Review: Kai Coffee in Waikiki- Ascending As A Premium Coffee House in Oahu

Forget about the Starbucks across the street. If you are in Waikiki and looking to experience a nice cup of joe, head to Kai Coffee in the Hyatt Regency Hotel on Kalakaua Ave. My favorite place for coffee used to be Beach Bum in Downtown Honolulu, but since they vanished, Kai Coffee has definitely picked up steam as the go-to place for premium coffee.

We know that Hawaii is famous for Kona coffee. Some coffee shops will have some Kona Coffee or Ka’u coffee available, but very few will have any more than those options available. Most coffee shops are pretty “normal” (I have yet to find a Starbucks in Hawaii that serves any type of local coffee, unfortunately).

Then there are places like Kai Coffee. Kai Coffee has developed nicely with a beautiful island style branding that caters to the modern coffee drinkers searching for the freshest options in beverages.

Kai Coffee Storefront - The store has a clean design and has developed a brand that encompasses the island-style feel

Kai Coffee Storefront – The store has a clean design and has developed a brand that encompasses the island-style feel

Kai Coffee serves “premium” quality coffee. However, they still are able to cater to a broad market that may like the concept of premium quality coffee, but don’t want to venture too far from the usual Starbucks-type of product offerings.

Kai Coffee Order Counter

Kai Coffee Order Counter

Here’s how I see their product segmentation:

1. Espresso Drinks

The typical Starbucks-like drinks that combine an indistinct espresso shot that gets mixed with a style of milk/hot water and/or flavored syrup. This includes the familiar lattes, cafe mochas, cappucinos, macchiatos, and americanos. While Kai Coffee uses really good coffee beans for their espresso shots, I personally feel like espresso drinks often dull and undermine the taste of the actually coffee bean. However, the usual espresso drinks do well for people that don’t want to venture far from their usual, almost interchangeable, lattes.

2. Frappe

Your typical sweet and sugary blended drinks that may or may not include coffee. Kids and people with sweet tooth love this stuff. The frappes Kai Coffee provides include flavors such as macademia nut, mocha, vanilla, caramel, chocolate creme, vanilla, and coconut. I think of frappes akin to more of a dessert.

3. Not Coffee

In order for a coffee shop to cater to non-coffee drinkers (go figure) the offerings of tea, iced tea, chai latte, hot chocolate, and juice are also options.

4. Brewed Coffee

THIS. This is where Kai Coffee shines and is why it’s special. This is why it’s a go-to spot for premium quality coffee drinks. They have 3 ways you can take your pure and genuine brewed coffee.

Brewed Coffee – Kai Blend of the Day

This is a batch of pre-made coffee for the masses. It’s cheaper than the other brewed coffee offerings ($2.75, $3.25, $3.75) because it’s pre-made and they have the ability to mess with the blend. Nevertheless, whatever they are putting into the large batch is usually sourced locally in Hawaii and of good quality. It also requires no wait, so it’s easy to pick up on the go.

Brewed Coffee – Cold Brew Coffee

This is great for people that like iced coffee or for enjoying coffee during a hot day. Again pre-made, the cold brew coffee is brewed for at least 12-hours and contains good quality coffee beans. Because of the quality of the coffee and the cold brew process (as opposed to just chilled hot coffee that some shops might do when asked for iced coffee), the coffee comes out very richly flavored and allows you to taste plenty of the natural oils from the coffee beans. The cold brews that I’ve had from them were smooth, subtly acidic, oily fresh and fragrant (kind of like how butter enhances solid food). The cold brew is a little more expensive ($3.25, $4.25) but also takes no wait as it is pre-made.

Brewed Coffee – Single Origin

Having single origin coffee offering is what makes Kai Coffee, in my opinion, a premium coffee shop because very few stores would bother to do this. This type of brewed coffee is for the more adventurous or advanced coffee lovers. The single origin coffee is a little bit more expensive ($6) and takes a bit longer to prepare since the brew is made to order, but I believe it’s worth it. Kai Coffee typically has about 4 single origin coffee products available that offers a range of flavors.

When I visited last time, they had:

  • Kona Peabody
  • Kona Peabody Extra Fancy
  • Maui Red Catuai
  • Something from Big Island…

Each type of coffee bean has a distinctly different flavor and fragrance profile that a coffee lover can pick out and appreciate.

Kai Coffee Single Origin Coffee Brewing Options - On the counter you can very clearly see the tools for the various brewing methods (left to right): pour over, french press, aeropress, slow drip

Kai Coffee Single Origin Coffee Brewing Options – On the counter you can very clearly see the tools for the various brewing methods (left to right): pour over, french press, aeropress, slow drip

Since it’s individually made to order, you have the following options of brewing:

  • Pour Over
  • French Press
  • Aeopress
  • Slow Drip

I almost always go with the Pour Over method because I personally think it does the best job in get the right amount of oil into the coffee. The quality of the final product for the pour-over coffee actually depends on the barista (Kai Coffee’s baristas seem pretty competent) being knowledgeable about the temperature and time to soak prep the coffee grain and then pour over the hot water slowly as it drips through the filter.

Most recently, I ordered the Maui Red Catuai single origin pour over coffee. It was great. This smooth cup of coffee is a medium roast with a mild hint of spiciness and butter. I’m usually a bigger fan of dark roast coffee, but I decided to give this a shot and don’t regret it at all.

Overall, I really respect Kai Coffee. They offer really good coffee without being snobbish about it and still caters to the general coffee drinking population. They continue to operate like a typical coffee shop (despite having premium coffee) by serving baked goods (kind of mediocre in my opinion) and non-premium coffee products. These guys have a good business going with a good grasp on social media and marketing; check out their website http://kaicoffeehawaii.com/.

Also, look at their swag.

Kai Coffee Swag - Kai Coffee sells bottles, cups, t-shirts, and bags of their blends. Everything has the beautiful Kai Coffee logo on them.

Kai Coffee Swag – Kai Coffee sells bottles, cups, t-shirts, and bags of their blends. Everything has the beautiful Kai Coffee logo on them.

It will be interesting to see how their up-and-coming downtown Honolulu location will do, without the tourist crowd. They can probably adequately replace the gap that beach bum has left for people like me who enjoy single origin pour over coffee.

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