People say I’m passionate about coffee. They know me well! Coupled with travel, I’ve taken to exploring and writing about the coffee scene wherever I roam. I have a passion for supporting local roasters and coffee houses. Recently, I revisited my favorite coffee shops on Oahu and even tried two new ones. I was excited to see if they still served the best coffee in Hawaii!
Though it was hard to tear myself away from the mochi, ramen, beach, and my favorite hotel in Waikiki, I did make time to drink plenty of coffee! I drank plenty of coffee, talked with baristas, and I’ve got lots to share with you. So let’s talk coffee, Hawaii style.
Who Are The Players On The Hawaii Coffee Scene?
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.
Why People Ask Me For Coffee Recommendations
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 🙁
Is It All About Kona Coffee?
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!
The story has changed, but it started way 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.
My Favorite HCC Locations
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!
Two Newer Players on the Coffee Scene
Remember the two brothers who started the Honolulu Coffee Company? Being good businessmen, and knowing the coffee scene well, they did what good businessmen do…..they each opened their own coffee shops.
One brother, Ray Suiter, opened up Kona Coffee Purveyors, on the Kuhio side of the International Market Place in central Waikiki. It’s a great space where you can enjoy your coffee standing, sitting at tables out front, or at outside counters with seating. Though coffee prices are on the high end, I thought their cortado was excellent. I was glad to see it served in the traditional way with carbonated water on the side.
Here’s a tip for you, if like me you don’t favor Kona blends.
Ask to have your coffee beverages with the one bean they carry that is not Kona. When I visited they had a Central American bean, which is much more to my liking than Kona and created a smooth yet robust beverage.
As you approach the Kona Coffee Purveyor site you can’t help but smell the amazing aroma of pastries. I think their on-site baked goods may be even more popular than the coffee! The pastries are well-priced and look delicious. They get rave reviews from friends of mine. I didn’t try them because just upstairs from the HCP site is a Japanese market, Mitsuwa Market. They make fresh mochi! I went with the mochi and cortado, rather than the pastries from the HCP. Next time, however, I’m getting the almond croissant. Always good to have a pastry plan!
The other original Honolulu Coffee Company brother, Sam, along with his wife Natalie, opened Kai Coffee.There are two locations, one in Waikiki at the Hyatt Regency, and the other in downtown Honolulu. Though I didn’t get a chance to enjoy their coffee, I did stop into the shop at the Hyatt Regency. It has a nice quiet vibe to it as it’s off the street and inside the lovely Hyatt Regency atrium.
I’ve known Sam and Natalie going back many years, as they were the duo that ran the first Honolulu Coffee Company spot at the Ala Moana Mall. I’m confident whatever coffee beverage they create would be delicious. If you don’t want to take my word, my Hawaiian friend Kyle tells me his parents drink coffee at Kai Coffee, and that’s a good enough endorsement for me!
Final Caffeinated Thoughts
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!
Am I missing any places you’ve found while visiting Hawaii that serve up great espresso?
If you liked this post, please check out all the other coffee scenes I reviewed: