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Above map shows current coffee growing areas in brown and growers that give tours.

The Very Early History of Kona Coffee

Coffee has been grown in Hawaii since 1825, from plants brought in from Brazil. It has also been suggested that these valuable seeds were transported to the Hawaiian Islands by Captain George Vancouver, the famous British navigator, on his Pacific exploration voyage, from 1791-94. Not, however, until around 1845 was an official record made of the yield of this Hawaiian crop, which was about 250 pounds. The first coffee plantations, were started on the islands low elevations, near the ocean and sea air influence, they did not grow well; and it was not until the coffee plants were grown at the higher elevations of 1,000ft to 3,000ft above the ocean, that better bean returns were produced.
Coffee, early on, was planted on all the Hawaiian Islands, but nowhere of any magnitude except on the west coast of Hawaii, which now produces 95% of the entire coffee harvest on the islands. Next in planting, though far behind was the some areas on Oahu. Early on Hawaii there were four major coffee districts, Puna, Kona, Olaa, and Hamakua. About 4/5s of the total production of the Hawaiian Islands was produced in Kona. At one point there were major coffee areas on Maui and Kauai, but sugar cane eventually replaced these areas of coffee trees.

The historic Kona coffee district covered for many miles the western slopes of the island of Hawaii and around the large Kealakekua Bay(see map). The soil varied a lot by district and could vary from good volcanic, to thin and rocky; but the coffee trees surprisingly grew and flourished very well in the lava rock soil and was said to produce a coffee bean of super high quality.

The first Coffee plants in Kona were grown mainly in the open, though often they were partly shaded by the native state trees (the Kukui). The coffee was grown from hand selected seeds in warm nurseries; and the baby seedlings, when about one year old, were transplanted in the ground in straight rows about eight feet apart. In around two years time a small coffee crop was harvested, yielding about five to twelve burlap sacks of properly cleaned coffee beans per acre. At around three years of age the coffee trees produced from eight to twenty-one sacks of coffee per acre, and from that time on they were completely matured.

The important bean ripening season is between mid September and January, and there were two planned pickings. Many of the first trees were classed as wild(un-kept); that is, they are not pruned on top and are grown in an irregular style and are poorly taken care of; but they did yield about 700 or 800 pounds per acre back than. The plant fruit ripened very sporadically, and was picked fairly easily and at slight cost.

Hawaii coffee beans

It is was know in the early years that the Hawaiian islands had more than 250,000 acres of good coffee land, and about 200,000+ acres more of fairly good quality land. Ironically, little of this possible acreage was put into coffee trees back than. Looking at the numbers from the 1889 census, there was about 6,450 acres planted in coffee, having both old and young bearing trees that numbered about 3,225,750. That yield, in that past census year, was 2,297,000 pounds, of which 2,112,650 pounds were from the island of Hawaii, and the remainder came from Oahu, Maui, Kauai, and Molokai.

burlap coffee sacks
A coffee blight that occurred in 1855 hurt the early Hawaii growers, many plantations were ruined and turned over to sugar cane crops. After the coffee blight had gone, the coffee and plantations got a foothold, and good harvests lasted for years. Following the United States of America occupation of the island territory in 1898, came yet another period of poor crop sales. With the end of the islands protective tariff that had been there, coffee bean prices fell off a cliff to an unremunerative figure; and once again the more profitable and reliable sugar cane planting was taken up again. After 1912, the growing demand for coffee beans, with higher market cost pricing, led again to growth of the Hawaii coffee industry. Tree planting was growing again; and it was demonstrated that from the growing areas selected and properly cultivated it was possible to have a good bean yield of about 1,200 to 2,100 pounds per planted acre. Enhancements were also established in the island pulping and milling equipment and buildings.
Exports of coffee from the island of Hawaii to the major buying countries of the world in 1920 were a growing 2,573,300 pounds.

Kona Coffee Tree

Map Copyright CCCarto