The History of Coffee in Kona
King Kamehameha I’s Spanish interpreter first introduced arabica coffee to Hawaii in 1813. The Rev. Samuel Ruggles brought cuttings from those trees to Kona in 1828, where the new plants flourished, and Kona Coffee was born.
In 1892 Hermann Widemann introduced the first Guatemalan variety. He gave seeds to John Horner, who planted an orchard of 800 trees in Hamakua, on the northeastern side of the island. Horner had a scientific bent, so he compared the new Guatemalan coffee with the original Hawaiian coffee variety and judged the Guatemalan arabica superior.
During the next 180 years of trial and error breeding, selection, and cultivation, the Kona region was established as the best coffee growing area, and descendants of Widemann’s Guatemalan seeds became established as the best trees. Today, Kona coffee trees are arabica, variety “Kona typica”, also knows as Guatemala tipica.
Coffee is so integral to Kona culture that until 1969, the school system took a “coffee vacation” which coincided with the coffee harvest rather than the summer vacation common to the mainland!
About Kona Coffee
Scientific research shows that Kona has the ideal climate to grow the world’s best arabica coffees, with sunny mornings and afternoon clouds to shade the delicate coffee trees. Kona’s spring and summer rainfall pattern is more favorable for coffee growth than the winter rainfall that is common to other Hawaiian islands. When rainfall coincides with warmer weather, coffee growth is optimal. Cooler, drier falls and winters are conducive to the maturation of the coffee cherries and to setting buds for next season’s crop. Kona farms are sheltered from the islands’ strong, prevailing trade winds by two volcanoes, Hualalai (8,500 feet) and Mauna Kea (13,400 feet). Because Kona is located on a remote island, we are not afflicted with many of the world’s coffee pests and diseases, making pesticides unnecessary.
On our farm, the coffee trees are spaced, pruned, irrigated, and fertilized in accordance with the best practices from research at the University of Hawaii.