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New Coffee Drinkers Guide: Why Is Kona Coffee So Expensive?

Kona coffee is named after the region where it’s grown – that is Kona, Hawaii, on the island of Hawaii, otherwise known as the Big Island.

Like many coffees, Kona gets its distinctive flavor from the very delicate ecosystem in which it grows. It can literally not be grown anywhere else in the world.

That’s true for a lot of quality coffee beans, though. Many beans get their distinctive tastes and qualities from specific and limited growing regions.

What sets Kona coffee apart is where its grown and how it’s harvested, and what makes it different is also what makes it so pricey.

How Much Does Kona Coffee Cost?

First things first, what is an expensive cup of coffee?

Kona coffee’s average retail price is around $20/pound for a 100% Kona roast, while a 100% organic Kona roast averages upwards of $30/pound. The price of Kona coffee can vary wildly, though, depending on how much Kona coffee is in the blend.

A coffee roast needs to contain only 10% Kona coffee to be labeled a Kona blend, which is how you see Kona coffee selling for only $5 or $6 on some grocery store shelves. There’s very little Kona coffee in it.

It only takes one trip to the grocery store to see this is considerably more expensive than the majority of coffee found on grocery store shelves. At many chain grocers, a pound of coffee tops out at around $10, making the most expensive roasts in the store half the price of Kona.

That said, specialty coffees sold by small roasters have much higher prices than standard grocery store coffee offerings overall, coming in at upwards of $20/pound on average. This makes Kona coffee roughly in line with specialty coffee blends, which technically Kona coffee is, given its limited supply.

If you use the two tablespoons per cup rule of coffee making, a cup of Kona coffee made from a $20 pre-ground bag costs approximately $0.50 per cup. Inexpensive. But, of course, other brands of coffee are considerably cheaper per cup.

So, Why Is Kona Coffee So Expensive?

The high price of Kona coffee can be broken down into two major factors:

  • The limited supply
  • Labor costs

Kona Coffee Limited Supply

Kona coffee grows on the sloping terrain of two volcanoes, Mauna Loa and Hualālai. The volcanic soil is rich in minerals, which, along with Hawaii’s year-round perfect weather, help the trees grow and give Kona coffee its rich, distinctive taste.

Since Kona coffee’s growing region is quite limited, it makes its retail supply limited as well, and one can’t just replicate thousands-year-old volcanic soil overnight. Basically, Kona coffee can’t be grown anywhere but these slopes and its growing region can’t be expanded (at least, not in our lifetimes).

Due to its singular flavor – many coffee lovers consider it one of the best coffees in the world – Kona coffee is also highly sought-after. The demand for Kona coffee roasts outstrips the supply of beans. This allows wholesalers and retailers to put a premium price on it.

Kona Coffee Labor Costs

Kona coffee is grown and harvested on the Big Island of Hawaii, which makes its production subject to the laws of the United States. This puts Kona coffee growers at an immediate disadvantage when it comes to competitively pricing their products.

It’s good for the employees, though!

First, U.S. workers get paid more than their counterparts in other major coffee-growing regions of the world, like Asia and South America. This immediately makes Kona coffee beans more expensive than other beans, because they cost more to pick.

Second, picking Kona coffee requires more employees doing more demanding physical labor.

Most coffee around the world is picked by machine, but Kona coffee cherries must be picked by hand. This is due to the growing region on the slopes of Mauna Loa and Hualālai.

The same machinery used at the majority of coffee plantations cannot traverse Kona’s coffee-growing terrain, making it impossible to mechanize the process.

Higher pay + more hours = higher cost of production = higher cost of beans = more expensive coffee.

Is Kona Coffee Worth The Price?

It all depends on your taste buds.

As stated above, many coffee enthusiasts say “yes,” Kona coffee is worth its higher price tag.

I, myself, quite enjoy a cup of Kona coffee when visiting Hawaii and have been known to bring back a bag or two of Peaberry in my carry-on.

It’s a delightful coffee.

However, there are blends by regional coffee roasters I like every bit as much.

On a more objective note, Kona coffee does have an advantage over more traditionally farmed coffees when it comes to flavor. The hand-picking process means only ripe cherries are picked and only ripe coffee beans are harvested from those cherries.

The mechanical process of picking shakes all coffee cherries off a tree in a single go, mixing under-ripe cherries with ripe cherries, and the beans from those under-ripe cherries often make it into the final product.

Unripe beans don’t necessarily make a coffee roast taste “bad,” but it certainly affects its flavor.

Kona coffee might seem expensive at first blush, because it is when compared with other blends on grocery store shelves.

When you factor in the production process, minimum wage of employees, limited supply, and higher quality of the picked beans, though, it’s actually a pretty good value for the money.

image credit: Pexels

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