Why is Kona coffee so expensive?
A question we get frequently. With a Starbucks on every corner and a large selection of wallet-friendly bags of coffee at every grocery store, people are used to buying a cup less than $3 or pound for less than $20. So why is Kona coffee so much more?
Kona coffee is grown in a very specific region of Hawaii. This region is approximately 1 mile wide and 30 miles long in size and found on the slopes of Mauna Loa in Kona. This area is known as the Kona Coffee Belt. No other coffee in the world can claim to be 100% Kona Coffee. Any other coffee grown in Hawaii is called Hawaiian coffee and any Kona Blend only contains about 10% of Kona Coffee. The other 90% is coffee from other cheap producing regions, to offset the cost of Kona. Kona Coffee farmers struggled for years to get state officials to mandate correct labeling of Kona coffee as either 100% pure or a Kona Blend.
So what is so special about the coffee grown in the Kona Coffee Belt? Light wind, sunny mornings, cloudy/rainy afternoons, and mild nights makes for perfect growing conditions for coffee. The porous, mineral-rich volcanic soil lends to the unique, aromatic, and mellow flavor of Kona coffee. This gives you flavor without high acidity.
However, since the Kona Coffee Belt is found on the slopes of the largest active volcano, the terrain is very steep and rocky. Therefore everything is done by hand.
There are many steps to growing and processing coffee. Planting, fertilizing, suckering (removal of unwanted sprouts), pruning are all needed just to get the trees to produce the red fruit. Once the berries, also called cherry, are ready, they need to be picked and processed. It takes about 7.4 lbs. of cherry to produce 1 lb of roasted coffee. One coffee tree produces about 15-16 lbs of cherry, or about 2 lbs of roasted coffee, all grown, picked, and processed by hand. Processing the coffee includes sorting, pulping, fermenting, washing, drying, removal of parchment, and roasting. For more detail about processing coffee, check out our story, From Cherry to Cup. The coffee is then packaged, labeled, and shipped directly to you.
This labor, combined with the minimum wages in Hawaii (since Hawaii is part of America after all), make for very high production costs. Just the labor costs of picking can be up to 20 times more than the cost of picking in cheaper coffee regions.
A new challenge arose in 2011, in the form of the coffee borer beetle. A record six month drought resulted in the only natural enemy of the beetle, a beneficial fungus, to be all but wiped out. This led to an explosion in the population of beetles, which soon decimated many farms in Kona. Fighting the beetle required a three-pronged approach. Traps needed to be set to attract and kill the beetle, trees needed to be reinoculated with the beneficial fungus, and all coffee cherries needed to be removed from the fields to prevent overwintering of the beetle in the fallen coffee. This raised the cost of production for all farmers as they struggled to protect their crops that inevitably led to an increase in the price of roasted coffee.
So is Kona Coffee really worth it? Most certainly. After all, if it wasn't, the production costs would overwhelm the demand and many farmers would go out of business very quickly. Kona Coffee farming is a labor of love. No farmer will get rich off of it. We do it because we love Kona Coffee. There is nothing quite like the experience of enjoying a hot cup of Kona coffee while overlooking the very trees that produced it and basking in the view of the incredibly beautiful Kona coast.
Find out for yourself. Even if you just get an 8 oz bag, which makes about 5 - 6 pots of coffee. If 1 pot makes about 6 cups of coffee, that's only 50¢ a cup!