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History of the Kona Coffee Festival

History of the Kona Coffee Festival

"Kona coffee has a richer flavor than any other, be it grown where it may and call it by what name you please."

 Mark Twain, “Letter From Hawaii” 1866


The Kona Coffee and Cultural Festival (KCCF) would have been celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. Like so many events and gatherings, this year’s event was canceled due to public safety concerns. Hawaiian culture is deeply rooted in what we call “talking story,” and we welcome any opportunity to engage. The KCCF is one of Hawaii's oldest and most celebrated food festivals. Originally started by a group of local businesses to encourage tourism in the months prior to peak travel season, yet the timing turned out to be ideal for the ever-more engaging and curious coffee connoisseurs. As it turns out, the local Kona Coffee farms are full of coffee trees loaded with ripe, red coffee cherries at this exact time. 

Organizers of the first festival, held over a single weekend, helped put Kona coffee in the international spotlight and increase the island’s visibility as a destination. As specialty coffee gained in popularity, Kona, Hawaii has become an increasingly popular destination for those looking to experience coffee farming and processing hands on. As the sole grower of commercial coffee in the U.S., Hawaii attracts curious coffee lovers from the U.S. who can experience all the nuances of coffee production without having to worry about language barriers and exchange rates—not to mention the breathtaking surroundings and Aloha Spirit! 

Kona Coffee Cultural Festival artwork, 2016

First recognized at the World Fair’s by Henry Nicholis Greenwell after he left England as a young man and sailed to Hawaii in 1850, Kona Coffee has, from the start, been touted as a coffee of exceptional quality and character. Greenwell later became known as the most prominent coffee shipper of Kona Coffee, and in 1873 received recognition at the Kaiser's Exposition during the World's Fair in Vienna for coffee excellence.

Today Kona continues to grow some of the world's most premium and high-end coffees while preserving the rich culture of its farming and cultural history. KCCF brings together the community and visitors every November to celebrate this rich history of coffee and the Hawaiian culture so intrinsically tied together with it. The KCCF now spans a time frame of 10 days, with events ranging from local farmer and cultural heritage presentations to cooking competitions and barista trainings.


Recent events include hands-on participation and training as well as the extremely popular “Latte Art Throwdowns.” If you have never been to a “throwdown,” put it on your bucket list! The energy from the baristas and audience is inspiring! We are honored to help shape the coffee culture here in Kona, and hosting events like these is no exception.

Coffee Throwdown at Kona Coffee and Tea

KCCF’s 50th year anniversary celebration planned for this year has been rescheduled for November 2021. If 2020 has taught us anything, it is to roll with the punches and make the most of what is here in front of us right now. We are so grateful to the festival board, Kona Coffee industry, and the festival’s sponsors: UCC Coffee, Hawaii Tourism authority, Hawaii Community Federal Credit Union, Kamehameha schools, KTA superstores, and Alaska Air. If it wasn’t for their dedication and support, our community wouldn’t be able to celebrate such an awesome festival. Here is to next year’s festival. May it be the best one yet. Hope to see you all there.

Our brief history at the kona coffee cultural festival


  • 2003 We won first place in the Classic Division at the Kona Coffee Cultural Festival cupping competition

  • 2006 We hosted the first Ultimate Barista Jam with Sherry and Dan Johns 

  • 2007 Our Malia Ohana farm placed first runner up in the Classic Division at the Kona Coffee Cultural Festival cupping competition

  • 2009 We won first place in the Crown Division at the Kona Coffee Cultural Festival cupping competition

  • 2011 Pete Licata competed in the regional Barista Championships using Kona Coffee & Tea coffee beans that he picked, processed, and roasted himself

  • 2015 We placed second runner up in the Classic Division at the Kona Coffee Cultural Festival cupping competition

  • 2018 We won first place in the Crown Division at the Kona Coffee Cultural Festival cupping competition

Learn more about the Kona Coffee Cultural Festival on their website.
Be sure to share your favorite coffee moments with us, tag
@konacoffeeandtea on Facebook and Instagram!

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