Kona Coffee Confusion

I forgot the exact dollar amount, but I recall during college a friend telling me they got a full pound of Hawaiian Kona coffee at price that seemed too good to be true. I looked at the bag and sure enough it had a picture of Hawaii, a Kona label and then I saw the word Style. I had learned from one of my early coffee mentors that the word Style usually means there is no Kona coffee in the blend.

Kona Style indicates a blend of coffee beans roasted in the Style a Kona would be roasted.

Pretty sneaky? Or one might think fraudulent. The more common way a lower priced Kona Coffee is sold to the public is by putting the term Blend beside Kona. How much Kona is in a Kona Blend? INeedCoffee contributor and Kona Coffee farmer Gary Strawn answered this question in the post Kona Blends.

If you purchase Kona coffee from a store anywhere other than Kona, you are very likely purchasing a Kona Blend. Here in Hawaii there is a state law that requires a minimum of 10% Kona coffee and the percentage has to be written on the label. On the mainland there is no such law so a “Kona Blend” might be 0% Kona coffee. Even at 10%, that means a Kona blend is 90% cheaper filler beans.

Even 10% seems fraudulent to me. It did to others as well. A bill (HB931) was introduced that would have increased the state law minimum of 10% to 51%. That bill failed to make it to committee and in the same post, Gary Strawn details how what started as a decent idea turned into a bill that even he couldn’t support.

kona coffee plant
Kona Coffee Plant by mikefats.

What do you need to know when it comes to Kona Coffee?

  • AVOID: Kona Roast – Most likely has 0% Kona coffee.
  • AVOID: Kona Style – Most likely has 0% Kona coffee.
  • AVOID: Kona Blend – Has just 10% Kona coffee if purchased in Hawaii and as little as 0% if purchased elsewhere.
  • BUY: 100% Kona Coffee – Island coffee is special and will cost more. Make sure you getting 100% Kona.

Better Than 100% Kona Coffee?

INeedCoffee contributor Andrew Hetzel thinks Hawaii can even do better than labeling the coffee 100% Kona. In his article Kona Coffee Needs a Quality Grading System, he makes a case for Hawaiian Kona coffee to participate in a coffee cupping and grading system that is already done in other parts of the world.

Whereas in many regions of the world, coffees are cupped regularly and systematically evaluated by the producer 1) for their own internal quality improvements, 2) to communicate flavor profile with buyers, and 3) to objectively promote cup quality, in Kona, the process is largely left to chance. Hawaii’s coffee grading system currently monitors only the number of faults in each green sample and screen size of the bean; no consideration whatsoever is given to the resulting flavor.

The article goes further in explaining that different 100% Kona coffees will have different levels of quality and flavor profiles. Some should be priced higher than others. His proposal is an open grading system.

The argument posed by the small farming community is that by diluting a pure Kona coffee product, you are damaging the reputation of the brand — but that argument is only half correct and makes the false assumption that 100% Kona is always 100% good quality. This is, unfortunately, not always the case.


Kona Blends – By Gary Strawn of Kona Earth Coffee.

Gary Strawn – INeedCoffee contributor page.

Kona Coffee Needs a Quality Grading System – Article by Andrew Hetzel.

Hawaiian Coffee – Island by island Hawaiian coffee overview by Chris Arnold.

Kona coffee – Blending information on the Kona coffee Wikipedia page.

HB931 – Bill proposal to change the Kona Blend labeling law.

Michael Allen Smith

Michael Allen Smith fell in love with coffee while attending college. Shortly after graduating college, he found himself in the Tampa Bay area far away from the good coffee he had at The Ohio State University. That is when he starting home roasting coffee. Less than a year later in April 1999, he launched the coffee website INeedCoffee.com. INeedCoffee.com has been going strong ever since with hundreds of articles and tutorials submitted by over one hundred contributors.

In 2007, Michael moved to America's coffee capitol Seattle, Washington. He has visited close to three hundred different coffee places in Seattle, Portland,Vancouver and San Francisco and met many of the top roasters and baristas in the country. Since 2009, Michael has been the Organizer of the Coffee Club of Seattle, which is a Meetup group of over 800 coffee enthusiasts. Besides the social aspect of the group, the Coffee Club of Seattle partners with local coffee professionals for educational events such as coffee cuppings, brewing demonstrations and roasting tours.

Unrelated to coffee, Michael has a personal blog at CriticalMAS.com which covers several topics including fitness, cooking and economics.