HONOLULU -- What France is to wine and Italy is to pasta, Hawaii
wants to be to coffee.
So, javaheads, listen up.
Connoisseurs say, stop looking for the best gourmet coffee in
Jamaica, Kenya or Colombia. Hawaii is the way to go -- right down to
the last drop.
Where sugar cane and pineapple farms once spread across thousands
of acres, rows and rows of coffee trees now stand.
Since competition from cheap foreign markets has forced most of
Hawaii's plantations to close, growers are now searching for a new
alternative cash crop to keep the island green. They hope coffee
will be hot.
"Hawaii's coffee is virtually unknown now, but Hawaii can make its
region as well known as others if it learns how," said Ted Lingle,
executive director of the Specialty Coffee Association of America in
Long Beach, Calif.
So over the last 12 years, producers of the only coffee grown in
an American state have been selling their crop all over the world,
transforming their industry from a $4 million a year business to one
with sales of $20 million annually. Many believe it has the
potential to bring in millions more.
The land cultivated for coffee occupies only a fraction of the
thousands of acres once planted in sugar, but some, like
H.C.Bittenbender, chairman of the Horticulture Department at the
University of Hawaii, say coffee could be as lucrative as sugar was
at its peak.
Before Hawaii's sugar industry began to wane in 1980, it brought
in more than $5 billion to the state economy.
That potential has led to some debate over what constitutes the
From the mountains of the island of Hawaii to the lush valleys of
Kauai, about 6,900 acres of land are now covered with trees that
sport bright red coffee cherries.
But it is on the western slopes of the Hawaii Island, under the
ideal greenhouse conditions of intense morning sun and cloud-
afternoons, where one of the best grades of coffee in the world
Kona coffee has been grown on the island since the late 1800s by
individual farmers handpicking the beans on their small farms. Even
today, they still take pride in the extra care they give to the
That's why Kona coffee has become the second-most expensive
regularly available coffee in the world, Lingle said.
At $20 to $30 per pound, connoisseurs of the jolt juice say the
taste is worth the price for a cup of Kona. The most expensive
coffee, Kope Luwok coffee from Indonesia, sells for about $130 a