Of all the places I’ve been in Hawaii – so far – the Kona coast of the Big Island is probably my favorite. Rocky craggy beaches with great snorkeling (and an easy drive to one of the most unique beaches in the world), a cute downtown core, and the best sunsets the islands have to offer highlight the reasons Kona is a perfect destination. And one more thing: Kona coffee.

Kona is synonymous with some of the best coffee in the world. Plantations all over the area are open to tourists, as well as any number of incredible cafes in which to sample the wares. (Sadly, my favorite cafe has closed, so I can’t write about that. These are the issues with writing about a place from the “before” times, before I started The Royal Tour. But memories of a perfect latte overlooking the water, and a muffin with white chocolate, macadamia nuts, and candied ginger live on.) One plantation stands out as being a bit different than the rest: the Kona Coffee Living History Farm. Run by the Kona Historical Society, the farm is only a few minutes’ drive out of town, and captures the history of an industry that has come to, perhaps more than any other, define the region.

Kona coffee drying

Coffee was brought to Kona in 1828 from cuttings taken from Brazil, and it quickly flourished in the Hawaiian climate. An 1899 crash in the coffee market resulted in many white plantation owners leasing the land to their workers, a large percentage of whom were of Japanese ancestry. One such family was the Uchida family, and my guide at the Living History Farm walks us through their home here on the plantation they leased and worked until the 1940s.

The Uchida family home. Photo courtesy of Alex Corscadden.

At the Kona Coffee Living History Farm, everything has been left as it was during this early “boom” period for the industry. Old machinery cranks away with worn belts, as loud as loud can be. Coffee dries on the roof of the buildings. The plants are hand cultivated, and the berries hand picked. And yes, coffee is still produced just as the Uchidas would have produced it. (And it is sold both on site and via the farm’s website. My sister and brother in law, the family coffee experts, tell me it is spectacular. I have a less discerning palate.)

The old machinery still works! Photo courtesy of Alex Corscadden.

Your visit to the farm will include a tour, as well as demonstrations both of the coffee making processes and of other aspects of early 20th century plantation life, things like cooking, farming, and raising chickens that roam around the grounds. You’ll roam through tropical fruit trees and a lush garden, make friends with the local donkey, and crack fresh macadamia nuts for a snack. It is a glimpse back in time.

Our tour guide next to a coffee plant, as he shows us how the beans are hand harvested

Today, Kona coffee is still thriving. There are more than 800 Kona coffee farms, with an average size of less than five acres, but a total yield of more than two million pounds. State law requires the percentage of Kona coffee to be listed on all coffee sold, but Kona blends (combinations of coffee from Kona and from other regions, mainly outside of Hawaii) have diluted the market. Some retailers offer Kona style coffee, or Kona roast. These may not have any Kona coffee in them at all. (A lawsuit last year against Walmart, Kroger, and other sellers for falsely advertising coffee origin as Kona resulted in a more than $13 million settlement for the growers here.) So beware of false advertising.

The plantation might not be how most Kona coffee is grown today, but it is as authentic as it gets

You can be assured that the coffee sold here at the Kona Coffee Living History Farm is 100% Kona coffee. And with the proceeds benefitting the Kona Historical Society and its educational programs, you will also revel in knowing your perfect sip is helping to preserve the unique culture of this incredible part of the world.

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