a heart made of coffee beans

Shelli’s World Coffee Tour – Next Stop, Hawaii

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I guess it’s time for a true confession. I’m a coffee snob. And when I travel, I have a passion for supporting local roasters and coffee houses. Let’s just say I’ve BEAN Around the World and I’m feeling like now is the time to start sharing the love…..and caffeine, one city at a time.

You may recall, I started this series with San Diego. Now it’s time for Hawaii!

So let’s open the TWG cafe society doors and talk coffee. Every so often, I’ll even throw in a few of the best places to enjoy chai!

You’d think talking about coffee in Hawaii is an open and shut case of best coffee ever. After all, it’s the only state in the U.S. where coffee is grown, and most coffee drinkers have heard of Kona coffee.

But here’s the thing. I’m not at all a Kona blend fan! It’s too weak, and I prefer a stronger more robust blend. I do know that Kona coffee has different grades and different degrees of flavor. I’ve tasted enough of it to know that it’s just not for me.

My history as a tourist in Hawaii goes way back and I even lived there full-time for many years, so I’m no newcomer to the coffee scene.

Every week, I get an email or message from someone visiting Hawaii and it goes like this:

Tom: Oh great Shelli… please reveal to me where to find the best coffee in Kona ☕️

Shelli: I don’t care for Kona blend coffee. Too weak for me. My favorite in Hawaii is the Honolulu Coffee Company but their stores on the Big Island are nowhere near Kona. Hard to find good coffee on the Big Island cause it’s all Kona. Wish I could be more caffeinated help. Let me know if you find a place!

Tom: Thanks anyhow! I tried the Kona coffee, I don’t like it either, but you know I am spoiled after living in Little Italy in Montreal… very spoiled! But I will make it my mission to find a good spot!

Did he find a spot? Nope :(

Sure, you might look for and find plenty of cafes, but ask them what coffee they use and I’m betting it’s some Kona blend. I guess they think it’s what the tourists expect in Hawaii.

So if Kona blend isn’t your cup of java, where DO you find good coffee in Hawaii? I have a great suggestion!

Back in 2003, I discovered that two brothers had started roasting beans, creating their own blends, and had opened up a few coffee shops around Honolulu.

And although they did the traditional Kona blend, they also had a blend that was great. It was called Lava Roast. A few years ago, a guy from Kansas City, who apparently had a coffee empire of his own back there, came in and bought one of the brothers out and then really started to grow the company.

It’s called Honolulu Coffee and they now have a presence in Hawaii and Japan, as well.

Let me share with you my favorite locations, (I have two) and what I drink!

If you’re visiting Maui, their location in Wailea is a great one. The inside is rather small, but they have plenty of tables outside and a lovely fountain to sit by. And if you take your coffee to go, walk down towards the Marriott and out to the ocean, and enjoy your coffee while watching the sea turtles!

If you’re visiting Oahu, it’s likely you’ll pay a visit to the Ala Moana Mall. They have two locations there, one is a kiosk and the other is a cafe. Both are fun for people watching!

What do I order?

Their Lava Roast blend is now called Lokahi, so make sure when you get your latte, cappuccino, or espresso, that it’s made with this blend, or at the very least an espresso blend and not a Kona blend. It’s strong and delicious and when the latte is made well, it’s still one of my favorite coffee beverages anywhere!


So there you have it. A bit of Hawaiian coffee scene history, a local place for great coffee, and another confession…….I’m not a Kona coffee fan!

Are you a Kona coffee fan? Where have you had it and loved it so I can now recommend it to other Kona fans?

Am I missing any places you’ve found while visiting Hawaii that serve up great espresso?

I’ll be writing about the coffee scene in other cities as well. So far I have a list of 19 cities to cover! If there are any cities that you’d like to see me write about, please let me know.

Thanks for joining me in this BEAN Around the World journey……..stay caffeinated!

P.S. Can guess where I’m heading next? Maybe you can, eh!

If you liked this post, please check out all the other cities I reviewed in Shelli’s World Coffee Tour.

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21 thoughts on “Shelli’s World Coffee Tour – Next Stop, Hawaii

  1. SKF

    Great info. Thanks!

    Have not BEAN to HI yet, but hope to soon. I am a home brew (cappuccino) guy myself. Always looking for new sources of beans to grind and run through my machine.

    1. shelli

      Hi, SKF. Nice to meet you, and thanks for reading!

      I brew at home too, and grind my own beans. My grinder is a Baratza Encore and I love it. It’s a burr grinder and IMHO that’s the way to go.

  2. Spero

    From the couple times I’ve been to Hawaii, I agree, Kona blends are pretty unimpressive. Most of the blends are as little as 10% Kona with cheap (even robusto) beans making up the rest. They’re also very expensive for coffee that tastes like something out of a diner.
    Worse yet, the water on the Big Island is too high in mineral content to make great coffee for my Great Lakes palette.
    100% Kona coffees are a pretty incredible beast though. A lot of locals will tell you to get it at Costco, which is a very different place in Hawaii. I love going to the Kona farmers market http://www.konafarmersmarket.com where a lot of the farms represented will have samples available. My favorite is Fire Island’s Black & Tan blend, and it’s excellent cold or ice brewed. You can also find great artists and craftsmen selling hand made trinkets that aren’t the usual “Made in China” stuff.

    One last thing, Kona coffees are much cheaper during the summer, when tourist levels are lower.

    1. shelli

      I totally agree on the “tasting like it comes from a diner” :)

      Great Lakes palette…..fun way to identify yourself. Who’s your favorite local roaster?

      Thanks for pointing out the local scene on the Big Island. It’s truly fun to visit the farms and sample the coffees. And very interesting to meet the local coffee farmers and see what their chosen lifestyle is all about. It’s hard work.

      Thanks for reading and adding to the conversation!

      1. Spero

        I’m a big fan of Metropolis here in Chicago. I should also mention I prefer brewed lighter roast coffee over espresso, so I’m somewhat out of my depth here. It may be why I do enjoy Kona, which I can easily imagine makes absolutely crap espresso.
        I have stopped at Hawaii Coffee company in Honolulu and they do make a very good product with more of a “big city” coffee shop feel than most places on the Big Island. There’s also a location in the Moana Surfrider if you’re in Waikiki. Huge white hotel, can’t miss it ;)

        1. shelli

          Metropolis looks like my kind of place. Great website. Sorry I’m not there this morning to try a beverage :(

          True what you said about Kona. It wouldn’t be used for an espresso drink. Probably best as a drip cup. Or in a plunger style coffee, perhaps.

          The Moana location for HCC is a great one. If you catch a table by the window overlooking Kalakaua the people watching is FUN!

          Enjoy Metropolis!!

  3. Jon W.

    Clearly you’re going to Canada…I suppose, Montreal, based on your post?

    In any case, being from SD, I loved your SD post and will give those spots a try. i would love your take on the coffee scene in the Bay Area, though!

    1. shelli

      Thanks for reading, Jon.

      Montreal is a good guess, but it’s YVR!

      Definitely get to Bird Rock in Little Italy in SD. At 5 pm the huge British Airlines flight comes in and when you see it from Bird Rock, it’s amazing!

      I’ll be up in the Bay Area soon. I used to live up there but haven’t been back in a while. Any particular roaster there you’d like me to check out? I’ll be in SF and Marin.

      1. Jon W.

        There are so many to choose from!

        My favorites include Sightglass, Chromatic, and Equator. Others I don’t mind getting a cup at: Verve, Ritual, Blue Bottle.

        Four Barrel gets a bunch of praise but honestly, I’m not a fan but you might as well try it? (SImilarly, not a fan of Red Bay coffee).

        Other smaller places you may want to try are Linea (haven’t had it much so don’t have a positive or negative judgement yet), Supersonic, Andytown, Highwire, and Bicycle coffee.

        My favorite coffee shop is Modern Coffee (admittedly, like most people, it’s partially due to distance from my office) which sometimes roasts their own stuff. I mainly like them because they rotate regional roasters (as well as Stumptown, Counter Culture, and Intelligentsia) and I’ve rarely had a bad cup there.

        1. shelli

          Good thing my friend in SF drinks coffee!

          These are excellent suggestions. I’m not a fan of Blue Bottle :(

          I won’t be in Oakland, so sorry to miss Modern Coffee. Next time, though.

          I’ll get to as many of your suggestions as I can…….thank you!

          1. Jon W.

            Update – Shelli I LOVED Bird Rock. Perfect place for good coffee AND plane watching! (Doesn’t hurt that I find the baristas very amiable and cute too)

            ALSO I just saw that Verve opened up a new location in SF itself on the corner of Market and Church so no need to schlep to Santa Cruz if you were thinking about it.

          2. shelli

            HI Jon, So glad you enjoyed Bird Rock! What did you order? I love their cortado. The baristas are great guys :) Thanks for letting me know about Verve. Market and Church isn’t far from my friend’s place. We’ll add it to the list!

          3. Jon W.

            I got one of the pour overs – I think the roast at the time was a Panama single origin. It was delicious, especially paired with one of the shortbread cookies (that had sea salt in it!)

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