8 Best Kona Coffee Brands of 2020
Kona coffee beans can make some of the most flavorful coffee in the world. It can also be some of the most overrated and overpriced. It all depends on which brand you buy.
Don’t run the risk of wasting your hard-earned cash on low-grade beans or — worse — Kona blends. This review round-up is here to guide you straight to the good stuff!
- How to Choose the Best Kona Coffee Beans
- The 8 Best Kona Coffee Brands in 2020
- 1. Volcanica Coffee Kona Peaberry Coffee – Best Overall
- 2. Koa Coffee Private Reserve – Budget Pick
- 3. Hawaii Coffee Company Lion Coffee 24K Gold Roast – Best Light Roasted Kona Beans
- 4. Keala’s Hawaiian Coffee – Best Medium Roast
- 5. Peet’s Kona – Best Dark Roast
- 6. Kona Coffee and Tea – Best Decaf
- 7. Koa Coffee 100% Kona Tri-Pack – Best Variety Pack
- 8. Big Island Coffee Roasters Coffee Club – Best Subscription
- The Verdict
How to Choose the Best Kona Coffee Beans
On the one hand, buying the best Kona coffee brands can be simple. Look for a brand that guarantees 100% Kona coffee beans, and you’re off to a pretty good start.
But if you’re shelling out the big bucks for these specialty gourmet coffee beans, it’s worth knowing a little more about Kona grades and flavors. Because you don’t just want great coffee beans; you want the perfect coffee for YOU.
This buyer’s guide is here to help with everything coffee lovers need to know about this gourmet coffee.
|Volcanica Coffee Kona Peaberry Coffee||
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|Koa Coffee Private Reserve||
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|Hawaii Coffee Company Lion Coffee 24K Gold Roast||
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|Keala’s Hawaiian Coffee||
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|Kona Coffee and Tea||
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|Koa Coffee 100% Kona Coffee Tri-Pack||
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|Big Island Coffee Roasters Coffee Club||
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Grades of Kona Coffee
Genuine Kona coffee is graded based on its size, shape, moisture content, and the number of defects (1). In general, higher grades are larger, have more moisture, and have fewer defects. They are more expensive, but for a good reason. They best demonstrate the character that makes pure Kona so unique.
In order from the highest quality to lowest, the Kona grades are:
- Kona Extra Fancy
- Kona Fancy
- Kona Number 1
- Kona Select
- Kona Prime
The best Kona coffee brands will advertise if they are using Extra Fancy, Fancy, or Number 1 Kona coffee beans. If you can’t find details about the grade, chances are they’re using Select or Prime beans.
Some Kona coffee brands give an Estate grade, which is not really a grade at all. Instead, it specifies that all the beans are grown on the same farm. If you’re buying Estate Kona beans, you’re probably getting a blend of grades, the quality of which will depend on the growing and processing practices of the coffee company.
The best of the best Kona coffees are Peaberry Kona beans. These occur when a natural mutation causes a small percentage of coffee cherries to have only one bean. This singular Kona bean gets all the nutrients usually destined for two, so it is said to have twice the flavor!
In Kona, there are two grades of Kona Peaberry coffee, No. 1 Peaberry and Peaberry Prime, with the former being the better of the two.
Regardless of grade, any 100% Pure Kona coffee is better than Kona Blends. By law, Kona blends can contain as little as 10% Kona beans (2). You might still get good coffee, but it won’t offer the unique flavors of authentic Kona.
All our recommendations for the best Kona coffee brands in this review are 100% Kona.
Kona Coffee Flavors and Roasts
In general, the best Kona coffee is clean, bright, and ultra-smooth, with a medium body, syrupy mouthfeel, and minimal bitterness. You can expect sweet flavors to dominate, with notes of brown sugar, milk chocolate, honey, and caramel.
But it’s the more subtle flavors that really scream Kona. Look forward to fragrant florals and tropical fruits, like passion fruit and toasted coconut.
Your choice of the roast will define how these characteristic flavors present themselves.
- Light roast Kona coffee is rare, but it will showcase more of the beans’ fruit flavors and bright acidity.
- Medium roast Kona coffees are the most popular. They’ll be smooth and sweet, with strong caramel and brown sugar flavors.
- Kona coffee beans rarely get a super dark roast because that risks losing their unique island character to the roasting process. Darker roasts will have a heavier body and dark chocolate flavors, but the best still allow the fruits and florals to shine through.
If you can’t imagine choosing between all those delicious options, consider a subscription or variety pack to find the best Kona coffee taste for your palate.
Grind Your Beans if You Can.
We always recommend you buy whole bean coffee and grind it yourself, as long as you have a high-quality burr grinder to do the job. This guarantees your coffee will be as fresh and flavorful as possible.
This advice goes double when buying premium coffee like Kona. You’re paying a lot of money for specialty beans, so you deserve a lot of flavors.
If you don’t have a burr grinder at home or just prefer the convenience of pre-ground coffee, you can still enjoy a delicious Kona brew. Just keep these points in mind:
- Buy from a brand that grinds to order, so you know your coffee is as freshly ground as possible, and try not to buy more than you’ll drink in a week or two.
- Make sure you buy the right grind for your brewing method: coarse for French Press, medium for drip brewing, and fine for espresso.
- Store your ground coffee in an airtight container in a cool, dark place.
The 8 Best Kona Coffee Brands in 2020
If you’re paying a premium for coffee beans, we believe you should get premium coffee beans. These eight brands all offer 100% Kona coffee, so you’re guaranteed to experience the sweet and smooth flavors that have made the region famous for some of the best coffee in the world.
Volcanica Coffee is a company that has built its reputation on sourcing only the finest coffees from the world’s premier growing destinations. So, of course, Kona coffee made the cut.
Kona Peaberry is the cream of the crop, representing the top 5% of the harvest. Peaberry coffee beans are known for being richer and more flavorful than even the fanciest grade. So if you want to taste what all the Kona beans fuss is about, this is our top pick.
And it’s not just us. This high-quality Kona Peaberry was rated a Top 10 Coffee by Food and Wine Magazine.
It is medium roasted and contains 100% Kona Peaberry, hand-picked and certified by the State of Hawaii Department of Agriculture. It has a luscious and full-bodied taste paired with an intense aroma. The flavors are powerful but not overwhelming, with notes of spice and sweet nuts.
This Kona Coffee is pricey, as you would expect, so it may not be a daily drinker for most of us, but it’s well worth a special occasion splurge (3).
Because of the extra time and labor involved in the sorting process, you would already expect peaberry to sell at a premium. It is, however, the quality of the cup and taste that motivates most buyers to spend a little extra for the Peaberry coffee.
This makes for a smooth cup of coffee, with low acidity and very little bitterness. To really experience the nuanced flavors, I’d recommend brewing it as a pour over.
Koa Coffee roasts exclusively Hawaiian coffee, which is just one reason we love their Kona beans. That exclusivity means they know exactly how to roast to get the richest flavors and best Hawaiian character. Their history of awards certainly demonstrates this to be true. Koa Coffee has been featured as Forbes’ “Top 10 Coffees of the World” and the “Best Coffee in America.”
The Koa Coffee Private Reserve Kona Coffee might be their cheapest Kona beans, but that by no means makes it a low-end coffee. In fact, this Kona blend one of their top sellers.
This medium roast is made up of a proprietary blend of 100% Kona beans. The coffee is grown at high elevation in the rich volcanic soil on the slopes of the famed Mauna Loa. It offers the rich and smooth flavors you expect from a Hawaiian Kona coffee. The dominant notes are of sweet, creamy caramel and bright fruit, while the medium roast gives it just a hint of toasted flavor.
It’s an easy drinker, with a medium body and relatively low acidity. This is a Kona blend coffee you can drink every day, and at this price, you can actually afford to!
If you’ve done your research, you know that Hawaiian Kona coffee is rarely offered as a light roast. Because Kona beans are inherently bright and vibrant, only skilled roasters can produce light roasts without the fruits, florals, and acidity becoming overbearing.
Fortunately, these skilled roasters exist at Hawaii Coffee Company, and their 24K Gold Roast is one of the best sellers. Wisely, they’ve chosen to skew this roast closer to a medium, which provides a nice balance between the flavors and the acidity.
The taste is more subtle than the other beans on this list, with hints of citrus, nuts, and honey, all enhanced by a caramel aroma. The acidity is notable but not overwhelming, and there’s no bitterness to speak of. If the weather is warm enough, I’d highly recommend this one as a cold brew.
For the ultimate taste of Hawaii, it’s hard to beat Keala s hand-picked Hawaiian coffee. One sip, and you’ll find yourself on a tropical beach, your feet in the sand and the sound of the surf in your ears. Okay, not really. But your taste buds will be transported.
Rather than the source from a single estate, Keala’s Hawaiian Coffee puts a priority on sourcing the best Kona Extra Fancy grade beans from several small farms, which are then blended to make this coffee. Not only does this ensure that only the top coffee beans from each farm cut, but thanks to their farm-direct trade policy, it spreads the wealth around the region and encourages excellent relationships with growers.
Of all the coffees on this list, this one offers the most fruit-forward flavor profile. You’ll taste passion fruit (known as lilikoi on the Islands) and toasted coconut. The medium roast is perfect, adding a hint of richness to the aroma without detracting from the bright flavors.
Keala’s Hawaiian Coffee is medium-bodied and tastes smooth and mellow with minimal acidity. If you want your mind blown, try it as a cold brew on a hot summer day!
Peet’s Coffee had a goal of introducing high quality, European-style dark roasts to the American market from its outset. That tradition continues today with this 100% pure Kona coffee. While Peet’s now offers various roast levels and flavors, they continue to be masters of the dark roast.
Peet’s Coffee Kona comprises of only Fancy and Extra Fancy grade beans, all grown on a single estate at high altitude. When I first saw these beans’ deep brown color, I was skeptical that such a roast could do justice to authentic Kona coffee beans, but I was happily proven wrong.
There is hardly any bitterness and just a slight hint of a toasted flavor. Instead, this is quite a fruity coffee, with all the tropical notes you’d expect from Hawaiian beans. There’s a rich hibiscus, a passion fruit sweetness, and a thrilling finish with notes of ripe stone fruit.
If you love the fruit flavors of light roasts but aren’t partial to the prominent acidity, you’ll love this mellow, full-bodied coffee. Try it as a French Press coffee to really appreciate the rich flavors and heavy mouthfeel.
Because this is one of their reserve coffees, Peet’s only roasts these Kona beans to order once a week. Then they’re shipped so that you get them at peak freshness.
Don’t worry, decaf lovers, we haven’t forgotten you! Just because you don’t like caffeine doesn’t mean you don’t deserve equally delicious coffee. That’s certainly the policy at Kona Coffee and Tea.
Kona Coffee and Tea is a rare example of a true seed to cup experience. That’s right; I didn’t say bean to cup; I said seed to cup. Kona Coffee and Tea grows, processes, and roasts their coffee. If you ever visit Hawaii, they even operate a cafe at the estate.
As a result, the team at Kona Coffee and Tea knows all there is to know about the Kona Typica coffee bean varietal. They have mastered the ideal growing conditions, processing methods, and roast levels to guarantee you the best tasting coffee, decaffeinated coffee included.
All their 100% Kona coffees are Fancy and Extra Fancy beans, ensuring you get high quality and super flavorful cup. Their beans are roasted in small batches daily, so every bag is as fresh as can be!
The coffee beans are decaffeinated using the CO2 process, a natural method that uses only carbonated water and pressure (4). The resulting medium roast is as rich and flavorful as any caffeinated equivalent. You’ll enjoy a smooth cup with sweet notes of caramel, milk chocolate, and almonds.
If you want to sample the variety possible within Kona coffees, this three-pack is a fantastic choice. It’s no surprise that it’s one of Koa’s best sellers.
Included in the pack are the Koa Coffee Private Reserve, Grande Domaine, and Estate Kona. All three are dark roasted 100% Kona beans, but they differ in the grades included and the estates where they are grown. They also offer the same pack with a medium roast, if that’s more to your taste. We particularly love the dark roast for use as espresso beans, with their heavy body and dense crema.
- The Koa Coffee Private Reserve features a proprietary blend of grades, but the coffee is grown in volcanic soil high on the slopes of Mauna Loa. You can expect a rich and sweet toffee flavor profile with just a hint of winey acidity.
- The Estate Kona contains only beans from a single high-elevation farm. It tastes the darkest of the three, with rich and aromatic flavors of toasted nuts and molasses. They’re remarkably low acid beans, perfect if you’re sensitive to acidity.
- The Grande Domaine is the top-of-the-line inclusion winner of the Kona Coffee cupping Contest. It’s given a Vienna roast, which is medium-dark roast, to highlight the flavors perfectly. The Grande Domaine includes a smattering of the rare Peaberry Kona for extra flavor. It’s smooth and balanced, with notes of milk chocolate, brown sugar, and red fruit.
If you have a coffee lover that you really want to spoil in your life, this pack also makes a WONDERFUL GIFT. It even comes with a free gift box on.
I can’t stop raving about Big Island Coffee Roasters Coffee Club. This is really something special, particularly if you love the highest quality Hawaiian coffee’s unique flavors.
The Coffee Club doesn’t deal exclusively with Kona coffee beans but will instead expose you to the incredible diversity of specialty coffees grown across the Hawaiian Islands, Kona included. That means you’ll receive rare and exotic beans like Puna Peaberry, Kona Geisha, Ka’u Natural, and Maui Mokka.
If you have an adventurous and refined coffee palate, prepare to be blown away.
When Big Island Coffee Roasters’ co-owner Kelleigh Stewart first moved to the Big Island of Hawaii, she was amazed by the number of small family-run coffee farms and how each farm’s landscape contributed specific flavors to the coffee (5).
We both loved the way something can be different depending on how it interacts with the landscape, and how the landscape can impart these unique qualities.
It was that variety that inspired this coffee subscription. Depending on your budget, you can choose to receive between 1 and 4 coffees each month. You can choose your own roast preference or (my advice) leave it in the capable hands of the roaster. Each shipment is roast and ground to order.
Better yet, when you subscribe, your membership gives you exclusive access to purchase super rare coffees that aren’t available in large enough quantities for the general public.
As long as you buy from a reliable brand offering 100% Kona coffee beans, you know you’re in for a treat. All of the region’s top farms and roasters provide the same smooth, flavorful, and richly aromatic coffees.
However, if you really want to sample the best of the best, we suggest you splurge on Volcanica Coffee’s Kona Peaberry. With a luscious mouthfeel and compelling flavors of nuts and spice, you’ll find out why it’s often called “the champagne of Kona coffee.”
Kona coffee is special because of the Kona district/region’s ideal coffee growing conditions on the Big Island of Hawaii, known as the Kona coffee belt. The rich volcanic soil drains well and is packed with minerals. The high elevation ensures dense and flavorful beans. And the climate has the perfect combination of sunny mornings, rainy afternoons, and mild winds (6).
Believe it or not, there is instant Kona coffee! In fact, instant coffee is experiencing a bit of a renaissance at the moment. More and more brands are entering the market to deliver the best instant coffee, focusing on flavor as a convenience.
For 100% Kona instant coffee, check out the brands Mulvadi or Hula Girl. Just don’t expect it to be quite as good as the freshly ground alternative.
Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee is another specialty coffee grown in a particular region, which means it is often compared to Kona coffee. It’s produced exclusively in the Blue Mountains of Jamaica. Like the Kona region, the Blue Mountains offer high elevation, mineral-rich soils, and the ideal climate for arabica coffee plants.
There are few organic Hawaiian Kona coffee beans mainly because of cost. As the only coffee-growing region in the United States, Hawaii is already a costly coffee farmer place. You are subject to the labor laws and minimum wage of America.
For many farmers, adding the cost of a USDA certification on top of that isn’t manageable. Just because Kona coffee beans aren’t certified organic, it doesn’t mean it isn’t sustainable and environmentally responsible.
- Kona Coffee Buzz. (n.d.) Kona Coffee Grades: How the Grading System Works. Retrieved from http://www.konacoffeebeans.org/how-to/types-of-kona-coffee-beans-the-kona-coffee-grading-system
- Pomranz, M. (2019, March 8). Is Your Kona Coffee Real? Retrieved from https://www.foodandwine.com/news/kona-coffee-lawsuit
- Cubbage, M. (2019, March 5). Making the Grade. Retrieved from https://www.konacoffeeandtea.com/blog/coffee-grades-hawaii
- Leiden, K. (2018, January 31). CO2 decaffeination – A decaf coffee without chemicals. Retrieved from https://zephyrsolutions.com/co2-decaffeination/
- Cheng, M. (2014, December 17). Hawai’i Coffee Geeks Are Jolting the World’s Coffee Scene. Retrieved from https://www.honolulumagazine.com/hawaii-coffee-geeks-are-jolting-the-worlds-coffee-scene/
- Dible, M. (2018, January 8). A climate for coffee: Researchers work to get ahead of potential threats to Hawaii’s signature crop. Retrieved from https://www.westhawaiitoday.com/2018/01/08/hawaii-news/a-climate-for-coffee-researchers-work-to-get-ahead-of-potential-threats-to-hawaiis-signature-crop/