How did this ornamental tree imported into Honolulu in about 1813 by Kamehameha the Great's Spanish interpreter and physician Don Francisco de Paula y Marin become Kona's economic mainstay?
The first coffee was planted in Kona by missionary Samuel Ruggles in 1828 or 1829. These first arabica trees were taken from cuttings planted on Oahu a few years earlier. Coffee and Kona were a perfect match - Kona with its rich volcanic soil, hard-working family farmers, and perfect climatic conditions. Taste Kona's coffee and you'll sense its strength, the hand-picked quality that sets it apart.
The first written mention of coffee in Kona was noted in 1840. Coffee was planted in several locations around the Big Island but was best suited to the Kona district. A few coffee fields are now in production outside Kona, but the vast majority of coffee is grown right here.
Working these tropical coffee fields has always been laborious because everything - from planting to picking - is done by hand. Native Hawaiians and Chinese laborers first worked the large coffee plantations owned by Caucasians in the mid- to late-1800s. During the 1880s and early 1890s, Japanese immigrants began their coffee legacy in these same Kona fields.
When the world coffee market crashed in 1899, the large plantations shifted to small Japanese-owned family farms. As the plantations gave up, land was divided into small 3- to 5-acre parcels and leased to the laborers. The cost of these early leases were one-half the crop, and by 1910, only Japanese coffee farms survived. The first Filipinos arrived to work the coffee farms about 1920, picking coffee during the season and returning to the sugar fields in the spring.
Today many Kona farmers can lay claim to being fifth generation coffee farmers. Coffee is an economic mainstay of Kona, where farmers continue the tradition and honor their heritage with every harvest.
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reprinted from the Kona Coffee Cultural Festival Website