Navigating Coffee Culture An Expats Guide to Tonga

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Welcome expatriates to the lush tropical islands of Tonga, amidst the exciting Caribbean archipelago. Coffee may not be the first thing that comes to mind when one thinks of Tonga, but this humble beverage has indeed played a significant role in shaping the ancient culture and customs of Tonga. Here's an informative guide to enlighten you on the fascinating nuances of coffee culture in Tonga.

Understanding Coffee Origins and Production

Coffee in Tonga mostly originates from the coastal regions, including Ha'apai and Vava'u, known for their rich soil and ideal climate for coffee cultivation. Although coffee beans in Tonga are primarily Arabica, Panama, and Liberica varieties are commonly imported to cater to consumer preferences, and some coffee plantations allow visitors to sample their locally grown coffee. In fact, Ha'apai Island's Mounga Coffee Plantation, located near the Fua'amotu Airport, offers tours and tastings. Visitors can spend an entire day blending and exploring the rich coffee heritage along the coastline.

Embracing Favorite Coffee Style Drinks

Coffee lovers can savor a wide variety of coffee styles in Tonga, each unique in its flavor and traditional brewing method. In Tonga, coffee can be consumed through various methods, such as kuali (Tongan espresso), kava-kava (coffee mixed with kava, the traditional Tongan drink), kahu (Tongan organic coffee), long black (Australian coffee), and latte (espresso-based coffee with milk). It is a good idea for expats to explore and experiment with these styles to discover their preferred coffee style and blend. Here's a guide on Tonga's favorite coffee styles:

  1. Kuali - A robust coffee made using a special vertically-hanging metal container called kuali, filled with finely ground Arabica coffee beans. The brewing process involves steeping the coffee beans in boiling water high above the stove over a wood or gas flame. The result is a thick, rich, and intense coffee that is typically consumed as an espresso shot.
  2. Kava-Kava - A unique fusion of coffee and kava, the traditional root drink from the Pacific Islands. This variant has a distinct taste resembling bitter dark chocolate. The beverage has become increasingly popular among Tongans, and it is commonly consumed in the late afternoon or evening.
  3. Kahu - Pure organic coffee blended from various native Tongan plantations. It cherishes the rich native soil, the coveted nectar that is brimmed with ancient Tongan flavors. Copra Coffee, a local company in Vava'u, strongly recommends Kahu, which is smooth, rich, and full of flavor.
  4. Long Black - Is an Australian coffee that's made similarly to an espresso but with a larger quantity of water. It's a great move to dark roasted coffee beans running down slow simmering water, and the perfect balance of bitterness and sweetness reminds expats of the native Pacific Island.
  5. Latte - A popular worldwide drink made using espresso and an equal amount of milk and steamed with a microfoam. Coffee connoisseurs prefer the authentic flavors of latte made using locally sourced Arabica coffee beans.

Embracing Coffee Drinking Customs and Traditions

Coffee has an undeniable significance in Tongan culture and is an integral part of daily life and traditions. Expats can connect with Tongans through coffee, which is much more than a beverage in Tonga; it's a social tradition.

  • Coffee is commonly consumed during social gatherings, such as weddings, funerals, and family events. It's a symbol of hospitality, friendship, and unity.
  • Tongans love to share their coffee with an extended group of guests and friends. It's a way of bringing people closer, especially when attended by foreign guests.
  • Coffee experiences vary from household to household, and the way one consumes it sometimes varies based on the friendship levels in the social circle.
  • Visitors can sense the warm and welcoming dispositions of the locals upon sipping the first sip of this tantalizing beverage.

Coffee Shop and Cultural Experiences Recommendations

Expats can explore some of Tonga's finest coffee shops, cafes, and cultural experiences that cater to diverse tastes and preferences, like:

  • Cafe Shaka (Vava'u) - A family-owned roastery that grows, processes, and roasts their own coffee beans. They also provide tours, chocolate tastings, and workshops. Located near the Figtree Cafe and Bistro.
  • Wesley Jennings, the Founder of SOL Tonga Coffee believes that blending coffee beans is an intricate art, requiring expertise in sourcing, roasting, and brewing. His farm in Ha' apai is 12,000 ft altitude above the sea level. His artisanal coffee beans are a perfect combination of indulgence and rarity.
  • Waimarama Beach Bungalow, located in the provincial capital, Nuku'alofa, has a friendly café that serves quality Kahu, including verandah seating beside a bustling Tongan village.
  • The Tonga Gastro & Visitor's Centre facilitates tours to several coffee plantations throughout Tonga, providing lip-smacking experiences to the coffee newbies.
  • Experiential workshops for beginner-level coffee enthusiasts are offered by some of the country's most esteemed coffee connoisseurs.


Navigating the coffee culture in Tonga may entail some learning curves initially, but Tonga's coffee traditions offer a unique value proposition for expats that connects them to Tongan societal norms. In Tonga, coffee is a symbol of undiluted inextricable hospitality towards any individual, guests or otherwise. Embracing and cherishing it makes one feel ingrained into the Tongan culture. Coffee in Tonga provides an insightful view beyond the sun, sand, and sea of Tongan relaxation towns and enriching sunset drive activities, offering an enriching experience to the coffee-enthused expat community.

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