Pour Yourself a Cup of Hawaiian History: How coffee growing began and flourished on the islands

Cup of Joe


Coffee growing and cultivation on the Hawaiian Islands began in the early 1800’s.


The Rise of Coffee Grown on the Islands


Making the trip back from London in 1825, Oahu’s Governor, Chief Boki, brought Arabica coffee trees with him after a brief stop in Brazil. These few, choice trees were planted on Manoa Valley on Oahu where they relished in Hawaii’s ideal climate and topography: rich fertile soil, high elevation, mixture of sunshine and rain-producing cloud cover, and moderate slopes to allow for root drainage. The success of these fledgling coffee trees on Oahu ensured its spread to other island locations, such as Captain Kook on Kona in 1828 and the Hanalei Valley on the North Shore of Kauai in 1842.


The Decline in Hawaiian Coffee Production


Despite the ideal growing conditions and early successes, coffee production on the Hawaiian Islands faced many hardships. Much like having to scale the very mountains on which they were grown, coffee bean cultivation faced numerous obstacles. Coffee growing neared economic ruin when sugar cane and pineapple production boomed in the late 1800’s, favored for their ease of farming and more cost-effective harvesting. In addition to the near economic demise, coffee trees on Kona were nearly eradicated by blight, a tiny insect but, as any coffee lover today knows, Kona coffee would make its comeback.


Coffee is Once Again Hawaii’s Golden Crop


The surviving parcels of coffee trees, as small and sparse as they were, again flourished around the turn of the century after the production of sugar cane and pineapple failed to keep up with foreign competition. Land that had been stripped of coffee trees to make room for sugar cane fields and pineapple groves were replenished with these little “berry bushes”. Small, family-owned lots grew to the noble coffee plantations that the islands once boasted, making way for the spread of coffee growing across the islands once again.


The Future of Hawaiian-Grown Coffees


What was at one time a meager sprinkling of small coffee farms, averaging less than 5-acres a piece, has exploded to over 6,500 acres of coffee trees statewide! Small family-owned farms coexist alongside larger plantations, making coffee cultivation a true Hawaiian experience.


Today, coffee is grown on all of the major Hawaiian Islands with no signs of slowing down. After all, Hawaii is the only state in the United States to cultivate coffee; that combined with the fact that coffee is the second most heavily traded commodity in the world pretty much secures its place on the islands!


While not everyone has the luxury of traveling to Hawaii for a taste of this island elixir, you can experience a variety of Hawaiian grown-coffees at the 4th Annual Aloha Coffee & Cultural Festival coming this fall in Grover Beach, CA. Hosted by Red Dirt Coffee House, located in Arroyo Grande, CA, the Aloha Coffee & Cultural Festival offers Hawaiian-grown coffee tasting, live music and entertainment, vendor booths, and games for the kids. Visit Red Dirt’s website for updated information on this year’s Aloha Coffee & Cultural Festival. 

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