We Answer 3 Questions You Might Have About Kona Coffee

What’s the Kona coffee flavor profile? Why is Kona coffee so expensive? Is Kona coffee overrated?
Photo: Joshua Fletcher

What’s the Kona coffee flavor profile?

Most Kona coffee has a “sweet, mild acidity to it, and a very heavy body. A lot of roasted chocolate or dark chocolate roasted nuts,” says Paul Massard, coffee buyer and professional coffee grader for Honolulu Coffee Co.


Recently, though, there’s been more range within that flavor profile, as a few farms experiment with different coffee varieties and processing methods. And, as some farms seek to break away from the Kona pack, they’re highlighting—via drying and roasting—some of the more subtle differences in their coffee imparted by Kona’s varying microclimates and elevation. At a recent Kona coffee competition, “we got to taste the top six coffees, and they were all vastly different,” says Massard. Of course, what’s “vastly different” to a professional coffee taster is probably lost on the average Joe.


Why is Kona coffee so expensive?

In a word: labor. Most of the coffee in the world is grown in developing countries that pay a fraction of what Kona coffee pickers get paid. The cost of labor just to pick coffee cherry on the Big Island for a pound of beans is already more than the world market price for a pound of coffee.


Is Kona coffee overrated?

This is like asking if wine from Napa is any good: It depends who you buy it from. In a recent assessment of Kona coffee, Kenneth Davids of the Coffee Review found a “number of exceptional coffees” and awarded a handful of 90+ ratings. He writes on his website: “I continue to have faith that Hawai‘i coffees have tremendous potential.”


Read More Stories By Martha Cheng