A dark joke in Kona for years has been that Kona grows 3 million pounds of coffee each year while 5 million pounds of Kona Coffee is sold. Now a new class action lawsuit claims it isn’t 5 million, it is 20 million pounds of coffee labeled “Kona” that is being fraudulently sold on the world market.
It is no surprise that Kona coffee is being counterfeited. Coffee beans are one of the most adulterated foods in the world. High quality coffee beans are mixed with lesser quality beans and sold as more expensive beans. Even major coffee companies mix their Arabica coffees with cheap low quality Robusta beans. For years, it was common knowledge that at least one Kona coffee availble as 100% Kona at a big box store dark roasted and ground was trash coffee.
The class action lawsuit by three Kona coffee farmers claims that larger retailers including Amazon, Costco, Safeway, and Kroger have been selling 19 different brands of coffee that have been mislabeled as Kona. They claim that they can prove through scientific tests that the coffees being sold did not originate in Kona. They claim that you can detect the origin of even roasted coffee beans by the amount of certain chemical elements in the beans. They are using a system that Columbia has used for years to keep counterfeit Columbian coffee off of store shelves. Additional class action lawsuits are on the horizon on behalf of consumers who were defrauded by buying fake Kona coffee.
How to make sure you are buying real Kona coffee:
Buy Farm Direct
Most coffee is sold from the farm, to a mill, to a several different distributors, to a roaster and finally to a retailer. Every time coffee changes hands there is the possibility of its label changing. If you buy direct from the farm you only one chance for mislabeling.
Talk to the Farmer
Ask where beans came from. We had a couple come in whose first question was where do you source your coffee beans? We told them only from our farm. They said that they were at another farm where they said they buy from farmers at a roadside stand. Since it is common for farmers in other Hawaiian regions to bring their coffee to Kona to get a higher price, they asked “How you know the beans you buy were grown in Kona?” They didn’t have an answer.
Know the Grower
Quality coffee growers are proud of their farms and their coffee. They want to talk to you (sometimes they won’t shut up!). If the grower won’t talk to you maybe they are ashamed of their coffee.
Check the Price
A major indicator of non-Kona beans is price. A farmer in Central America pays his laborers $4 to $6 a day to pick and process coffee beans. A Kona farmer pays $120 to $250 a day to process Kona beans. Land in Central America is a faction of the cost of Kona agricultural property. Real Kona coffee is expensive because the cost of production in Kona is so expensive. If the price is low then it is probably fake.