How Kona coffee became one of Hawaii’s most recognizable products

Apart from pineapples and macadamia nuts, Kona coffee is perhaps the most well-known Hawaiian commodity to hit mainland consumers. In the twentieth century, advertising campaigns capitalised on mainlanders’ obsession with the Hawaiian Islands, positioning coffee as a novel delicacy.

Even as Kona competes with a rising community of coffee aficionados who delight in popularising new varieties, its success has lasted well into the present day. In Hawaii, the brand is covered, with various quality levels allocated based on state requirements. Today, there are approximately 650 Kona farms, with an average farm size of 3 to 7 acres. Although the Kona Coffee Belt is only 30 miles long and 2 miles wide, it produces 2.7 million pounds of processed coffee each year.

Coffee, on the other hand, was not indigenous to Hawaii. Its arrival on the islands is inextricably linked to the 19th-century transformation of Hawaii by missionary work, capitalism, and imperialism. Hawaii’s fertile soil and pleasant growing climate attracted sugarcane and pineapple farmers, who set up large plantations reliant on cheap labour and exploitation to make a profit. Christian missionaries, too, wanted a way to fund their work, and they saw agricultural work as a way to compel Hawaiians to follow European ideals while remaining self-sufficient.

Because of these influences, Kona coffee evolved, but it also differed in some respects. Unlike pineapples and sugar, which were grown on vast plantations owned by white Europeans or Americans, Kona coffee was grown on small farms by predominantly Asian families.

Don Francisco de Paula Marn, a Spanish friend of King Kamehameha who served as an informal advisor, brought the first known coffee plant to Hawaii in 1817. The monarchy of Hawaii welcomed Marn’s military advice, but he was also involved in the Hawaiian economy. Marn brought a variety of plants to Hawaii, including grapes and pineapples, but coffee was a failure at first.

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