I’m about to start jumping out of order in my posts, so I wanted to throw up some coffee recs from my time in Hawaii before I start posting about Taiwan.
- The best beans in Hawaii are grown and roasted not in Kona but Ka’u by Rusty’s Hawaiian. Literally every specialty coffee professional I spoke with asked if I was going to visit Rusty’s Hawaiian during my travels, and as it turned out I was lucky enough to stay there and work at the farm for a few days. (More on that later, of course.) The beans are sold throughout Hawaii, but the easiest place to find them is at the Curb in Honolulu, especially if that’s where you’re flying out of. If you’ve already left, Blue Bottle also buys the beans green and roasts them, or Rusty’s Hawaiian can ship them to you if you prefer to have them roasted at the farm.
- If for whatever reason you need that Kona label, the best traditional option is to buy from Greenwell, which is experimenting with some new varietals but still primarily grows Kona typica, the classic Hawaiian coffee varietal that was introduced from Latin America in the 19th century. If you want something a little geekier but still grown in Kona, check out Hula Daddy or Buddha’s Cup. Daylight Mind is also a great place to taste different Kona coffees and pick up a bag of the one you like.
- Other Hawaiian roasters — I did not get to visit them, but I heard great things about Big Island Roasters from the coffee professionals I spoke with. I can personally vouch for Paradise Roasters, whose tasting I went to in Hilo. Paradise is based in Ramsey, MN, but their coffee guru has been living on the Big Island for several years and they have a roastery on the island as well, where they roast Hawaiian beans as well as great beans sourced from around Asia and the rest of the world.
- The Curb (Honolulu, Oahu) — They’ve only been around for about two years, but everybody I talked to told me to go there, and I was not disappointed. The place even has groupies, one of whom drove me from their first location to their newest and then took me on a driving tour around Oahu. Excellent pourover coffee and very knowledgeable staff. (E.g., they close shop for coffee conventions on the mainland, so that all their staff can attend.)
- Daylight Mind (Kailua-Kona, Oahu) — This is far and away the best coffee shop in Kona. They are starting to train some smaller shops, like the Sweet Spot and the Green Flash, but these guys are the originals and, in my opinion at least, still the best. They also have the best view from any coffee shop I’ve ever been in, since they’re right on the ocean. Yoga class in the mornings, if you like the idea of yoga on the ocean before or after your morning coffee.
- 9bar HNL (Honolulu, Oahu) — My favorite espresso in Hawaii. Modern vibe, except their pastry box looks like it’s from a school bake sale.
- Coffee Talk (Kapaa, Kauai) — Damn good espresso made with love by Ken, who’s from the island. Ken got the coffee bug working in a Borders on Kauai several years ago and clearly knows his stuff. He recommended some farms on the Big Island, but I had already left. 😦
- Arvo Cafe (Honolulu, Oahu) — A cute Aussie-style coffee shop with excellent food. The coffee was fine, but I was expecting better. Still worth a visit for the food and the garden store it shares space with.
- Java Kai (Kapaa, Kauai) — Great pastries and an easier place to sit down with friends than Coffee Talk. The coffee is solid.
- Other Kauai shops — Cortado Coffee and Dark Roost are near each other and both are fun stops, set up in food trucks. I tried the iced Coco Loco at Cortado, but sadly made it out of Hawaii without ever trying a loco moco. Dark Roost is inside a fun little shopping center in a warehouse that becomes a bustling market on Fridays.
Kona farm tours
- Greenwell — Start here: Kona old-school and a necessary stop if you’re into coffee enough to have read this far down.
- Buddha’s Cup — They’re renovating, but the place will be really cool in a few months with a new visitor center and even an amphitheater (!).
- Hula Daddy — Much easier to drive to than Buddha’s Cup, with a fun tour and excellent coffee. They know their coffee and invest in their staff’s coffee development. I got some cupping pointers from the owner and from their head roaster.
- UCC and Doutor — Farms owned and operated by Japanese coffee chains. The coffee is fine, not great, but UCC had one of the most informative tours I went on, and they’ll even let you roast your own beans on-site. Doutor is next door and worth seeing just for their gardens. At the end of the self-directed tour, you can sample their coffees while enjoying a spectacular view of the ocean. If you’re not that into coffee but want to see how it’s traditionally grown, these two are a good alternative to Greenwell.