What does coffee grown in the US taste like?
As noted, Kona coffee has a wide range of “interpretations” by marketers seeking to capitalize on the Kona name. Pure, 100% Kona is said to have terroir profiles resulting in smooth, lightly nutty, and fruity notes. (As with any coffee, roast style will affect this outcome, and a terroir-based flavor generalization is a broad one at best.) By rather extreme comparison, a coffee from Frinj farmed in Santa Barbara, California, boasts notes of “cookie dough, black Twizzlers, and tapioca.” Dang!
Why isn’t it possible to grow more coffee in the US?
Important question, and the answer is one that will change over time. A number of factors play into this answer, but the biggest two issues are climate and labor. Climate-wise, most of the United States doesn’t offer favorable growing conditions for coffee (for Arabica plants, these factors include mild temperatures with high humidity, rich soil, rainy and dry seasons, and altitude—the plants usually prefer a more mountainous terrain.) All of that said, as climate change continues to raise temperatures across the globe, the “coffee belt”—a swath of land along Tropics that’s most hospitable to growing coffee—is growing. Currently, agronomists in Florida are experimenting with coffee cultivation there, and we are likely to see more farming shifts like this across the world as our planet and its growing regions change over time.
The second issue is labor costs: labor is cheap in most of the countries well-known for producing coffee, which is why purchasing coffee from a supply chain that ensures fair pay for workers should be an important part of your buying decisions. In the United States, where minimum wage is comparatively high, and the labor pool is comparatively lower for this type of work, it’s very expensive to operate a coffee farm affordably in the US. This is the reason Kona coffees are often bulked with cheaper coffees, for instance, and also one reason Jason Mraz charges $50USD for a 5oz bag.