One can choose among hundreds of farms, several regions and many coffee varieties, often sold direct from the farm - each with distinctive farm practices, styles, and flavor profiles. Buyers can source green coffees direct from farms, through local mills and exporters who aggregate regional coffees, or through one of Hawai‘i’s large commercial producers.
The majority of producers are considered small “lifestyle” farms or small commercial farms with sales ranging from $10,000 to $250,000. But when aggregated, Hawai‘i’s nearly 1,000 coffee farms produce one of the state’s most important crops. According to the USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service, coffee is ranked as the second highest value crop in Hawai‘i, just behind seed corn.
Hawai‘i’s coffee harvest season runs broadly from August through March. All coffees in Hawai‘i are hand-harvested, except for 4 of the largest farms, one each located on Maui, Kaua‘i, Moloka‘i, and O‘ahu.
After harvesting, producers employ a wide variety of processing methods, accounting for the current weather conditions, farm infrastructure, availability of water, and the desired result. Washed coffee is the most common processing method. These are typically dried on patios, raised beds or covered rooftops, and raked frequently for one to three weeks, or until the moisture is low enough to safely store.
Semi-washed, pulp(ed)-naturals (“honeys”), and full natural processed coffees are becoming increasingly popular as producers experiment and demonstrate improvements in quality and innovation. On the four mechanically harvested farms, where the weather tends to be dry around harvest time, some cherries are fully dried on the trees prior to harvesting.
Unlike most coffee producing origins, Hawai‘i’s coffee growers have several avenues of distribution and can refine their coffees as much as they choose. Many mills serve farmers with an array of equipment including dry mills, graders, gravity tables, optical sorters, and roasters. Farmers choose their level of service, generally informed by whether they’ll sell direct to consumers, to a roaster, or to an exporter.
When shopping for Hawaiian coffee, a wide selection can be found: in varieties, region, processing method, and grade. Hawai‘i offers a broad spectrum of unique and distinctive coffees produced exclusively for the specialty coffee palate.
With so much variety, it’s hard to define Hawaiian coffee in any singular way. Hundreds of small, independent farms, often with unique and innovative practices, create interesting and distinctive nuances in the cup. Hawai‘i is a legendary place for coffee lovers to “treasure hunt” for their favorite coffee.