From Catuai to Caturra: The 6 Most Commonly-Grown Coffee Varieties in Hawaii
Among the Hawaiian Islands’ many claims to fame is the fact that ten of the world’s myriad climate zones are found throughout its chain—making it the only place on the planet with so many distilled in a single, small area.
With this in mind, it ought to arrive as no surprise that the islands cater to the cultivation of several varieties of coffee that go beyond the Aloha State’s legendary Kona beans. From Mokka to Mundo Novo, the islands are now producing specialty javas that continually earn critical acclaim—and satisfy even the most discerning coffee connoisseur.
Here are the 6 most commonly-grown varieties in Hawaii—and what you can expect from each of them:
With its sweet aroma and earthy tones, Catuai—an organic hybrid of two Arabica variations, Mundo Novo and Yellow Caturra—has received plenty of praise in recent years: It’s garnered terrific scores, ranked on the world’s “best of” coffee lists, and obtained the Cup of Excellence award in Brazil for two years straight.
Initially introduced to Guatemala in 1970, where it now comprises 20% of the country’s coffee production, it comes in two types—Yellow and Red—with Yellow Catuai generating a cleaner cup with a softer body, and Red Catuai supplying a fuller body with more complex notes.
Regardless of the type, Catuai yields a cup worth savoring: One that is filled with flavors such as caramel, brown sugar, honey, almonds, and nutmeg. The exclusive variety grown on the island of Molokai, Catuai is also harvested on the volcanic slopes of Maui, Kauai, and the Big Island.
Noted for its silky texture, Caturra was discovered in Brazil in the early 20th century—and first arrived in the islands when it was sent to Kona from El Salvador. A natural mutant of Arabica (specifically, Bourbon), Caturra performs exceptionally well in the hot, dry climates found throughout the Hawaiian Islands. Distinguished by its bright flavor and low-t0-mild acidity, it creates a mild cup with fruity aromas and fresh undertones.
One of four cultivars planted on the island of Maui, Mokka coffee is derived from the Mokka tree—a small, bushy tree, with narrow leaves and tiny cherries, that delivers a delicious cup that sounds much like its name. (Indeed, Hawaii’s main supplier calls Mokka “the champagne of coffees.”) First planted roughly ten miles away from the Big Island’s Kailua-Kona district, its roots reach back to the 15th century, where the Yemeni port of Mokha was the center of the coffee trade. As coffee’s popularity spread beyond the Middle East to Europe, Europeans began associating chocolate with coffee from the Mokha region, thus giving birth to the term “mocha” we know today.
Thick and decadent, with subtleties of dried fruit and spices, Mokka is primarily grown at MauiGrown Coffee on the Valley Isle. In recent years, it has acquired attention both locally and around the globe: Not only did Mokka score first place in the Hawaii Coffee Association’s Cupping Competition, but it’s also been given a rating of 92+ points by the world’s leading coffee guide, Coffee Review.
4. Mundo Novo:
A result of a natural cross between Bourbon and Typica, Mundo Novo coffee obtained its name from the region of Brazil in which it was first harvested. The varietal stems from a tree taller than many of its coffee-cherry-bearing counterparts, and has excellent resistance to both pests and strong winds.
Such resilience is reflected in the cup it produces, a hearty brew that has been described as everything from bold and nutty to woody and strong. It’s also known for its low acidity and wonderful finish, and can be found at specialty and commercial farms throughout Hawaii.
Kona coffee—the coffee that officially put Hawaii on the world’s coffee map—is traditionally Typica, a high-quality, sub-variety of Arabica. While more difficult to process than other coffees, Typica is revered for its sweetness and ability to cup well. It traces back to Ethiopia—the homeland of Arabica—and is identifiable by its size (as in one of its trees can reach up to 16.5 feet).
Introduced to Hawaii in 1892 by Herman Widemann—a German businessman who served as a cabinet member for the Kingdom of Hawaii—it was brought to the islands, by way of Guatemala, in 1892, and quickly became known as “Kona Typica.” It “set the flavor profile” of Kona coffee, Jeri Kahana, of Hawaii’s Department of Agriculture, told Honolulu Magazine, and for a good reason, too: Typica, which demands a high price, results in a cup that’s light, sweet, and fruity, with hints of nuts and spices.
6. Kauai Blue Mountain:
Drawn from Jamaica Blue Mountain coffee—one of the most expensive and esteemed coffees in the world—Kauai Blue Mountain coffee got its start in 1990, when seeds from the University of Hawaii were planted in collaboration with the Hawaii Agriculture Research Center at Kauai Coffee, the biggest coffee estate in the United States. Originally attained from Jamaica—where the varietal received its name from the Blue Mountains (the longest mountain range on the Caribbean island) upon which it was grown—the seeds took to the Garden Island’s high altitudes and volcanic soil. Today, Kauai Blue Mountain is one of the most popular varietals grown in the 50th state, thanks in large part to the bright, fruity, and floral taste it creates.
Sound delicious? Absolutely. After all, one of Hawaii’s other claims to fame is that it harvests some of the finest coffees on earth.