Anyone with a morning caffeine addiction has heard of Kona coffee. It’s some of the richest, tastiest—and most expensive—coffee grown anywhere in the world, and the small growing area means that an exclusive amount of the coffee is all that’s grown each year. When visiting the Big Island of Hawaii, visitors can not only stock up on bags of 100% pure Kona coffee, but also tour the hallowed ground where the beans themselves are grown. Learn how the climate and volcanic
soil create ideal conditions for coffee, and tour the mills where the beans are transformed into the legendary brown elixir.
With over 600 coffee farms in Kona, however, trying to figure out where to visit is easier said than done. Most of the farms are small operations that don’t offer tours for the public, but there are a number of larger, historic operations where every step in the growing process—from bright red cherry to steaming cup—is masterfully put on display. Of all the farms with guided tours, the majority are located in the famous “coffee belt” on the slopes above Kailua-Kona. Coffee grows best between 1,000-2,500 ft., and the town of Holualoa is a central base for exploring the surrounding region.
At Mountain Thunder Coffee Plantation, learn the growing process from master cuppers who judge the cupping competition at the annual Kona Coffee Cultural Festival. A little farther south, stop in at Hula Daddy Coffee to learn about eco-friendly growing practices, and learn how meticulous attention to detail has resulted in award-winning coffees. Continuing south on Mamalahoa Highway, Greenwell Farms is a name that’s synonymous with coffee growing in Kona. After all, its founder—Henry Greenwell—was winning awards for his Kona brand coffee as early as 1873, at cupping competitions as far away as the cafés of Vienna, Austria. If you visit on a Thursday afternoon, you’ll be treated to bread that’s been baked in a forno—or traditional Portuguese oven—and on the entire farm, there is an authentic sense of history and culture that is transferred through every bean.
While a self-guided tour of the Kona Coffee Belt can consume an entire day, those with only a few days on the Big Island can also combine a coffee farm visit with a trip to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. The time on the farm is brief in comparison, but it’s a day spent touring two of the best sights that the Big Island has to offer.