Coffee was first cultivated in Ka‘u in 1894 by J.C. Searle. However, his coffee business was not commercially successful due to the competition for land and labor posed by the sugar plantations. His descendants, including his varietals, continue today.
When the sugar industry collapsed one hundred years later, and the Ka‘u sugar plantation closed in 1996, the displaced plantation workers looked to coffee as one of the most promising avenues for post-plantation agriculture. The first years of the fledgling Ka‘u coffee industry were rife with challenges as the farmers struggled to acquire the daunting array of agricultural, processing and business skills required to succeed in the modern coffee industry. The farmers persevered and quietly began producing amazing coffees rooted in Hawaiian tradition.
In the early years, Ka’u coffee was largely sold into the Kona market with little recognition for Ka’u growers. Ka‘u coffee slowly began to develop its own brand identity among local coffee buffs but remained virtually unknown outside the region until recent years. This change began in 2007, when Ka‘u coffees were entered in the Specialty Coffee Association of America’s annual competition. Since then, Ka‘u coffee farmers have won numerous awards.
This worldwide recognition has led to increased production and higher prices paid to growers, with supply often outstripping demand. Ka’u coffee farms encompass approximately 500 smallholder acres (200 hectares) of multiple varieties and more are currently being planted.
Ka’u coffee growing conditions are ideal. The soil, climate, varietals and processing methods combine with the hard work and aloha of the tenacious coffee growers of Ka’u to produce the perfect cup of Hawaiian coffee. Ka’u is now a featured coffee in Starbucks Reserve program and can be found on cupping tables of the finest roasters and coffee shops the world over.
Many Ka’u growers belong to a cooperative and host an annual coffee festival. For more information, visit www.kaucoffeefestival.com
2012 SCAA Roasters Guild Coffee of the Year
2011 SCAA Roasters Guild Coffee of the Year
2011 Hawaii Coffee Association Grand Champion of Hawaiian Coffee
2010 SCAA Roasters Guild Coffee of the Year
2010 Hawaii Coffee Association Grand Champion of Hawaiian Coffee
2009 7th Place SCAA Roasters Guild Cupping Competition
2008 11th Place SCAA Roasters Guild Cupping Competition
2007 6th & 9th Place SCAA Roasters Guild Cupping Competition