A Look at Hawaiian Coffee History

Every coffee drinker has heard of Kona Coffee, one of Hawaii’s most famous exports. Yet most people don’t realize that the history of coffee in Hawaii dates back to the early 19thcentury. In 1825, the Royal Governor of Oahu, Chief Boki, arrived back to the Hawaiian Islands from the delegation to England with some Arabica coffee trees from Brazil. These trees, purchased in Rio de Janeiro, were planted in Manoa Valley on Oahu. Coffee soon spread to the other islands, notably Hawaii (Big Island), Kauai and Maui, thus marking the beginnings of Hawaiian coffee history.

Coffee plantations flourish

Coffee plantations flourished around the islands until Hawaii was annexed to the United States in 1898. Almost instantaneously sugarcane became Hawaii’s cash crop, due to big demand in the U.S. and the elimination of an import tax on Hawaiian agriculture. Six-thousand acres of land that had been growing coffee were nearly all lost to sugarcane. The only land that was not converted over to sugarcane happened to be small parcels of land in Kona. These five to fifteen acre farms were then leased and operated by families. Since the 1980′s, Kona Coffee has been recognized as one of the finest gourmet coffees in the world. However, premium coffee is grown and roasted on six of the eight main Hawaiian Islands; Maui, Lanai, Molokai, Kauai, the Big Island and Oahu. In fact, even other areas on the Big Island are gaining recognition for outstanding coffee. The area of Ka’u, the southernmost district of the Big Island, has 50 coffee growers and has become prominent amongst serious coffee connoisseurs. The Specialty Coffee Association of America even named Rising Sun, a Ka’u coffee, their 2010 Coffee of the Year.

Coffee Connoisseur

For the serious coffee lover, a trip to Hawaii is not complete without a visit to a coffee farm. Visitors to Kauai have the opportunity to take a tour of the Kauai Coffee Company, the largest coffee farm in the U.S. Since Hawaii is the only state in the United States that grows coffee, competition is rather limited between the islands, but this does not mean that the Kauai Coffee Company is a small farm. With an estate that has 4 million coffee trees growing on 3,100 acres, this farm is large. On Oahu, Waialua Estate Coffee is grown on the Wahiawa Plateau overlooking the North Shore. Owned by the Dole Food Company, their coffee growing operation is located on a 155 acre farm that was once filled with sugarcane. Visitors can take a tour of the Coffee Factory in the Waialua Sugar Mill, where Waialua Coffee is dried and roasted. Waialua Estate Coffee can also be found and purchased at the Dole Pineapple Plantation. Discover Hawaii Tours offers visitors a variety of tours to the Dole Pineapple Plantation daily.

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