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Coffee at Arvo Cafe
Photo: Arvo Cafe / Facebook

A Highly Opinionated Guide to Drinking Coffee in Honolulu

How to avoid Kona tourist traps

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Coffee at Arvo Cafe
| Photo: Arvo Cafe / Facebook

There’s plenty of reasons to seek out coffee shops in Honolulu — a genuine interest in cafes, a refuge from the tourist hordes, or merely averting the major vacation buzzkill of crippling caffeine withdrawal — though scouring the city for the best Kona coffee is probably not one of them. The high prices commanded by Kona, which are due, in large part, to the small farm sizes and high labor costs, means most of the Hawaiian coffee industry is still operating the way it has for decades, and the quality at many shops reflects this. If you are looking for good coffee — or what has come to constitute “good coffee” since the early aughts — you’ll find it, but mostly at shops serving coffee grown and roasted elsewhere.

That said, if you’re interested in coffee, it’d obviously be silly to come to Hawai‘i — the only U.S. state where coffee grows — and not try the local goods, so this list attempts to balance what someone who travels with their own coffee grinder might consider to be the best shops, objectively, with an eye toward the best possible experience for purveyors specializing in Hawai‘i wares.

Part of the Eater Guide to Hawai‘i

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Note: Restaurants on this map are listed geographically.

1. Morning Glass

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2955 E Manoa Rd
Honolulu, HI 96822
(808) 673-0065
Visit Website

The original Morning Glass is the cafe of your personal Hawaiian fantasia: an exceedingly chill open-air box of a show, deposited outside the city in the valley neighborhood of Mānoa. A wide gamut of coffee — on a recent visit, San Francisco’s Four Barrel, Portland’s Coava, and a daily rotating Hawaiian option — along with outstanding housemade sodas (the deep, balanced matcha soda is a perfect drink), a tight food menu (egg sandwiches and mac-and-cheese pancakes for breakfast, sandwiches for lunch), and a surprising magazine selection leave little else to be desired. If you’re going to spend a while in one shop, this is probably it.

A cafe counter with handwritten chalkboard menu hanging above
Inside Morning Glass Coffee
Photo by Matt Buchanan

2. Brue Bar

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119 Merchant St
Honolulu, HI 96813
(808) 441-4470
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Brue Bar is, in many ways, an extremely standard iteration on the Coffee Shop That Takes Itself Seriously (see: teetering glass cold-brew drip towers, Slayer espresso machine). But it has at least two things going for it: a relative shortage of such shops in Honolulu (especially downtown), and coffee from Santa Cruz’s Verve, which basically started as fancy coffee for surf bros by surf bros — essentially, the perfect coffee roaster for Honolulu. That, well done, forgives virtually all of its branding sins.

Inside Brue Bar
Photo: Brue Bar

3. Arvo Cafe

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675 Auahi St
Honolulu, HI 96825
(808) 537-2021
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Did you know? In 2017 it’s now literally illegal to talk about coffee shops in the United States without mentioning at least one Australian cafe. And Arvo is very #2017, if you find yourself suddenly in need of something very of the moment: There is toast, and it comes with avocados and also without; there are chia bowls and matcha everything and Bowls of All Kinds; there is an activated charcoal latte and whatever this drink is; there is Vegemite; and there is a lot of Plant Life with very good lighting. The coffee is probably even pretty good, too, if you can drink it through this fern.

Inside Arvo Cafe
Photo: Arvo Cafe / Facebook

4. The Curb Kaimuki

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3538 Waialae Ave
Honolulu, HI 96816
(808) 315-1912
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Originally in a roving truck — hence the name — this Kaimukī spot, tucked in a corner of a stooped building, doesn’t feel much bigger than the inside of a food truck, though the giant windows keep things airy, not claustrophobic. The precision of the coffee preparation combines neatly with its service, which will probably strike anyone from the mainland as hugely, overwhelmingly generous. There are a handful of other Curb outposts on the island, but the consensus among coffee pros is that this is best of the bunch — and maybe the best shop in all of Honolulu at the moment. (After some delays, a new, larger location is opening down the street by the end of the year, according to owner Sumner Ohye.) The Curb started roasting its own coffee in early summer 2017, but if you’re particularly risk-averse, maybe stick to its well-curated selections from Intelligentsia and other roasters for now.

Counter inside The Curb Kaimuki
Photo: The Curb Kaimuki / Facebook

5. Nana’s Green Tea

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2250 Kalakaua Ave
Honolulu, HI 96815
(808) 777-3550
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Okay, you shouldn’t actually drink the coffee at Nana’s Green Tea, the first, and so far, only U.S. location of the Japanese chainlet, one of a dozenish Japanese concepts bundled together in the belly of the Waikiki Shopping Plaza as Waikiki Yokochoshould you drink coffee anywhere, really? — but you should certainly drink the tea drinks. The core beverages, a matcha latte and usucha (thin matcha) are built on a foundation of properly earthy, grassy matcha; the hojicha at the heart of the hojicha latte is soft and mellow. This is all to say nothing of the soft serve — but an iced matcha from Nana’s may be the most pleasant caffeine delivery experience in all of Waikīkī.

Matcha Sundae Matcha Latte at Nana’s Green Tea
Photo by Meghan McCarron

6. Kona Coffee Purveyors + b. Patisserie

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2330 Kalakaua Avenue, Space 160, Kuhio Street Mall Entrance
Honolulu, HI 96815
(808) 450-2364
Visit Website

While something of a paint-by-numbers coffee shop — a quasi-cavernous cube with soaring ceilings, white marble, faintly Moroccan patterned floor tile, and woooooooood — the combined Kona Coffee Purveyors and b. Patisserie outpost offers something of a respite from the upscale mall that engulfs Waikīkī’s Kalākaua Avenue like a canyon whose walls are composed entirely of global retail branding that has been compressed into solid rock over thousands of years. Everything really is better when you bury your face in the SF bakery’s iconic sesame kouign amann. One of the other fully modern Kona specialists — well-designed packaging, lighter roasts, standard Fancy Coffee trappings — KCP is the other place you might try Kona coffee, if you’re so inclined. At least if you’re disappointed, you can cry into another pastry from b. Patisserie.

Lattes at Kona Coffee Purveyors
Photo: Kona Coffee Purveyors / Facebook

7. Kai Coffee

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2424 Kalakaua Ave #129
Honolulu, HI 96815
(808) 923-1700
Visit Website

If you must experience Hawai‘i’s mythical Kona coffee, this is probably where to try it. Most Kona coffee is grown, processed, roasted, and prepared as if the last 20 years in coffee never happened — when you can charge that much, why bother changing anything? — and even the stuff that isn’t scorched will probably disappoint most modern coffee palates with its extreme mildness. But Kai is more or less grounded in the moment, and its coffee generally reflects that, with lighter roasted coffee than you see with most Kona options, and brewing methods that include pour-over and AeroPress. Of the many, many mediocre cups of Kona coffee suffered at shops throughout Hawai‘i on a recent trip, Kai’s was by far the most enjoyable, with actual brightness and balance. (Hot tip: If you want to buy a bag of Kona, rather than drop $40, maybe get it directly from Big Island Roasters, which white-label roasts for Kai, at a not insignificant discount?)

Inside Kai Coffee
Photo: Kai Coffee

1. Morning Glass

2955 E Manoa Rd, Honolulu, HI 96822
A cafe counter with handwritten chalkboard menu hanging above
Inside Morning Glass Coffee
Photo by Matt Buchanan

The original Morning Glass is the cafe of your personal Hawaiian fantasia: an exceedingly chill open-air box of a show, deposited outside the city in the valley neighborhood of Mānoa. A wide gamut of coffee — on a recent visit, San Francisco’s Four Barrel, Portland’s Coava, and a daily rotating Hawaiian option — along with outstanding housemade sodas (the deep, balanced matcha soda is a perfect drink), a tight food menu (egg sandwiches and mac-and-cheese pancakes for breakfast, sandwiches for lunch), and a surprising magazine selection leave little else to be desired. If you’re going to spend a while in one shop, this is probably it.

2955 E Manoa Rd
Honolulu, HI 96822

2. Brue Bar

119 Merchant St, Honolulu, HI 96813
Inside Brue Bar
Photo: Brue Bar

Brue Bar is, in many ways, an extremely standard iteration on the Coffee Shop That Takes Itself Seriously (see: teetering glass cold-brew drip towers, Slayer espresso machine). But it has at least two things going for it: a relative shortage of such shops in Honolulu (especially downtown), and coffee from Santa Cruz’s Verve, which basically started as fancy coffee for surf bros by surf bros — essentially, the perfect coffee roaster for Honolulu. That, well done, forgives virtually all of its branding sins.

119 Merchant St
Honolulu, HI 96813

3. Arvo Cafe

675 Auahi St, Honolulu, HI 96825
Inside Arvo Cafe
Photo: Arvo Cafe / Facebook

Did you know? In 2017 it’s now literally illegal to talk about coffee shops in the United States without mentioning at least one Australian cafe. And Arvo is very #2017, if you find yourself suddenly in need of something very of the moment: There is toast, and it comes with avocados and also without; there are chia bowls and matcha everything and Bowls of All Kinds; there is an activated charcoal latte and whatever this drink is; there is Vegemite; and there is a lot of Plant Life with very good lighting. The coffee is probably even pretty good, too, if you can drink it through this fern.

675 Auahi St
Honolulu, HI 96825

4. The Curb Kaimuki

3538 Waialae Ave, Honolulu, HI 96816
Counter inside The Curb Kaimuki
Photo: The Curb Kaimuki / Facebook

Originally in a roving truck — hence the name — this Kaimukī spot, tucked in a corner of a stooped building, doesn’t feel much bigger than the inside of a food truck, though the giant windows keep things airy, not claustrophobic. The precision of the coffee preparation combines neatly with its service, which will probably strike anyone from the mainland as hugely, overwhelmingly generous. There are a handful of other Curb outposts on the island, but the consensus among coffee pros is that this is best of the bunch — and maybe the best shop in all of Honolulu at the moment. (After some delays, a new, larger location is opening down the street by the end of the year, according to owner Sumner Ohye.) The Curb started roasting its own coffee in early summer 2017, but if you’re particularly risk-averse, maybe stick to its well-curated selections from Intelligentsia and other roasters for now.

3538 Waialae Ave
Honolulu, HI 96816

5. Nana’s Green Tea

2250 Kalakaua Ave, Honolulu, HI 96815
Matcha Sundae Matcha Latte at Nana’s Green Tea
Photo by Meghan McCarron

Okay, you shouldn’t actually drink the coffee at Nana’s Green Tea, the first, and so far, only U.S. location of the Japanese chainlet, one of a dozenish Japanese concepts bundled together in the belly of the Waikiki Shopping Plaza as Waikiki Yokochoshould you drink coffee anywhere, really? — but you should certainly drink the tea drinks. The core beverages, a matcha latte and usucha (thin matcha) are built on a foundation of properly earthy, grassy matcha; the hojicha at the heart of the hojicha latte is soft and mellow. This is all to say nothing of the soft serve — but an iced matcha from Nana’s may be the most pleasant caffeine delivery experience in all of Waikīkī.

2250 Kalakaua Ave
Honolulu, HI 96815

6. Kona Coffee Purveyors + b. Patisserie

2330 Kalakaua Avenue, Space 160, Kuhio Street Mall Entrance, Honolulu, HI 96815
Lattes at Kona Coffee Purveyors
Photo: Kona Coffee Purveyors / Facebook

While something of a paint-by-numbers coffee shop — a quasi-cavernous cube with soaring ceilings, white marble, faintly Moroccan patterned floor tile, and woooooooood — the combined Kona Coffee Purveyors and b. Patisserie outpost offers something of a respite from the upscale mall that engulfs Waikīkī’s Kalākaua Avenue like a canyon whose walls are composed entirely of global retail branding that has been compressed into solid rock over thousands of years. Everything really is better when you bury your face in the SF bakery’s iconic sesame kouign amann. One of the other fully modern Kona specialists — well-designed packaging, lighter roasts, standard Fancy Coffee trappings — KCP is the other place you might try Kona coffee, if you’re so inclined. At least if you’re disappointed, you can cry into another pastry from b. Patisserie.

2330 Kalakaua Avenue, Space 160, Kuhio Street Mall Entrance
Honolulu, HI 96815

7. Kai Coffee

2424 Kalakaua Ave #129, Honolulu, HI 96815
Inside Kai Coffee
Photo: Kai Coffee

If you must experience Hawai‘i’s mythical Kona coffee, this is probably where to try it. Most Kona coffee is grown, processed, roasted, and prepared as if the last 20 years in coffee never happened — when you can charge that much, why bother changing anything? — and even the stuff that isn’t scorched will probably disappoint most modern coffee palates with its extreme mildness. But Kai is more or less grounded in the moment, and its coffee generally reflects that, with lighter roasted coffee than you see with most Kona options, and brewing methods that include pour-over and AeroPress. Of the many, many mediocre cups of Kona coffee suffered at shops throughout Hawai‘i on a recent trip, Kai’s was by far the most enjoyable, with actual brightness and balance. (Hot tip: If you want to buy a bag of Kona, rather than drop $40, maybe get it directly from Big Island Roasters, which white-label roasts for Kai, at a not insignificant discount?)

2424 Kalakaua Ave #129
Honolulu, HI 96815

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