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Kona coffee farmers seeking stricter labeling regulations

I recently visited Hawaii and had my first real experiences with Kona coffee, resolving to drink only Kona in my 10 days on Oahu.  I bought several brands at the local Safeway and tried them throughout my time there.  My brewing methods were limited, but I did my best to get a sense and taste for Kona coffee.

Kona Coffee Farmers Association logo

Today the Huffington Post is reporting that the Kona Coffee Farmers Association has asked the Hawaiian state legislature to tighten up labeling regulations that apply to Kona coffee.  When you buy Kona in Hawaii, the label states what percentage of the blend is Kona, and you generally will see 10% blends and the more attractive (and more expensive) 100% Kona labels.  State law mandates that Kona blends sold in Hawaii must be at least 10% Kona and that the label must disclose the percentage, but the farmers association is asking that the law also require that the label report the source of the other non-Kona beans in the blend.   The farmers are concerned that low-quality beans are being blended with the Kona and creating a sub-standard final product.  I’m not sure simply telling the country the beans were sourced from will provide enough information to the buyer, but that’s a start.

Apparently when the 10% minimum was introduced, the initial language required that the coffee companies state the source of all beans in the blend, but that language was ultimately diluted to make the disclosure of other beans voluntary.  Since that time, none of the roasters who produce Kona blends are disclosing that additional information, so the farmers association is trying to bring back that mandate.    Another quality control attempt by the Kona farmers — a regulation that Kona blends must be 75% Kona or more — failed several years ago.

The other challenge for the farmers is that the labeling regulations being sought, just like the current 10% labeling law, would only control the coffee blends sold in Hawaii.  Labeling regulations are different in other states, and the Kona coffee sold in the United States mainland is not subject to the same labeling regulations.  As such, anything goes on the mainland unless the state where the beans are sold also has similar labeling regulations.  According to the Huffington Post article, Safeway stores, which have a presence in Hawaii, agreed in August 2011 to change the labeling on Kona coffee products sold in mainland stores to show what percentage of the coffee was Kona, and, at the same time, Safeway also started selling 100% Kona products in California.