Coffee has had a major impact on Kona’s history


Old Pineapple Cannery

(Kona Pacific Farmers Cooperative)

A familiar landmark on lower Napoopoo Road is the old coffee mill, originally built to process pineapple, a crop that never became a commercial success in Kona. The man behind this scheme was W.W. Bruner, who came to Kona as a road builder in the 1890s. He later started a pineapple plantation and built his pineapple cannery in 1900 or 1901. When his venture failed, Captain Cook Coffee Co. bought the building and converted it to a coffee mill in 1909. Portions of this mill are still in use as part of the Kona Pacific Farmers Cooperative, which has processed Kona coffee and macadamia nuts at the mill since 1956.

The Royal Aloha Coffee Mill Museum attached to the old mill is open to the public. Old photographs illustrating the history of Kona coffee and a Japanese bottle collection are on display. Boom or bust coffee prices have affected coffee farmers in Kona for more than 150 years. When coffee prices were high, companies formed large plantations and planted thousands of acres of coffee.

In 1898, just when production was booming, the price of coffee dropped from 27 cents a pound to 15.8 cents. Practically overnight, large plantations collapsed and were broken into small parcels of land. This was an opportunity for Japanese and Portuguese laborers to lease 3- to 5-acre plots, paying rent with a percentage of the coffee crop, typically half the crop.

There were always problems. In the 1850s, white scale blight attacked the coffee orchards, and many early plantations failed. In 1905, green scale blight and sooty molds ruined Kona crops. Desperate farmers washed their coffee leaves by hand with soapy water or kerosene emulsion to save the trees. During World War I, coffee could not be shipped to the mainland because of shipping shortages. During the Great Depression, coffee prices plunged, and many farmers faced financial ruin.

Kona coffee’s ups and downs have had a major impact on this district’s history. Fortunately happy days are here again for coffee farmers.

Copyright 1998 Kona Historical Society. Reprinted by permission.