We Found This Unexpected Craft Coffee Shop on Big Island
Find pour over coffees, teas and a rich hot chocolate with a slow burn—all sourced from the island—in Mountain View.
The last of the morning’s rain drips off the corrugated roof of Mountain View Bakery. My parents and I are staying in the lush area between Hilo and Volcano for a few days to get a break from O‘ahu. Ahead of us, early birds are buying boxes of danishes and mochi doughnuts. We get a few pastries and head to our destination: Koana, the coffee shop next door. Besides these two places there’s not much else in the way of morning sustenance in the Mountain View area. We say a silent prayer in hopes of some good brew to accompany our continental breakfast.
Koana turns out to be a hipster’s dream café or the most endearingly detailed coffee shop in the Islands—maybe a little of both. The faded green patina of what looks like a former general store tells of many rainy mornings like this one. Inside is the aroma of freshly ground coffee; a record scratches lightly as it plays old-school jazz. Painted on one wall is a map of the Big Island, showing the locations of the farms whose harvests Koana features. Owner Brian Chih-Chiang Lo’s vision was to create a community hub serving Big Island-grown coffee, tea and chocolate, so the menu consists of pour over coffee, teas like matcha and hojicha, and drinking chocolate. The 10 coffees featured at any given time can include 100% Ka‘u Yellow Catura and 100% organic Kona; if you’re a novice, Chih-Chiang Lo will navigate you through different roasts and flavors. Earl Grey and mamaki teas are from local growers; the hojicha has been hand-carried from Japan. The lava shot cacao blend, a Mexican-style drinking chocolate made in-house with local ginger, turmeric, cacao and sea salt, seems ideal for chilly Mountain View.
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My dad orders a Ka‘u pour over and my mom a Kona. Dad, who’s opted for a darker roast, gets notes of brown sugar, chocolate and plum. Mom’s cup has a little more of a kick and smells of molasses, fig and raspberry. Both coffees are delicious. I love my simple, toasty hojicha with my mochi doughnut from next door. The lava shot is a warm, rich hug with a bitter finish and persisting low burn.
We’re so impressed, we don’t want to leave. So we stay a while. Chih-Chiang Lo tells me that the space was the Mountain View General Store. He and his wife took it over in late 2019, six months before the pandemic came. They kept the coffee shop open, selling one or two cups on some days, on other days none. On those days they worked on the patio, where cacao trees grow in upcycled pots; Chih-Chiang Lo hopes to turn this into a small outdoor movie theater. Slowly, as word got out about Koana’s coffees and teas, the homey café began to draw locals and visitors.
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Koana in Hawaiian refers to the space in between—the small gap between the stitches in a quilt, for instance—and it’s a girl’s name meaning community, equality, leadership and balance. For Chih-Chiang Lo and his wife it’s a space between Hilo and Volcano where a community can find a warm sip of something thoughtfully prepared.