The Tea Detective
Uncovering and Exploring the Facts About Tea
The Teas of Hawaii - Traditional Teas
From a Non-Traditional Source
Today in Hawaii specialty-gourmet teas are being grown in several different
areas, from Volcano Village in the rainforest of Kilauea Volcano, to Hakalau
and the slopes of the now dormant Mauna Kea Volcano.  Even though a lot
of what they do is admittedly still research and development, the Hawaii grow-
ers are turning out traditional style China pan-fired green teas, Taiwanese
oolongs, sweet, malty black teas, as well as sweet, floral white shade
grown teas (the first ever in the U.S.).  (See our
Japan sun-shade grown teas
page to learn what makes these teas so special).  
Tea growing isn't new to Hawaii.  From 1887 to
1892 tea was grown commercially there, and while
no one is certain why it was discontinued, it's be-
lieved that higher wages as compared to areas of
Asia and
Africa made it unfeasible.  Also lower pro-
duction costs for coffee overrode teas viability as a

In the 1960s a joint venture between Lipton and A
& B again looked at the possibility of growing tea
commercially in Hawaii, but both companies decid-
ed against it, opting instead for gardens in Latin
South America.

Also in the 1960s a
small test garden with
a mix of varietals was
planted at the Waiakea
Research Station, with four more varietals from Kyoto University plant-
ed in the 1970s at the Lyon Arboretum on O'ahu.  However, tea was
not considered to have serious potential as a commercial crop at that time.

                                           It wasn't until the sugar cane crop declined in the 1980s that
                                           farmers looking for a replacement crop began considering tea.
                                           Much research and development in the form of trial and error went
                                           into finding the right
types of tea to grow and manufacture, where
                                           to grow them, and how to make them.  Says Eva Lee, Big Island
                                           premier tea producer, Propagation Chair, former president and vice-
                                           president of Hawaii Tea Society, and the spokesperson for Hawaii
                                           tea growers, "It's been a decade of dedication for us tea growers,
                                           learning as we go and finding our way with tea."

Eva Lee and her husband, Chiu Leong, pro-
duce quality
white teas grown in shade from
the surrounding forest trees, similar to
Japan's shade grown teas.  With help and
advice from Toshikazu Yamashita, an expert
hand-rolling tea (temomi) and producing
gyokuro, the Lees' are looking into producing
green teas in the future using a Japanese
jotan rolling table.

John Cross was one of the first tea growers
in Hawaii.  He grows a mix of assamica and
sinensis varietals on the slopes of The Big
Island's now dormant Mauna Kea Volcano at
about 275 meters above sea level in
Hakalau, making quality
black tea.

At 1100 meters above sea level at Volcano Tea Gar-
dens on The Big Island, Mike Riley also produces
oolong and black teas in the traditional Chinese
style.  Fruity and sweet, with hints of papaya and
apple, they sell out almost as fast as he makes them.  Riley's been told he's on track for making
some of the finest oolongs in the

                                                Another premier tea grower, Michelle Rose began growing tea in
                                                2002 on her Cloudwater Farm near Kilauea on Kauai Island.
                                                Beginning in early spring through late October she plucks tea in
                                                the morning and then hand-rolls the leaves, making black teas.
                                                She was also part of a delegation to
Taiwan to learn more about
making oolong tea which she plans to manufacture next.

From an elevation of 4,000 feet, at the summit of Kilauea Volcano in a
town called Vacation Village on Hawaii Island, Tea Hawaii & Company
(THC) showcases Single Estate Teas from Hawaii tea growers state-
wide, each imbued with unique characteristics of Hawaii's

Run by Eva Lee and her husband, Chiu Leong, they call their teas
"Hawaii grown," rather than Hawaii teas, because the tea plant is
not native to Hawaii.  THC processes and showcases teas grown at
elevations of 900 to 4,000 feet, with each tea processed and harvest-
ed by hand.  From the Kilauea Forest White Tea made by Eva and her
husband, Chiu, to the Makai Black Tea made by John and Kathryn
Cross that can be infused up to four times with same quality of flavor.
Mike Riley's Mauka Oolong Tea is crisp and smooth with mild tropical
notes of green papaya, together with hints of pine, evergreen, and
honey.  And from Fang Sen Woo comes Ola'a Green Tea,
pan-fired in
the traditional Chinese style.

These are just a few of the teas offered by Tea Hawaii & Company.  Hawaii's tea growers have
received much help over the last decade plus, from researchers at the
U.S. Department of Agri-
                                                  culture (USDA), the University of Hawaii College of Tropical
                                                  Agriculture and Human Resources (CTAHR), as well as support
                                                  from Hawaii Dept. of Agriculture, Hawaii County Office of
                                                  Research and Development (HCORD), and the Big Island
                                                  Resource Conservation & Development Council and NRCS.

                                                  Along the way they also received support and assistance from
China, Taiwan, and Japanese tea growers who worked closely
                                                  with them.  Some of what they do is still research and
development, so it's likely Hawaii's tea growers will once again consult with other tea growing
countries as they continue their quest to keep Hawaii's tea industry going strong.  
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