Kona Coffee Flavor Profile

Kona coffees are known for being sweet and complex, rich and mellow. It lacks any sharpness of taste. At a medium roast, these taste qualities are highlighted. However, that’s just the start and every Kona coffee tastes a little bit different.

Kona coffee is unique among coffees. It is only grown on a small part of the Big Island of Hawaii: the slopes of Mauna Loa and Hualalai. These hillsides have fresh volcanic soil and are situated in near-perfect conditions for growing coffee.

Coffee farms have become tourist destinations. Most people only experience Kona coffee when they visit the island state, perhaps bringing a bag of happy coffee memories home with them.

You can buy Kona coffee online and in some coffee stores, but the price is very high.

Is Kona coffee worth it? Yes, I think so. Let’s take a look at what makes this coffee expensive, but special.

What does Kona coffee taste like?

Kona coffees are known for being sweet and complex, rich and mellow. The flavor profile lacks any sharpness or bitterness of taste. At a medium roast, these taste qualities are highlighted. However, that’s just the start and every Kona coffee has a slightly different flavor profile.

Different roasting techniques highlight a variety of flavors that they can pull from the bean. These flavors can include honey, caramel, butter, cocoa, fruit, nuts, citrus, flowers, and more. I’ve had friends who drank different Kona coffees to me describe each as an entirely separate tasting experience.

Light roast

A light roast will pull out a chorus of flavors, because it highlights the small amount of acidity in the coffee. Kona is low-acid in the first place, and a perfect coffee for those with easily upset stomachs. A light to medium roast highlights elusive floral flavors. The light roast is known for having three stages of taste: first scent, first taste, and aftertaste. With a Kona coffee, each is distinct and wonderful.

Brew a light roast with a pour-over coffee maker, such as the Hario V60 or the Chemex. Drink it hot and then through the cooling process as the tastes subtly change.

Dark roast

A dark roast highlights what many people love about the beans, their smooth and complex character with dark roasted tastes. A dark roast brings out chocolate, caramel, and nut flavors, the best part of drinking darker coffees.

A French Press is perfect for bringing out the flavors of a deeply roasted Kona. If you lack that, any pressure coffee maker will work well.

Highest-rated Kona coffees

These four farms produce the highest-rated Kona coffees according to Coffee Review’s 2022 blind tastings. Each has other roasts/varietals that the judges loved, but I’ve only listed the top one for each grower. The second best was often their darker roast.

1) Hula Daddy Kona Coffee

  • Karen J Kona farm
  • Red Bourbon varietal
  • Holualoa, HI, North Kona Growing District
  • $49.95 for 8 oz
  • medium-light roast

This classic Kona delivers complex vibrancy. Tastes of black cherry, honeysuckle, and lemon balm show off the slight acidity of this cup. It is made solely of the Red Bourbon varietal of the Arabica bean. Hula Daddy produces other top-notch choices.

2) Paradise Roasters

  • Kona SL34 varietal
  • Uluwehi Farm
  • Holualoa, HI, North Kona Growing District
  • $30.00 for 4 oz.
  • medium-light roast

Rich and juicy, this coffee is fruit-centered with tastes of lychee, passionfruit, and bergamot. This Kona coffee is processed with a proprietary “champaign natural” fermentation with wine yeast. Paradise Roasters offer many other top-tier bean choices.

3) Monarch Coffee

  • Pacamara varietal
  • Monarch Estate farm
  • Holulloa, HI, North Kona Growing District
  • $40.95 for 4 ounces
  • Medium-light roast

Nuanced balance of chocolate, cherry, and plum with a hint of lilac. The Stille family grows the large-bean Pacamara varietal which delivers a surprising umami flavor.

4) Kona Love Coffee Co

  • Boranian Farm
  • Holulloa, HI, North Kona Growing District
  • $45.00 for 16 ounces
  • Medium-light roast

Kona Love is sweet and crisp with a fully balanced taste. This organic farm produces a cocoa-centric coffee, with a wealth of other flavors.

Why is Kona coffee so special?

Kona is reputed to be the best coffee in the world, and each bean is carefully treated to a process from growing through roasting that guarantees every bean is at its best.

High quality

Kona coffee is made from the Arabica bean. Growers choose particular sub-varietals for taste. The coffee is grown on small, family farms and handpicked when ripe. Kona is the highest quality and cared for in ways that assure that through drying, fermenting, and all the steps taken to create the coffee we drink.

Hand-tended, grown, and roasted on small farms

Most growers also roast their own beans in the Kona district. This gives them control over presenting only the best tastes from the beans. These skilled workers control the time, temperature, moisture, rate of rise, and presentation of the coffee. Treating the beans carefully and hands-on brings out the very best in these best beans.

Kona has perfect growing conditions

Mauna Loa and Hualalai have the perfect climate. Rain and sun are regular and predictable, and there is little wind to bother the trees. The existing forests surrounding the coffee bring an ideal balance of light and protective shade.

Hawaiian coffee is “Made in the USA” coffee

Kona is American coffee grown in Hawaii, the only state that can grow coffee as a crop. That’s a point of pride. Not only can we grow coffee, but we grow the very best.

How do I tell if Kona coffee is genuine?

The government of Hawaii guards the Kona brand, and they sue any entities that say they sell Kona, but do not. Look for the official government seal and the Kona labeling.

Make sure that your label reads “100 Kona Coffee” or “100% Kona Coffee”. Otherwise, you might be buying a weakened blend. Anything labeled Kona must have at least 10% of Hawaiian Kona beans. A blended coffee will keep prices down, but it dilutes the quality of the coffee. Buying it in a grocery store almost guarantees that the coffee will be diluted and probably less fresh than you want it to be.

Hawaiians grow Kona on only about 700 small farms. You can find several lists online, and it’s pretty quick to verify that farm that grew your beans.

Marks of authenticity

  • Labeled “100% Kona Coffee”
  • See if it is grown in Hawaii
  • See if it is grown in the Kona District
  • The beans should be labeled with Kona Grades
  • Check the grower’s website

Why is Kona coffee so expensive?

Kona is one of the most expensive coffees in the world as well as being one of the most sought-after. Prices are high both because of the supply/demand curves, but also because it takes a lot of money to grow coffee this good.

Supply and demand

We can only grow Kona coffee on a small amount of this Earth. Nothing out of the Kona District counts. This creates a limited supply.

Kona coffees are reliably high-quality, creating a demand both on and off the islands. These two forces working together drive up prices.

Made with care and expense

Even without supply and demand curves, it takes a lot of human labor to make the coffee correctly. Farms are on mountainsides where it is very difficult to set up any kind of mechanization. Workers are paid a first-world hourly wage to pick, process, and roast the coffee.

Most small farms roast their own coffees. With this, they can maintain full control over the roast on each and every bean. Roasting on site allows them to get higher prices for their coffee than unroasted.

Kona coffee grading system

Farmers must grade their coffees on the Kona system. The very best beans will be labeled Extra Fancy or Peaberry Number 1. A peaberry is a natural mutation when a plant grows one instead of two beans. These rounder beans roast differently and have the most smooth, chocolatey flavor of all the beans.

Hawaii State Department of Agriculture certifies all Hawaiian coffees and enforces the Kona grades. All these coffees must maintain a moisture level of 9-12%.

Type I (Normal Coffee Beans)

These bean categories allow for increasing numbers of defects in the beans.

  • Kona Extra Fancy – the biggest, best, ripest beans – top 20% of farms’ crop
  • Kona Fancy
  • Kona Number 1
  • Kona Select
  • Kona Prime
  • Hawaii No. 3 – 100% Hawaiian, but not Kona (and lower grade)

Type II (Peaberry)

  • Peaberry Number 1 – only the top-sized and colored peaberries
  • Peaberry Prime

“Estate” means all the beans are grown on the same farm. This will probably contain a variety of graded beans.

Are there other Hawaiian coffees?

Yes, people grow coffee in other Hawaiian districts and islands. The Hawaii Coffee Association represents all Hawaiian coffee growers, Kona or not. Coffee is grown on Oahu, Kauai, Molokai and Maui, as well as other regions on the Big Island, including Ka’u and Hamakua. Several of these places are starting to win awards and recognition.

Kona coffee is well-known for its exceptional taste. If you cannot get to Hawaii to sample some at the source, the coffee is worth its price because it offers the tastiest coffee with numerous complex notes. Grown only on small estates and cared for by hand at every stage of the process, every bean is at its best.


Coffee has been grown in Kona for nearly 200 years, but Kona coffee only came to prominence in the 1980s. The plant was first imported as an interesting ornamental. Since then, farmers tried many ways to make it into a profitable crop. Kona coffee was a 19th century brand, but plantation coffee ended in a market crash. When most sugar and pineapple production ended on the island, farmers needed to find a higher value crop to grow. Many chose coffee.

Why does Kona coffee taste so good?

Kona coffee reflects quality at each stage of the process. Kona benefits from the perfect growing conditions of Hawaii, to the hand-tended growing and roasting process on small farms, resulting in wonderful coffee of high quality!

Is Kona coffee bitter?

No. Usually Kona coffee is bright and smooth with floral notes and an overall mellow flavor.

Does 100% Kona coffee have more caffeine?

Yes, typically it has 1.3% caffeine compared to 1.1% in others. However, the type of roast affects this. Lighter roasts have more caffeine compared to darker ones.