Hawaii is the only state in the U.S. that grows and produces coffee on a commercial scale, so it’s no wonder that coffee is one of the most valuable commodities produced on the islands and one of the most sought-after souvenirs for visitors to tote home.
After Spaniard Don Francisco de Paula Marin brought coffee to Hawaii in 1817, attempts were made to grow it commercially. But the industry didn’t really take off until the 1980s when sugarcane stopped being profitable due to rising labor costs and fields were replanted with coffee instead. Now, about 900 coffee farms thrive on five different islands, according to the Hawaii Coffee Association.
“The industry is growing,’’ says Chris Manfredi, the association president. “We have strong demand, relatively high prices, and we’re getting better at managing coffee berry borer’’—a beetle that can destroy the fruit that surrounds and protects each bean.
Get your Hawaiian caffeine fix with these top purveyors:
Greenwell Farms, Big Island
British adventurer Henry Nicholas Greenwell was one of the first exporters of Kona coffee in the late 1800s. Today, his great-grandson Thomas Greenwell oversees the 85-acre Greenwell Farms in Kona, where all the planting and picking is still done by hand. This premium coffee grower debuted a new coffee varietal, Mamo, in 2018 that took 20 years to develop and boasts notes of spice, raisin, blackberry, and cocoa. The farm offers complimentary tours of its fields and processing plant, which concludes with tastings of its coffees.
UCC Hawaii, Big Island
Founded in 1989 by the Ueshima Coffee Company, one of the largest coffee companies in Japan, UCC Hawaii’s 35-acre estate boasts more than 15,000 coffee trees growing at 1,509 feet above sea level at the foot of Mount Hualalai. The farm offers three types of tours: a complimentary overview of the estate, a seasonal harvest tour ($35) that offers the opportunity to pick coffee berries and receive a gift bag of roasted beans, and the ultimate roastmaster ($45) that lets you create your own label and custom roast beans to take home.
Monarch Coffee, Big Island
With floral and fruity qualities and delicate acidity, Kona Geisha was crowned grand champion at the 2018 State of Hawaii Cupping Competition, putting Monarch Coffee on the map. Owners Greg and Susy Stille settled on the perfect name for their farm after discovering the area is home to Monarch butterflies. With help from their daughter and son-in-law, they do the majority of the farming and processing themselves. They are committed to sustainable practices, including turning leftover coffee pulp into compost that gets mixed into a special fertilizer blend to nourish the coffee trees.