameleons as a form of natural pesticide!
Avoid buying coffee “blends”, like a 10% Kona blend coffee. No reputable coffee farms or roasters will sell blends, but they are common in the ABC stores, airports, and gift shops. 10% blends are more affordable (although still more expensive than regular coffee). Unfortunately at 10%, you will not notice any discernible Kona qualities, and you will often have no idea what the rest of the 90% of the blend is. If you are strapped for cash, you are better off getting one pound of coffee you really enjoy and drink it sparingly. Note that there is a legal requirement to list what percentage the blend is in the state of Hawaii, but there is no such requirement outside of Hawaii. A Kona “blend” in Ottawa or New York could in theory have as little as 1 Kona bean in a bag. Coffee farmers in Kona are working to have their product regulated much like the Champagne region in France.
Finally, if you are buying a few pounds, feel free to ask for some beans that have been more freshly roasted. The older the roast date, the less fresh the bean, so even a few weeks can make a difference if you’ll be buying a lot of coffee and not able to drink it all at once.
This is another excellent reason to buy coffee beans directly from the farms and not the ABC, grocery store, airport, or hotel gift shop. Their coffee could have been roasted many months ago and the coffee will be stale by the time you drink. Coffee fans using a French Press will notice a thick and creamy crema with a very fresh coffee – similar to the creamy head on a pint of Guinness.
Taking some of your limited vacation time in paradise to visit coffee farms is well worth the investment. Not only will you get a chance to talk with passionate locals about their business, but you will also get a chance to drink a cup of joe the way it was meant to be enjoyed. Farm fresh. There's nothing like it. The only danger is that once you try Hawaiian coffee, you may never want to go back to what you were drinking before!
Check out our other articles about Hawaii!
Visiting Kauai's Glass Beach
Driving Maui's Hana Highway
Volcano's Kilauea Lodge
May skip the coffee and just do the tour! Sounds interesting. I am shocked to read that a blend of Kona coffee could have next to no Kona coffee in it! How absurd. I think I would feel a little ripped off if I was buying that product! There really should be a minimum! Fascinating reading!
24/3/2013 11:39:21 am
Agreed - the tours are SO interesting, even for non-coffee drinkers! Farming is the heart and soul of a community, and coffee farming is just so neat to learn about.
1/2/2014 01:26:15 pm
I miss it so much! Having Kona coffee at home is a real treat!
Comments are closed.
Posts by Location
Posts by Date