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Hawaiian Coffee History

Coffee on the Big Island of Hawaii:

The Hawaiian archipelago is the only State in the Union that grows coffee commercially. Its location in the tropics, with copious rains and volcanic soils, renders it the ideal scenario to produce some of the most exotic and flavorful coffees in the world.

The first visitors to the islands made attempts to establish small orchards around the area of Honolulu, on the Island of Oahu. Priests, missionaries and settlers brought and planted a handful of beans from as far as Brazil. However, no one succeeded in establishing a plantation, far less a trade. Although the Islands of Kauai and Maui did manage to produce some coffee commercially that carried on till today, it was on the Big Island of Hawaii that a sizable industry took root.

The Big Island, or the Island of Hawaii proper, offered a vast and varied terrain with high elevations and abundant rains. By the mid 1850's, small farms dotted the island in almost every district: Hamakua, Ka`u, Puna and Kona. Each area displayed a distinct profile of flavors and body. The trade was robust enough to export to the continent and other parts of the world. The future looked promising until a different crop arrive: Sugarcane, or as it eventually came to be known "King sugar".

With global commodity prices rising exponentially, the prospect of this newcomer was so enticing that big firms soon took hold of every green patch on the island. Interestingly enough, Kona was the only area along with the Kohala District north of it that did not lend itself to the cultivation of sugarcane. In Kona, steep and rocky terrain coupled with a lack of sustainable water sources proved ruinous for the sugar industry. Coffee remained one of the few viable crops to grow, and after a hundred-and-fifty year stretch of continuous production, Kona coffee has become an established name in the coffee world.


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