So just what do a French king, a Hawaiian governor and a priest have to do with Kona coffee? Quite a lot actually. Coffee beans are originally from the continent of Africa, but coffee lore says that an enterprising French man stole a seedling from Arab traders to give to the King of France. The French cultivated that seedling and then sent cuttings to South America.
Chief Boki and his wife Liliha. Original painting by John Hayter, 1824
In 1825, Chief Boki, the Governor of Oahu, accompanied King Kamehameha II and Queen Kamalumalu to London. Sadly, both the King and Queen contracted measles and died on that trip. Chief Boki brought their bodies home, and picked up coffee seedlings in Brazil along the way. He planted them in Manoa Valley, where they took hold. (Although he was not the first person to bring coffee back to Hawaii, he was the first to grow coffee successfully. Don Francisco de Paula Marin brought the first documented coffee plants to Hawaii in 1813. Unfortunately, those seedlings did not thrive.)
Reverend Samuel Ruggles
Reverend Samuel Ruggles is the person responsible for bringing coffee to the Big Island. In 1828, he brought cuttings from Chief Boki’s coffee plants to Kealakekua to use as ornamental plants around his church. The sunny days and cloudy afternoons of the Kona district proved to be perfect coffee growing conditions. His plants flourished and were the start of the Hawaiian coffee industry.
While visiting Hawaii in 1866, Mark Twain had the pleasure of trying Kona coffee. Here’s his response:
“Kona coffee has a richer flavor than any other, be it grown where it may and call it by what name you please.”
From wars, to low coffee prices, to pests Kona coffee farmers have struggled on and made a name for themselves. Now over 8000 acres of Hawaii land is used to grow coffee, and it is the number one crop in the state.
DID YOU KNOW?
- Coffee is the 2nd most traded commodity, right after oil.
- Only 1% of coffee grown worldwide comes from Kona, Hawaii.
- Hawaii is the only US state to grow coffee commercially.