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Coffee, in all its variations, is making a big come-back these days. Bookstores have elaborate coffee shops, airports boast Starbucks and we all seem to be buying specialty coffees like never before. This week we're jumping across the pond to Hawaii's Big Island, for a grand celebration of the drink so many of us consume each morning.

The only commercially cultivated coffee in the U.S. is grown on Hawaii's Big Island, where the finest bright-red coffee beans are carefully hand-picked. The first written mention of coffee in Kona was noted in 1840. Coffee was planted in several places around the Big Island but was best suited to the Kona district. A few coffee fields are now in production outside Kona, but the vast majority of coffee is grown there. Today, many Kona farmers can lay claim to being fifth generation coffee farmers and this product is an economic mainstay of Kona.

At this, Hawaii's oldest food festival, you can take part in a picking competition, or a lei-making contest, as well as tour coffee plantations, view coffee art exhibits and of course sample a few brews. If it has to do with coffee, you can probably find it at this festival.

Even if you don't care for coffee, there something at this festival for you. Other highlights include: a mountain bike race, healthy baby contest, bowling tournament and a Miss Kona Scholarship Pageant. You can try out your favorite recipes in another contest or sing to your heart's content at their special Karaoke night.

For coffee growers the annual cupping competition is serious business. As many as fifty farmers enter their finest coffees in the contest, and the First Place title has become a coveted honor. Winners can proudly count their product as one of the world's very best. The cupping competition is a two-day event with preliminary rounds of judging on the first day and final judging along with the award ceremony, on the second. The judges sniff, swirl and swish the coffee in the most serious and meticulous manner, basing their marks on aroma, flavor, acidity and body. They also carefully judge the size and shape of the beans. During the competition, a coffee tasting is held for the public and afterward the judges are available for comments.

Armed with a special map, you can make a day of it and take the self-guided driving tour. In addition to coffee plantations, stops on the tour include the Kona Historical Society, the Royal Aloha Coffee Mill and Museum and Hawaiian Gardens. Hard-to-find private estate labels are available at several tour stops. Be sure to ask about mail order to enjoy Kona coffee year round. Rest assured, there will be plenty of places along the route to get an excellent cup of joe.

Like Jamaican Blue Mountain, Kona coffee is one of the top-of-the-line coffees in the world.