Hawaii's famous Kona coffee, hailing from the west side of the Big Island, has established the state as one of the world's most famous regions of coffee production. However, did you know that Hawaii's coffee industry, the only one in the United States, did not begin in Kona, and that there are other parts of the Big Island with longer and ongoing coffee production efforts?
Puna District, located in the southeastern part of the island, was the original home of the state's coffee industry, with some 6,000 acres under cultivation in the mid-1800s. Oral tradition cites a blight and the growth of the cane sugar industry as two forces that drove coffee growers to the more arid environs of the island's west side, giving rise to the famous Kona name. Today, less than 200 acres are dedicated to large-scale coffee production in Puna, but visitors can see rogue coffee plants growing in its wilds, many residents there grow coffee for personal use, and a drive around the district will typically involve passing by coffee stands run by small-scale local growers. Sharky's is one popular brand produced in this region.
Puna is about the same size as the entire island of Oahu, home of Honolulu. Compared to the Kona area, this primarily agricultural region enjoys more rainfall, and its soil--richer from the natural composting of centuries of tropical rainforest debris--is a different age and make-up. The unique growing conditions produce a bean that is little known outside of the island and that is often described as "nutty," "heavy," and "full-bodied."
Most coffee produced in Puna is pulped and roasted at one facility, the Hilo Coffee Mill. Anyone lucky enough to visit the Big Island can tour this facility's roasting operation, sample local varietals, grab a light meal, and even catch a farmer's market--complete with live music--on Saturdays.
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