Kona Coffee Farmers suing over Fake Kona Coffee

Grading … (school nightmares, anyone?). Being evaluated and sized up. Deceiving! Cheating! Small guys taking on the big guys. These are the themes of this post.

In one of my recent posts I showed a photo of off-grade coffee and mused, “Who uses this stuff?” And what do they label their coffee?

Officially sampled Kona Prime coffee.

Grading coffee is regulated by the state of Hawaii Department of Agriculture according to size, shape, and number of defects in each bean. It’s like a coffee bean beauty contest that happens during the dry milling stage. This one page summary from the HDOA details the grades. This photo shows what the certification label, here Kona Prime, looks like. This is another company’s coffee, not ours.

Our estate Kona coffee contains (from best to worst grades): Extra Fancy, Fancy, Number 1, and Prime altogether in the ratios we get when we harvest. We don’t yet have a large enough quantity of beans to offer specific individual grades, though we do separate out the peaberry. The lowest grade in the system is Hawaii Number 3, and the Kona label is not allowed to be used with that. Below #3 is off-grade, and coffee at that level can’t be labeled with Hawaii in the name.

Coffee products with less than 100% Kona coffee must be labeled Kona blend. There must be at least 10% Kona coffee by weight. Who can really tell if there’s 10% Kona coffee in a Kona blend? And for those who want to use that Kona blend label, they are most likely not putting in much more than 10% of Kona coffee in the product. They usually market the heck out of Kona in the name, and it’s often difficult to discover what the other 90% is.

I’m finally getting to the recent news that prompted this post. “Three Kona coffee farmers have sued the world’s biggest retailers and several coffee suppliers for allegedly flooding the market with fake Kona coffee.” These are the numbers they mention in the suit:

• 2.7 million pounds of Kona coffee grown annually

• 20 million-plus pounds of Kona coffee sold to consumers

Hmmm. It just can’t add up. I’ll definitely be following this case …

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