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.