Where is Coffee Grown in the United States?
One of the unique aspects of the coffee industry is sourcing. Most of the time, if you're drinking coffee in a Western country, you're drinking coffee that spent months traveling thousands of miles around the world to end up in your cup. Usually, the weather and climate in Europe and North America are inhospitable to the coffee plant. In most cases, if someone asked you to name the closest coffee region to the continental U.S, Mexico would be the first that comes to mind.
Despite being a big up-and-comer in the global coffee game, Mexico often gets overshadowed by other Central and South American coffee regions such as Costa Rica, Colombia, and Brazil. It may come as a surprise, but there are a few specialty coffee regions in the United States—one of them being part of the continent! Hawaii's Kona coffee region has a lot of name recognition, considered by many to be of reasonably high quality.
Out of the three coffee-growing regions in the United States, Hawaii is by far the most popular. Having many volcanic areas and being situated in a tropical part of the world makes Hawaii well suited for coffee growth, but what about the other two regions?
Californian coffee is one of the best-kept secrets of the American coffee world. Coffee-growing in this part of the country is still in its earliest stages, with farms that have only been starting to yield usable coffee beans over the past few years. The central growing regions are in Southern California, based mostly between Santa Barbara and the Mexican border near San Diego. Since the industry is still young in the Golden State, coffee from California is yet to explode worldwide. Still, experts expect it to double year-over-year for the next little while.
The history of coffee growing on a large scale in California began in 2017. In that year, an agricultural scientist named Jay Ruskey founded Frinj Coffee, along with co-founders Andy Mullins, Juan Medrano, and Lindsey Mesta. Ruskey and his team realized the untapped potential of growing coffee in the continental U.S. and began acting as a coffee production collective around California. Frinj has provided start-up materials, education, and funding for over 65 farmers to date!
As reflected in the price, California-grown coffee is acknowledged to be of high quality. The average bag of roasted California coffee runs between $50-80. This hefty price tag includes considerations for American labor laws, which aim to ensure that the farmers receive fair and livable wages. Unfortunately, farmers in most third-world coffee-growing countries are paid far below a living wage. For this reason, roasters around the world seek to source their coffee from equitable, transparent farms. With Californian coffee being grown right here in our backyards, there is oversight into the compensation of growers and the quality of the final product.
In recent years, coffee growers in California have started planting the highly sought-after Gesha variety. Gesha coffee is commonly known as one of the most expensive varieties of Coffea Arabica on the market. This unique California rendition has a clean, fruit-forward profile, with a silky-smooth mouthfeel. Typically expect Californian coffee to have similar attributes to Mexican coffee, but with a floral, tropical fruit twist.
One of the most reputable California coffee growers is Mraz Family Farms, partially owned and operated by American musician Jason Mraz! Mraz's farm specializes in tropical fruits such as passion fruit and avocado. It has made a foray into specialty coffee over the past few years. Since it usually takes 3 or 4 years for a coffee plant to mature, Mraz Family Farms grows its yield alongside Frinj's rising collective.
Although it is not yet an official state of the U.S., this tropical Caribbean island can help America put its name on the coffee map of the world. Coffee farming has been a part of Puerto Rico's agricultural history since the 18th century. Unfortunately, due to hurricanes and a rocky colonial past, it hasn't been able to take off the way it should have. Since sugar cane was in high demand in the 19th and 20th centuries, most of the island's focus has been there.
Since the early 2010s, coffee companies such as Café Salome have increased production to meet local and international demand. Coffee is crucial to Puerto Rico's people, so producing enough even to supply the island can be a challenging feat.
The past few years have not been kind to the people of Puerto Rico. Hurricane Maria ravaged the island in 2017, and with the COVID-19 pandemic, there's no doubt that coffee production has taken a toll.
Puerto Rican coffee is grown across the island in high-altitude regions such as Yauco, Adjuntas, and San Sebastian. Puerto Rican coffee has sweet, rich notes such as chocolate and caramel, with a smooth mouthfeel.
Hawaii is hands-down one of the country's most beautiful locales. From its rich indigenous culture to beautiful beaches and tropical rainforests, it seems like Hawaii has it all. If you add the excellent, high-quality coffee-growing regions to this list, Hawaii is a perfect 10!
Although the state has many growing regions across its islands, the Kona Volcanic Region is the most famous. Kona coffee is world-renowned and has a reputation for being quite expensive. Commonly thought to be the United States' only coffee-growing region, Kona coffee comes with brand recognition and a price tag to match. Since Kona's coffee boom almost 30 years ago, Maui, Kauai, and some of the state's other mountainous regions have followed suit and joined nearly 1000 other coffee farms in the state! One of the most prominent tourist activities on Hawaii's Big Island is a Kona coffee tour. Many companies offer these volcanic tours to people visiting the island from around the world. Without the money from these groups, it would be hard for Hawaiian coffee to be profitable.
Although the beans are of high quality, it can be hard to find a well-roasted bag out of state. Many non-specialty coffee roasters around North America advertise Kona coffee. Some roasters charge a premium while over-roasting the beans and taking away the ability to taste the state's unique flavor profile. An important tip to note is to avoid buying "Kona Blend" coffee, which sometimes barely has any high-quality Kona coffee in it.
The nutrient-rich volcanic soil found around Hawaii and the low altitude of its growing regions contribute to its signature taste. A well-roasted Hawaiian coffee is known to have floral and rich flavor notes such as rose, honey, molasses, and berries. They tend to have a silky-smooth mouthfeel and a bit of a heavier, sometimes syrupy body.
With the most recent push for specialty, third-wave coffee, we will hopefully see more high-quality American-grown coffee on shelves across the country and around the world. It will take time for American coffee production to match the big players on the continent, but hopefully, focusing on quality over quantity will earn some global recognition. Who knows, California-grown Geshas might be hitting the world stage at the World Barista Championships before we know it!