Sakuma Brothers Growing Quality Green, White, and Oolong Teas in Washington State

Most of the time when you sit down with a cup of tea it’s likely from one of the
tea giants, China, India, 
Japan, or even Africa with their strong, robust black
teas.  So you may be surprised to learn that tea is being produced right here in
U.S..  There are two commercial tea producers-one in the East, the R.C.
Bigelow Co., in 
South Carolina, and in the West, Sakuma Brothers Premium
Teas, in Skagit Valley, Washington.  There are also several smallholder farms in
Hawaii, producing smaller amounts of 
specialty teas.
  Richard and Steve Sakuma have been growing
tea for over ten years at their berry farm in
Skagit Valley, Washington. A former director of
diversified agriculture for the Lipton Tea Com-
pany, John Vandeland, encouraged the broth-
ers to add tea to their thriving berry farm.
Vandeland chose young tea plants he believed
would work for their unique
 terroir, with winter
lows dropping to 1 to 4 C, and slightly acidic,
sandy clay loam type of soil.
The Sakumas planted five acres with a select-
ion of different varietals, with a third of the
plants unable to withstand the extremely cold
temperatures.  In 2007 they harvested their
first tea crop from the plants that survived.
                                           In the beginning the brothers experimented with various machines
to harvest and produce their meager tea, from a gas fueled
hedge-trimmer for harvesting, to a meat grinder for rolling the leaf,
and using a regular wok for firing and drying.  Unfortunately they
were so busy with their fruit production and harvesting, they had
little time left to concentrate on producing tea.
They were aware, though, of the growing
interest in tea and its many

health benefits,
and decided it was time to get serious,
and focus more on growing their tea crop.
With that in mind they bought the proper
equipment for processing tea.
They purchased a panner, a roller,
and drying machine from

and Richard Sakuma made a trip to
Taiwan to visit tea farms and re-
search facilities to learn about pro-
per tea processing and how to
properly utilize their machinery.
The brothers ran into their share
of problems along the way, from pest damage to fungal disease, along with a series of
very cold winters, killing three-fourths of the crop and drastically depleting their tea

It was a serious blow and disheartening to Richard to go from the original 20,000 tea
plants, down to just 5,000.  The 4,000 new cuttings meant to increase their crop was
used instead as replacements for those tea plants that didn’t survive.

The tea harvesting season in Washington state begins in June
and runs through mid September.  The Sakumas use the choicest
leaf pluck, usually reserved for the smaller leaf teas that come
first to season.  Known in

 China as a mao feng pluck, it consists
of two leaves of equal length and a bud.
The tea is picked by a dozen or so employ-
ees who harvest fruit in the morning and
pick tea in the afternoon.

The Sakumas have been producing tea for about three years
and currently make a

green tea, an oolong, and a white tea
                                               producing about 140 pounds of tea in their last season.  The
tea is sold through Sakuma farm stands to both locals and
tourists, with a portion going to the Herbfarm Restaurant near Seattle, Washington.
Richard Sakuma has a lot of hope for creating a viable tea farm in the future, but admits
a lot of what they currently do is still research and development.

Their teas are available online, with 28g bags of Sakuma Market Stand Green or Oolong
tea for $14.95, which makes approximately ten servings (with multiple infusions), and
one ounce bags of Sun-dried Loose Leaf White tea for $19.95.

All of their teas have five star testimonials, with their white tea described as bold, fruity,

and creamy, their green tea described as complex and rich, a little spicy with perhaps a hint of cinnamon, with no
astringency or grassy taste.  And the testimonials for their oolong tea is that it’s grown in our own backyard and the
finest quality, on par with 
Taiwan’s best oolong teas.
So, I guess that about says it all.  These are teas you’ll definitely want to try very soon.