Hawaiian Coffee is Over-Roasted

A Review of Multiple Hawaiian coffees

Robert McKeon Aloe
4 min readJul 10, 2020

One of things I was most excited about visiting Hawai’i was the coffee. I learned about the different grades of coffee for Kona specifically, and I could immediately taste the difference between Kona and other coffees. I didn’t get a chance to try the different grades of Kona. However, I felt most of the beans were roasted too much. That made them amazing for espresso drinks, but I like to drink my coffee as straight espresso (preferably ristretto).

I brought back around 6 lbs of coffee and some chocolate. The chocolate was also amazing, but that’s a side topic. I searched for a bean from every island, but a lot of coffee was overpriced there. You could buy the Kauai coffee at Costco for cheap, but in the store, it was still marked up. My goal was to look at all of these coffees, and I had a varying experience.

Kauai Red was missing from this collage

All were medium dark roasts except for SF Bay Kona which was a dark roast. I typically roast from home, and I stick to a medium roast. I started roasting to 1 minute past the First Crack (FC), but now I’ve moved to 1:30 past FC because of the Hawaiian coffees. This is typically when the FC has just finished, which is considered a medium roast. Most of these were right before the Second Crack.

I drank coffee from these slightly darker roasts instead of wasting the Hawaiian coffee, but I focused on making shots for espresso drinks. The darker roasts went really well with milk aside from SF Bay. That roast was too dark even for milk drinks.

Metrics of Performance

I used two metrics for evaluating the differences between filters: Final Score and Coffee Extraction.

Final score is the average of a scorecard of 7 metrics (Sharp, Rich, Syrup, Sweet, Sour, Bitter, and Aftertaste). These scores were subjective, of course, but they were calibrated to my tastes and helped me improve my shots. There is some variation in the scores. My aim was to be consistent for each metric, but some times the granularity was difficult and affected the final score.

Total Dissolved Solids (TDS) is measured using a refractometer, and this number combined with the output weight of the shot and the input weight of the coffee is used to determine the percentage of coffee extracted into the cup.

Coffee Comparison

On the island, I scored three shots from some local coffee shops. They were pretty good shots, and I figured if I pulled them myself, I would be able to improve them quite a bit.

At home, I often used Hawaiian coffee with milk drinks because they were a bit too bitter. That being said, I got some amazing shots from the Maui and Oahu roasts. Similar for Sexual Chocolate, but again, that coffee was not from Hawai’i; it just had a fun name.

I also was getting monster extractions. This was a combination of a darker roaster, using them a few weeks after their roast date, and my tricks on extraction that have already improved other shots.

For fun, I also reground the coffee in the hotel room, which was terribly stale, and I made a halfway decent shot. It leads me to believe Joffrey’s coffee fresh would taste good.

My next adventure is buying green coffee from Hawai’i. I’ve roasted coffee from there once, and it was so amazing. Even these coffees, they were incredible in their flavor. I just wish the beans weren’t so darkly roasted.

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Robert McKeon Aloe

I’m in love with my Wife, my Kids, Espresso, Data Science, tomatoes, cooking, engineering, talking, family, Paris, and Italy, not necessarily in that order.