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TV Correction: If the tree grows in Kona, it's Kona Coffee


Malia Bolton of Kona Coffee and Tea stands next to a Typica coffee tree she herself planted in Waiono Meadows.

Olivier Koning

"Well, my first time on TV, and I put my foot in my mouth," said Dennis McQuoid. "I guess this how politicians learn."

McQuoid, owner of the Beach Bum Cafe coffee shop, was featured on the Hawaii Coffee episode of Honolulu Magazine's Biting Commentary with John Heckathorn, which aired last Sunday. (The entire episode is available here on the web.)

He was a good guest, since he's an expert in brewing up cups of Hawaii-grown coffees from small producers. But at one point, he said that in order for a coffee to be called Kona, it had to be from a variety of coffee tree called Typica.

I said I didn't know that. For good reason, apparently. It's not true.

"Kona is a geographical region, not a variety of coffee," says Jeri Kahana of Hawaii's Department of Agriculture. "If it's grown in Kona, it's Kona Coffee."

It's a little more complicated than that. "Kona Coffee is traditionally Typica," says Kahana. "That set its flavor profile."

Typica was imported from Guatamala in the 1920s, and there are still Kona growers who boast they honor Kona's heritage by producing 100 percent Typica coffees. 

But Typica is just one variety in the larger Arabica coffee family. Today, Kona grows other offshoots of Arabica--Red Caturra, Yellow Catuai, Blue Mountain and more. All are legitimately Kona Coffees.

That makes sense: Grapes grown in Napa Valley, whether chardonnay, cabernet, sauvignon blanc or what have you, still produce a Napa wine. 

In coffee as in wine, terroir (soil and climate) matters. Kona growing conditions can produce quality coffee from many varieties.

The Kona division of the Hawaii Statewide Cupping Competition was won this year by Tom Greenwell, of Greenwell Farms (left) with a proprietary blend of non-Typica coffees.

“We’re experiencing flavors that would never have been associated with Hawaiian coffee in years past," said Shawn Hamilton, the cupping's chief judge. "Everyone is upping their game.”

Apparently, the more Kona Coffees, the merrier.

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