The Great Kona Coffee Scandal

by Les Drent

The difference is in the cup.

DID YOU KNOW that out of the 20 million pounds of Kona Coffee bought and consumed every year only 2 million pounds of that coffee is actually grown here in Kona? And the frightening fact of the matter is...that most Kona coffee drinkers around the world have no idea that what they are drinking is a coffee containing 90 or more percent of something other than Kona coffee.

It's time for this deceptive labeling and misuse of the Kona name to end. In an attempt to preserve the coffee growing heritage here in Kona and the gourmet reputation of our local coffee and to combat this widespread misrepresentation of the Kona name to sell counterfeit coffee we here at Coffee Times unconditionally guarantee that the coffee you receive from us is only 100% Pure Kona coffee and meets the State of Hawaii's highest grading standards.

You will be amazed to find out what you have been missing when you get a taste of the real thing!

These four corporations in 1994 filed federal law suits that blocked the trademarking of Kona Coffee. This trademark would have aided Kona coffee growers in their battle to combat counterfeiting.

1. C. Brewer d.b.a. Royal Kona Coffee Co., Honolulu, HI
2. Kona Kai Farms, Berkeley, CA
3. Hawaiian Isles Kona Coffee Co., Honolulu, HI
4. Woolson Tea & Spice d.b.a. Lion Coffee Co., Honolulu, HI

HONORARY MENTIONS to this villainous list are the Food and Drug Administration which refuses to enforce its own labeling regulations and the Hawaii Consumer Affairs Department which refuses to police even the most egregious deceptive advertising and label labeling practices. Mayor of Hawaii County, Stephen Yamashiro, and the Department of Agriculture have also been willing participants in this travesty by not coming to the aid of the farmers.

Are you aware of how little some of your popular mainland coffee sellers know about the true taste of Kona coffee? For instance, Jim Reynolds who is President of Peet' s Coffee writes this about Kona.

"On its own, Kona is too light and one-dimensional to get our endorsement when selecting coffees for Peet's, and it's too expensive to represent a good value to Peet's coffee drinkers. We think that the requests we get for Kona coffee have more to do with vacation memories than taste characteristics. Most of the coffee is sold to the tourist trade in Hawaii, although some of the better green coffee does make it to the mainland but at tourist (and rising) prices. Our dilemma is how to respond to our customer's requests and still fulfill our goal of offering great coffees at reasonable prices. So we decided to blend Kona 50% with high-grown coffees from Central America to balance Kona's smoothness with a little flavor and body. We think the blend is much better tasting than Kona coffee alone, and it allows a price that is more commensurate with the coffee's inherent quality."

When asked if Jim has ever been to Kona, or knows anything about how much it costs to produce coffee in Hawaii he said no he has never been to Kona and doesn't know anything about how much it costs to grow coffee in Hawaii. Where he gets his opinion and why he even chooses to sell Kona as a blend is unknown to us. If you care to share your own opinion on his description of Kona coffee he can be bugged at 1-800-999-2132.

Readers may submit editorial comments to any of our stories by sending an email to We would be happy to attach your comments and feedback to anything we publish online. Thank you for your interest.

Story appeared originally in Coffee Times print magazine and appears online for archival purposes only. Any use or reprinting of these stories without the expressed written consent of the author is prohibited.