Hawai‘i is known worldwide for its gourmet 100% Kona coffee, but true coffee lovers know that Kona is only part of the story. In the last century coffee has jumped across the island chain, breaking new ground in flavors and growing techniques.
Regardless of where or how it’s grown, coffee is the world’s drink. Experts say that more people drink coffee than any other beverage except water and, perhaps, tea. In 2005, coffee was grown in 80 countries and consumed in 154. Coffee fuels countless drinkers, getting them through each day, and maintains the livelihoods of people all over the world, from farmers to baristas.
If coffee is so ubiquitous, then what’s so exciting about growing it in Hawai‘i? For one thing, Hawai‘i is the only state in the United States that grows coffee. This makes it possible to explore Hawai’i’s coffee along every part of its journey—from bean to cup. In today’s import/export market, this is a rare treat. In many countries, people don’t drink the coffee they grow. In contrast, many of Hawaii’s farms play a big role in sharing their crop with local cafés, retail outlets and restaurants.
Hawai’i’s isolation and high cost of living have dissuaded farmers from competing in volume or price in the world market. Rather, Hawai‘i coffee competes by only producing high-quality, specialty coffee. Specialty coffee, also known as gourmet or premium coffee, has distinctive flavors and unique characteristics. This is in contrast to canned and dehydrated coffees that are homogenous and have no outstanding traits. Every farm in Hawai‘i has the potential to produce one-of-a-kind coffee.
Hawai’i’s coffee industry has moved beyond just growing and selling coffee. Coffee has become an experience worth traveling for. In 2003, 16 percent of Hawai’i’s farms visited by agtourists (agricultural tourists) were coffee farms. Since then, many more farms have opened their doors to visitors. Farmers themselves are eager to meet people who want to learn about coffee. The whole state, not just the coffee industry, benefits when curious people explore the nature and culture of this fantastic crop.
People in the Hawai‘i coffee industry are passionate, even fanatical. When talking to farmers, roasters or baristas, it’s hard not to find their enthusiasm energizing. It’s not just the caffeine that affects them. Coffee inspires minds, infuses dreams and fulfills destinies. For this industry, coffee isn’t a way of life; it is life!