Hawaii for the coffee connoisseur

Kauai Coffee Co., the largest coffee farm in Hawaii, has expanded its offerings and focused on quality and sustainability since the company was purchased six years ago by Massimo Zanetti Beverage.
Kauai Coffee Co., the largest coffee farm in Hawaii, has expanded its offerings and focused on quality and sustainability since the company was purchased six years ago by Massimo Zanetti Beverage.
Tovin Lapan
Tovin Lapan

Technically, Hawaii is not the only place in the U.S. that grows coffee, but it is the only place that produces coffee on any significant commercial scale. Puerto Rico, a U.S. territory, has some coffee farms, and there are small plots in California and Georgia.

If you are the type of coffee drinker who evaluates the flavor profile of your brew, and notes the hints of cherry, raisin and citrus, then Hawaii is your U.S. spiritual home. Indeed, connoisseurs of the caffeinated beverage could fill their whole Hawaii vacation with coffee farm tours and tastings, as long as the jitters don't get to you first. February and March, when the coffee plants bloom with small, fragrant snow-white flowers, can be an especially nice time to visit.

Kona coffee, grown on Hawaii Island, is by far the most common and well-known variety from Hawaii, and the vast majority of the state's coffee farms are on the Big Island. The island farms send a lot of green coffee beans off to be roasted elsewhere, but many of the growers have established their own onsite roasting operations and sell their own brand of beans exclusively out of their farm stores.

There are still sizeable operations on other islands, and Kauai Coffee Co. runs the largest coffee plantation in the U.S. They've offered a walking tour for years, but recently introduced a more robust "Coffee on the Brain" tour that is "an hour-and-a-half of Coffee 101," according to Kauai Coffee general manager Fred Cowell.

"The closer you get to the final customer, the better off it is for you," Cowell said. "It's a great opportunity to build a connection and following with coffee lovers."

Previously, Kauai Coffee produced a lot of green coffee beans on a converted sugar plantation, but was not necessarily known for quality. About six years ago the company was bought by Massimo Zanetti Beverage, and they started investing in improving the product and farm experience, Cowell said.

The company is experimenting with different sustainability methods, including a large composting system, and introducing new ground cover and other crops to the farm.

"Consumers want to feel good about their visit and the ethos of the company they are visiting," Cowell said.

From small, boutique growers and roasters, to expansive plantations, there are a variety of coffee farms offering tours with increasingly diverse programming across Hawaii.

Hawaii coffee farm tours

Mountain Thunder, Hawaii Island: This organic coffee farm is situated at a higher elevation than other Kona coffee farms, and the tour takes you through a cloud forest. Mountain Thunder offers a variety of tours and experiences, including a free tour with coffee tasting and a "roaster for a day" program where guests roast (and take home) their own beans. Their VIP tour ($135) is a three-hour in depth look at coffee cultivation, harvesting and roasting, and includes lunch.  

Green World Coffee Farm, Oahu: This 7-acre farm on the North Shore offers both 100% Hawaiian coffee and blends. The farm and espresso bar opened in 2013, and they roast beans Monday through Friday. In addition to the 2,000 Arabica trees they cultivate, Green World purchases green beans from farms on Maui, Molokai and Kauai.

Coffees of Hawaii, Molokai: This 500-acre farm and roaster mostly grows varieties of the Arabica bean, and it also mixes Nicaraguan beans with those from Molokai, Kauai and Maui to make some of its blends. A variety of tours are available from their store in Kualapuu.

Rooster Farms, Hawaii Island: This 6-acre organic farm has been in the coffee business for more than 30 years, and won the 2016 Kona Coffee Cultural Festival Cupping Contest. Tours are available by appointment only.

Maui Grown Coffee, Maui: Located in the western mountains near Lahaina, this was the first coffee farm on Maui. Maui Grown Coffee harvested its first crop in 2004, after James Falconer took over the farm from Pioneer Mill Sugar Co., which had been experimenting with coffee production. The 500-acre farm now cultivates several varieties of Arabica beans, including Red Catuai, Yellow Caturra and Typica.

O'o Farm, Maui: This small farm grows a variety of crops for its affiliate restaurants and retail locations, Pacific'o, the Feast at Lele, and the Aina Gourmet Market. They grow and roast their own single-origin Aina coffee for them, as well. In 2016 the farm started its "seed to cup" coffee tour ($58), which takes guests through the fields and the processing facility in addition to serving up a farm-fresh breakfast and samples of their various roasts.

Greenwell Farms, Hawaii Island: This farm dates to 1850, and some centenarian coffee trees still stand on the property. The farm has been welcoming visitors since the early 1990s. Farm president Tom Greenwell is a fan of experimentation, and they are always sampling new varietals. They also recently started growing black peppercorns. Tours run Monday through Saturday and include a complimentary coffee tasting.


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