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The History of Coffee in Hawaii


Jan. 13, 1813 Don Francisco de Paula Marin noted in his journal that he had planted seedlings of coffee on Oahu.

Marin served Hawaii’s King Kamehameha I as a personal physician, interpreter and accountant.

He also supplied the King with rum.

While his coffee plants did not thrive on Oahu, it was the first record of coffee planted in Hawaii.

After his death, Marin would be recognized as a distinguished horticulturalist for the many plants and seedlings he brought to Hawaii.

Hi-coffee-history-2In 1825, King Kamehameha II, Queen Kamalumalu, and Chief Boki, the Governor General of Oahu had traveled to London.

The Queen contracted measles and died very suddenly. A few short days later, the King died too.

Bringing the bodies of the King and Queen home, Chief Boki returned to Hawaii aboard the British battleship, H.M.S. Blonde.

En route to the Hawaiian Islands, the ship stopped at Rio de Janeiro and Chief Boki obtained several coffee cuttings.

Upon his return, he gave the cuttings to his agriculturalist, John Wilkinson, to plant on the Chief’s land. Once again, there were coffee trees on Oahu.

Hi-coffee-history-3In 1828, Reverend Samuel Ruggles took a few cuttings from Chief Boki’s garden and brought them to the area now known as Captain Cook, on the Big Island of Hawaii.

Chief Boki’s trees had not yet borne fruit, but the Reverend planted the cuttings in his yard simply for his viewing pleasure.

Many years later, this area would be part of the Kona Coffee Belt.

The coffee immediately thrived in the optimum weather pattern with sunny mornings and an afternoon cloud.

The Reverend’s trees grew at an incredibly fast rate.

In 1845, the first shipments of coffee sent to California was the beginning of the Hawaiian Coffee industry. It would not last long.

In 1900, the final tariff for sugar cane shipped from Hawaii to the United States was removed. Coffee trees were chopped down and many coffee farms were plowed under to plant sugar cane.

In the 1930s, the Great Depression reduced coffee prices even more. The few remaining coffee farmers were struggling, not even sure the Hawaiian Coffee industry could survive.

Hi-coffee-history-4Over the next 20 years, WWII and frost in South America caused Hawaiian coffee prices to slowly rise again.

The growth in prices was just enough for small farms to become established in what became known as the “Kona Coffee Belt” on the western slopes of Mauna Loa — the world’s largest volcano.

In 1959, Hawaii became the 50th state. The explosion of tourism meant some ideal coffee land would be used for resorts. But it also brought exposure to Hawaiian Coffee and the taste of Aloha in your cup.

Since the 1980s sugar plantations have been closing all over Hawaii. Most of those regions are being converted to coffee plantations.

Buy2-Get3 Kona CoffeeCoffee is not exclusive to Kona – it grows on all the other major islands – Maui, Molokai, Oahu and Kauai.

  • Coffee is the second most traded commodity in the world, second only to oil.
  • Hawaiian coffees, as a whole, makes up about 3% of the world market.
  • Kona Coffee is one of the rarest. Only 1% of the coffee in the world is Kona Coffee.

At Hawaii Coffee Company, we are proud of our heritage. LION Coffee is the longest surviving coffee brands in the United States, dating back to 1864.

Our commitment to the perfect cup of coffee is evident.

Mahalo and Enjoy!