Why Is Kona Coffee So Expensive?

Green Kona Coffee from Hawaii

1. Labor Costs

Labor has to be the most significant factor making Kona priced the way it is. Kona coffee is grown in Hawaii, a US state, and is therefore subject to all of the regulations and rules of US industry.

Growing and selling coffee is done all over the world, but many times in places without labor regulations or more. They are able to produce the same amount of coffee for a fraction of the cost due to the factor that labor costs are way less – they do not have the same minimum wage standards and regulations as is required when working in the US.

To make a single pound of Kona, you need 8 pounds of fruit. One coffee tree only yields around 16 pounds of cherry, so therefore it comes down to each tree producing 2 pounds of roasted coffee. That’s not a lot considering how many times it has to be picked, cared for, and watched over. And that’s not even taking into account grading, drying, or roasting the coffee.

2. Transportation Costs

the process of growing the coffee itself is not easy. It’s grown on the slope of the largest active volcano in the world – Mauna Loa.

This lends its own challenges and problems, being on an island. It’s the very reason why it needs to be handpicked in the first place rather than mechanically harvested.

Most coffee cherries ripe individually, due to the slope and atmosphere, furthering the difficulty of non-manual harvesting.

Not only that, but when all is said and done, that coffee also needs to be shipped from Hawaii. This is no small feat when the closest US state, California, is almost 3,000 miles away while shipping to Asia is 5,000 miles.

3. Scarcity of Kona Coffee

There’s simply not a ton of room to grow Kona coffee. It cannot be mass produced similar to other coffee. In order for a coffee to be certified Kona, it has to be grown within a specific piece of land – called the Kona Belt. This is roughly one mile wide and 30 miles long.

This is the main reason why Kona production only accounts for 1% of total coffee grown worldwide. While this land is utilized efficiently and fully, it’s a drop in the bucket compared to large scale production.

It is estimated that around 3 million pounds of green, unroasted coffee bean are grown in the Kona region each year. That sounds like a lot, but it’s just a small fraction compared to what other countries can produce.

For example, Brazil makes almost 6 billion pounds of coffee per year and Vietnam almost half of that.

You might be wondering, what justifies going with Kona as opposed to any other coffee? Is it worth paying more simply because it’s grown in a difficult area and in the US? Well, those aren’t the only reasons you should go with Kona.

What To Look For When Buying Kona Coffee

When you are shopping for the right Kona coffee, say for example on Amazon, you’ll want to avoid Kona “blends” – which as we’ve mentioned earlier, only contain 10% of Kona coffee bean.

The other 90% can be beans from any origin, which are typically as cheap as possible in order to offset the high cost of Kona bean. What this means is that you’ll hardly get to enjoy the flavor and uniqueness of what Kona has to offer.

The type of coffee that you want to look for is 100% Kona coffee. The prices for this type depends on the farm and producer of course, but typically you wouldn’t expect to pay any less than $20 per pound. It can range up to $50 per pound or even more, and other factors are at play.

In the mid 2000s, crops became damaged due to bugs (coffee cherry borer infestation) which Hawaii fought back hard to reduce and eliminate, but as a result, prices were increased.

Ultimately, buying Kona Coffee really depends on the growing atmosphere from year to year, individual farms, the state of the crops, and more but if you make sure that is 100% whole bean Kona Coffee and that is was freshly roasted you won’t be far away from being able to brew a fantastic cup of coffee.