Those who are serious about tasting some of the finest coffees from around the world are sure to have heard of Kona – and closely associated with Hawaii’s famous coffee is the term “peaberry”.
So what exactly is peaberry Kona coffee? Here, we bring you all the answers.
What is Kona?
Before we look at “peaberry”, let’s first remind ourselves of what Kona coffee is – and what it isn’t.
If you want a more detailed introduction, check out this documentary on the history of Kona before you read on.
Kona is a coffee grown in a strictly defined area of Hawaii’s Big Island. Specifically, it is coffee grown in North and South Kona Districts on the slopes of Hualalai and Mauna Loa volcanoes.
These slopes provide the perfect combination of fertile soils and an ideal microclimate for growing high-quality arabica coffee beans.
Coffee grown outside these two districts cannot be called Kona; however, not all coffee grown there has the right to be called Kona. The appellation refers only to the top grade of coffee from this part of the island.
Kona coffee plants begin to produce fruit in April, which ripens slowly. The coffee is then painstakingly harvested by hand between the months of August and January to ensure that only beans in the optimum state of ripeness are taken.
The whole process is highly labor-intensive, accounting in part for the high price of Kona beans, but it ensures that beans of only the highest quality go into Kona coffee.
What isn’t Kona?
Of course, with such a famous and valuable crop, it is no wonder that some less scrupulous growers have tried to profit from the Kona name, either by exploiting loopholes or through downright dishonesty.
One common practice involves labeling Kona beans mixed with beans from other parts of the world as “Kona blends”. While true 100% Kona coffee is carefully regulated, no such restrictions apply to blends.
This means that many products being sold as Kona blends may contain as little as 10% true Kona beans, with the rest being made up of inferior-grade coffees from other countries. With so little true Kona in these coffees, you may as well be buying something else anyway.
If you want to drink the real thing, make sure you buy coffee labeled as 100% Kona and that carries the official Kona seal – the only way to guarantee your Kona is genuine.
Even true 100% Kona is not all the same – several grades exist. The highest grade of all is Kona Extra Fancy, followed by Kona Fancy, Kona Number 1, Kona Select and Kona Prime. Anything that does not meet the requirements of the Kona Prime grade is not allowed to be called Kona.
These grades all refer to Type I Kona coffees. Parallel to this system is Type II Kona. These are peaberry coffees known as Peaberry Number 1 and Peaberry Prime. So what exactly is peaberry? Let’s look at that now.
What is peaberry coffee?
Coffee “beans” are the seeds of the fruit that grows on the coffee plant; we normally call this fruit the coffee “cherry”.
Most cherries contain two beans. Regular coffee beans have an unmistakable shape that is rounded on the outside but flat on the side facing the other bean. However, around 5% of coffee cherries around the world contain only one bean. These are known as “peaberries”.
Since peaberry beans fill the whole cherry and don’t need to share, they develop a distinctive entirely rounded shape – which has an effect on roasting. Check out this video to see what they look like.
To achieve the best results, beans must be roasted evenly, and the temperatures and timings must be controlled carefully. However, due to their shape, peaberry beans roast at a different rate to regular beans.
This means that with premium coffees, peaberries are often separated before roasting to avoid them having a detrimental effect on the final flavor. In lower-grade coffees, peaberries are simply left in with the rest of the beans.
Better tasting beans?
Yet there is more to it than just this.
Some connoisseurs claim that these rare beans actually have a superior flavor to regular beans. This may possibly be because peaberry beans are denser than regular beans and don’t need to share the nutrients with a “twin” bean – although the details of this are unclear.
There is an ongoing debate regarding their flavor, and the jury is still out. While there is a consensus that peaberry beans certainly produce a coffee that tastes different, opinions are divided over whether peaberry coffee actually tastes better than coffee made with regular beans.
Although peaberry beans occur naturally all over the world, usually around 5% of a harvest, these beans are most closely associated with two origins: Tanzania and – to a lesser extent – Kona.
Proponents of Kona peaberry coffee claim that it is the very best Kona available, superior in taste even to Kona Extra Fancy and well worth the extra $5-10 per bag. Kona peaberry devotees might tell you it offers a sweeter, more flavorful cup than coffee made with regular Kona beans.
Fans of regular Kona, on the other hand, may dismiss peaberry beans as a gimmick and a way for farmers to make some extra cash. For these Kona aficionados, Kona Extra Fancy represents the pinnacle of Kona production and there is no need to waste extra cash on peaberry coffee.
Personal preference – decide for yourself!
So we’ve answered the original question – what is peaberry Kona coffee? – but is it worth it? As is often the case, it probably comes down to personal taste.
Kona coffee is certainly one of the most expensive and most sought-after coffees in the world – and probably one of the most delicious. If nothing else, the existence of the two types of high-grade Kona provides a good excuse to sample both.
After that, you can decide for yourself whether you are willing to pay the extra for peaberry or whether you consider Kona Extra Fancy the king of coffees.
Have you tried Kona coffee? Have you been fortunate enough to sample Kona Extra Fancy? How about Kona peaberry? Could you taste a difference? Which did you prefer? If you have something to add, please leave a comment – and if you like our article, please don’t forget to share!
My name is Kathy Gallo, Editor of Ag Ferrari, a Coffee buff. The guide you find here is designed exactly for you, and it is our hope that you find it not only interesting but also actionable.