Kona coffee jabs at pretenders
By Sean Hao
Advertiser Staff Writer
By Sean Hao
The Hawai'i County Council yesterday passed a resolution asking the state Legislature to require that any coffee labeled "Kona Coffee Blend" include at least 75 percent Kona coffee. The current law only requires 10 percent Kona coffee in Kona-coffee labeled java.
The resolution, which was passed by an 8-1 vote, also seeks to require prominent identification on any package of Kona coffee stating the percentage by weight of any United States- and foreign-grown coffee.
"Kona coffee farmers will now take their case to the state Legislature," said Kona Coffee Farmers Association President Cecilia Smith in a news release.
Advocates for the resolution, which included Kona coffee growers, expressed concern that use of the Kona name on blends with minimal Kona coffee content lowers the value of Kona-branded coffee.
"Farming coffee in Kona is only viable because of its high reputation and correspondingly high price," said Ken Sheppard, former education chair of the Kona Coffee Council. "The flood of cheap blends using the Kona name will cause Kona to be considered a commodity coffee instead of a specialty coffee and the price will drop."
A bumper crop and record high prices pushed Hawai'i coffee sales to an all-time high of $37.3 million during the 2005-06 season.
That's up 88 percent from the prior season and also tops a previous record of $28.2 million in farm-level sales set during the 1997-98 season, according to the National Agricultural Statistics Service.
Growers benefited from above-normal rains in late 2004 through 2005 in key areas such as Kainaliu, which is near the North and South Kona districts border. Big Island growers generated $31 million in sales, or 83 percent of state coffee sales. The combined coffee farm value of Maui, Honolulu and Kaua'i counties was $6.3 million.
Reach Sean Hao at email@example.com.