The Big Island: A Coffee Vacation Destination
If you’ve ever wanted to visit a coffee plantation, you’d better plan ahead. According to Kona Council Vice President Bob Foerster, things are getting pretty busy on the Big Island. The Kona District gets about 1,000 tourists a year specifically looking to tour coffee plantations, he said. “Sometimes the people who visit don’t even like coffee, they just want to see how it all happens.”
Kona is considered a premium coffee, grown only on the island of Hawaii and known around the world for its nutty fragrance and mellow flavor. For the most part, Kona is cultivated on the slopes of Mount Hualalai and Mauna Lao.
Foerster, who owns Dragon’s Lair Estates on Mauna Lao, said he gets a lot of calls for tours. “While our plantation isn’t as big as others on the island, we give an extremely in-depth tour.”
Dragon’s Lair Estates is a five-acre, organically certified farm, located 1,000 feet above sea level. It has about 2,200 coffee trees, according to Foerster, and grows macadamia nuts, avocados and tropical fruits – including papayas, bananas, guavas, lemons, limes and mangos.
Foerster said that when he takes small groups through the plantation, it usually takes about an hour. Most plantation tours include everything from picking coffee beans to processing them. The tour usually includes a drive through the plantation on a SUV or a mini-bus, and then ends up in the mill area—where coffee is processed using machines like a pulper, dry mill, sorting tables and a roaster. Some plantations like Greenwell and Bay View Farms—located on nearby hillsides—even include a tour of the packaging area. Most tours, Foerster said, usually end with a coffee tasting at an on-site gift shop.
Dragon’s Lair, like many other plantations on the Big Island, is actively involved in promoting and educating visitors during the Kona Coffee Cultural Festival, which is held every fall and through the Kona Historical Society.
The Kona Historical Society offers a walking tour of a seven-acre plantation that is more than 100 years old – giving visitors a unique opportunity to experience a bit of Kona’s diverse multi-cultural heritage. During the cultural festival, a free Kona Coffee Country Driving brochure is distributed that gives tourists a guide to travel the countryside and visit coffee plantations at their leisure. Some of the sites on the route are Island Lava Java, Kona Blue Sky Coffee Company, Kona Pacific Farmers Cooperative and Yamasawa Farms. Foerster said the brochure includes a short history on Kona coffee, information about industry standards and the practices that Kona farmers, including those organically certified, abide by.
The brochure also includes a listing of cafés like Aloha Angel Café, millers and roasters like Holualoa Kona Coffee Company and museums that visitors to the Big Island might enjoy. For event dates and more information about Kona coffee, visit the Kona Coffee Fest website and start planning your next vacation.