When you vacation in Hawaii, you will discover taste awakenings that will surprise and delight you. The water in these islands is a little cleaner and fresher tasting than you may be accustomed to. The fresh fruits and vegetables are somehow more toothsome and the greens are greener and crispier than they tend to be on the mainland.

At breakfast, during breaks and at meals, coffee is available just about everywhere. (There are, for instance, more than 50 Starbucks locations in the state.) But don’t take the coffee for granted by simply ordering a cup of coffee. If Kona coffee is offered, by all means order it. By name. You’re going to love it. (Starbucks offers a house blend that contains 10% Kona coffee. That’s not “Kona” coffee.)

In the early 19th century, Don Francisco de Paula Y Marin, a Spaniard and King Kamehameha’s “right hand man” planted coffee on the island of Oahu, and John Wilkinson, an English agriculturist, acquired coffee plants in Brazil that were also planted on that island. Reverend Samuel Ruggles, an American missionary, took cuttings from the Oahu coffee plants to Kona on the Big Island. These cuttings were of a strain of the variety Coffee Arabica that originated in the high plateaus of Ethiopia, and it remains the product that is cultivated in Kona today.

Hawaii is the only U.S. state in which coffee is grown commercially, and Kona coffee remains truly rare. While there are more than 600 coffee farms in Kona, most are just 2 to 3 acres in size, and they’re in an area that’s perfect for the purpose.

Kona’s coffee-growing belt mimics other coffee-growing origins in a way that the rest of Hawaii does not. Kona faces the setting sun. It rests on the western slopes of the of Hualalai and Mauna Loa volcanoes. Kona is sheltered by the mountains from the northeasterly trade winds that dominate the climate of the rest of the state. The Kona mountain rains fall from clouds borne on local sea breezes. The Kona district receives most of its rain in the summer. That replicates the seasons in most of the world’s coffee-growing lands. The clouds that bring the afternoon rains waft upslope, sheltering the coffee from the worst heat of the summer days. Coffee is cultivated only between the altitudes of 800 and 2500 feet. The main coffee belt is scarcely more than a mile wide,because of the steepness of the mountain slopes. Tricky stuff, yes? No wonder Kona coffee is so rare and so special!

Hawaii’s sundry stores, gift and souvenir shops, grocery and drug stores all are well stocked with Kona coffee, which has become one of the most popular gifts vacationers send and take back home for family and friends. (Yes, it will taste just as good in your own home coffee maker.)

But while you’re here, be sure to specify Kona coffee whenever you’re dining out. You may, in fact, find that the coffee maker in your Hawaii hotel room is re-stocked with Kona coffee every day. If that’s the case, lucky you.

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