Food & Drink / We locavores have it good in Hawaii. Not only do we benefit from a year-round growing season, but our unique climate and geography are ideal for crops that simply will not grow elsewhere in the United States. Case in point: coffee, which grows only in equatorial zones such as ours. On the mainland, even the most devoted of locavores find themselves making a quiet exception for their morning brew, which might be roasted locally but is grown, harvested and processed far, far away. But here in Hawaii, it’s easy to get coffee that’s local–from farm to brew.
It’s no secret that big coffee chains are becoming obnoxious. Starbucks recently announced the latest addition to its cup sizing: the 31-ounce Trenta, which is just an ounce shy of a Big Gulp. Do we really need that much coffee? Do we even need Starbucks at all?
It’s all the more reason to drink up the local brew. Here are a few of our favorite local coffee places.
Bad Ass Coffee
Choose from 100 percent Kona coffee or a Hawaiian blend for your drip–the latter ($2.75 for a small) is mellow and smooth, with light acidity and a nutty flavor. The Bad Ass folks also run an online store, making it easy to send coffee gifts to far-flung friends.
It’s not so much the coffee (though it’s very good) that hooks you. It’s the sort of atmosphere you don’t forget. The outside sitting area is airy, bright and lush with foliage and filled with mismatched seats and tables that Dennis, the owner (also known as Manoa’s Soup Nazi), says he found in the trash. Even more crammed is the kitchen, filled with pans, mugs, plates and bric-a-brac everywhere. Where does he even prepare the food? Who knows, but it’s good. Don’t even think about getting your coffee to go if you don’t have a reusable cup. And FYI: Coffeeline caters to University of Hawaii faculty.
After trying Downtown Coffee’s brew, it was hard to muster the motivation to go anywhere else. It is, to be blunt, the perfect cup of coffee. Choose from the local drip coffee of the day (a Waialua blend when we visited, $1.68 for a small), or try the espresso made from 100 percent Kona peaberry. Its full body, notes of dark chocolate and hazelnut, and total lack of bitterness could lure anyone away from the ‘Bucks.
This is a serious coffee shop, for multiple reasons. The organic, shade-grown coffee is expertly roasted and brewed for a smooth, nutty, and well-balanced cuppa. But the mood here is pretty serious as well; bring your laptop or a book, switch your phone to vibrate and take advantage of the study-hall vibe.
Honolulu Coffee Company
For the ultimate coffee experience, try a French press of 100 percent Kona coffee at Honolulu Coffee ($6.95, serves two)–the technique produces a full-bodied and rich cup that complements the smooth, earthy qualities of Kona beans. The Hawaiian blend drip is also commendably well-balanced with slightly citrusy notes. Don’t miss the pastries (made by on-staff pastry chefs), especially the melt-in-your-mouth haupia macaroons.
This roaster/brewer is all about the Hawaiian bean, with premium beans from Kona, Maui, Molokai and Kauai, all roasted weekly here on Oahu. Its 100 percent Kona drip coffee ($2.75 for a 12 oz. cup) is fruitier than most, with notes of cherry and a smooth chocolaty base. Sleek surroundings sweeten the deal.
Kona Mountain Coffee
Although this isn’t so much of a coffee shop as it is a retail store that happens to sell coffee, Kona Mountain Coffee is notable in that it grows, harvests and roasts the beans itself on 90 acres in Kona. Its 100 percent Kona coffee ($2.75 for a 12 oz. cup) is available in both medium and dark roasts, so you can pick your poison according to your taste.
Another great spot in one of Chinatown’s historic buildings is Manifest on Hotel Street. It offers a comfortable vibe and Oahu-grown Waialua Coffee in many manifestations–espresso, cappuccino and brewed. A place to sit, sip, see and be seen.