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Hawaii Grown Tea – Another Hidden Gem

Tea Plants First Introduced Over 100 Years Ago

Tea was first introduced to Hawaii around 1887.  Since then, unsuccessful attempts to commercialize Hawaii grown tea production on Kauai and in the Kona region of the island of Hawaii were attributed to the high cost of production in Hawaii compared to the lower costs in other tea producing areas.  This is a recurring problem that faces most commercial crop production in Hawaii.  In the late 1980s, some of the sugar firms tried to establish tea plantations to replace sugar cane, but these projects proved to be unsuccessful and were terminated.

And, once again, the University of Hawaii, College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources, is involved in research into finding the right plant variety and locations for successful Hawaii grown tea planting.  Partnering with their efforts are the Tropical Plant Genetic Resource Management Unit, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service, Pacific Basin Agricultural Research Center in Hilo.

Between 1999 and 2001, half-acre plantings were established at each of three locations on the island of Hawaii in Waiakea (600 ft elevation), Mealani (2800 ft), and Volcano (4000 ft). Preliminary observations of these research and demonstration efforts suggest the following:

  • Tea grows very well at Mealani (2800′) and Volcano (4000) and relatively slower at Waiakea (600′).
  • Most cultivars are ready for harvest in about 18–20 months after planting.
  • Green, oolong, and modified green teas processed from tea leaves harvested at Mealani and Volcano are of excellent quality.
  • Clonal tea plants are recommended over seedlings for their uniform growth, allowing the vegetative cycles to be more readily synchronized for mechanical harvesting.
  • The pest and disease problems of tea are relatively mild at all three locations and can be readily managed by agronomic practices such as pruning and fertilizer management.
  • Some of the pests are spider mites, aphids, and leaf rollers.  No insecticides or fungicides were applied at any of the three field locations for over three years.

For more detailed and expanded information on this research on Hawaii grown tea.

Hawaii Grown Tea – A Cottage Industry Established

Fast forward to 2011 and 12 years of research and development has established a fledgling cottage industry of Hawaii grown tea. There are now several tea growers on the Big Island of Hawaii.  The leaders in this effort, who have been involved during the entire 12-year period, are a husband and wife team of Chiu Leong and Eva Lee, of Tea Hawaii & Company.

They have partnered with three additional growers; John Cross, Sen Woo Fang, and Mike Riley.  Together, they market four distinct varieties of Hawaii grown tea:

  • Home grown garden estate.  Tea growers Chiu Leong and Eva Lee of Volcano Village at 4000 feet elevation.  Grown in the rainforest of Kilauea volcano under a canopy of native Ohia trees and Hapu’u ferns.  Harvested by plucking the top bud and two leaves.  The leaves are long, loose and downy and brew into rich clear golden infusion.  The flavor is floral and sweet, deeply satisfying and comforting. Truly the first shade grown forest tea of Hawaii.
  • Hilo Tea Garden tea estate grower Fang Sen Woo of Mountain View at 2000-foot elevation surrounded by tropical flowers.  He produces Ola’a Green tea.  This tea is a pan fired green tea that is exotic in aroma and pure in flavor. Steeped into a pale golden green infusion with a lingering fresh taste.
  • Volcano Tea Garden tea estate grower Mike Riley of Volcano Mauna Loa Estates at 3600-foot elevation.  His product is named Mauka Oolong.  It is flinty, crisp, smooth and cooling, with mild tropical notes of green papaya and honey that add to the complexity of this enticing tea.
  • Johnny’s Garden tea estate grower John Cross of Hakalau at 900-foot elevation. Makai to face towards the sea is a black tea that is handcrafted with both sinensis and assamica leaves that steep into a crystalline amber infusion. This tea’s flavor profile is smooth and refined with no astringency or bitterness even when steep for long periods. A crisp body that yields delicate notes of caramel, barley malt with hints of chocolate and a slight taste of roasted sweet potato.

Hawaii continues to diversify with more and more premium products that take advantage of the variety of conditions found in Hawaii.  From sea level to altitudes exceeding 10,000′, from arid to lush rain-forest conditions, and with rich volcanic soil, opportunities will continue to expand for those venturesome enough to pioneer new crops.  The Big Island of Hawaii is also the only place where all three major infusion beverages are grown; Hawaii grown coffee, Hawaii grown cacao (chocolate) and Hawaii grown tea.

Hawaii grown tea is just another example of the premiere products that Hawaii continues to bring to us.



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  • Thank you says:

    Wonderful article! My Hawaii Food Fun » Hawaii Grown Tea – Another Hidden Gem honestly tends to make my life somewhat brighter 😀 Keep going together with the spectacular posts! Thank you, Thank you

  • ted mala says:

    can I purchase this in HOnolulu? Where?

  • randy says:

    Hi Ted,
    Thanks for your inquiry, but to be honest, I am not sure it is available in Honolulu. It is such a small cottage industry that I am not familiar with the distribution. Perhaps a Google search for Hawaii-grown Tea would provide you access.


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