At Arbor Teas, we’re regularly challenged by our customers to track down new and interesting organic teas from exotic locales. At the same time, we’ve seen increasing interest in domestically-grown sources of organic tea. It’s fascinating to think these seemingly opposite trends led us to the same place – aloha, Hawaii!
The objectives of our trip were threefold:
Happily, we were remarkably successful on all three fronts!
Agriculture, Climate, and Tea in Hawaii
Hawaiian agriculture has seen dramatic shifts in recent years – many for the worse, unfortunately. For over a thousand years, Hawaiians were able to produce enough food locally to support a population exceeding one million people. But with the introduction of large-scale agriculture and global trade, increasing reliance on a diminishing number of crops has led the islands to a fragile agroeconomy. In a place as fertile as Hawaii, it is shocking to know that 85%-90% of their food is now imported.
Hawaii is perhaps most known for its production of foods like Kona coffee (yum!), macadamia nuts, and exotic fruits. But one of its largest commodity crops – sugar cane – has slowly left the island over the last couple decades to be produced more cheaply elsewhere. This has a lot of folks worried about the future of Hawaii’s agricultural economy, many of whom are looking to new crops, like tea, to shore things up.
And it’s no wonder – Hawaii provides an awesome environment for tea growing! Few places seem so lush and full of life. And the big island possesses volcanic soil of the perfect acidity, plenty of moisture (at least on the east side), and mountainous terrain offering countless microclimates. Can you say terroir?
Tea growing on the big island really only started in earnest over the last 12-15 years, with early support and encouragement from folks at the USDA and University of Hawaii. And since it takes a minimum of four to five years for these beloved plants to achieve meaningful production, Hawaii-grown tea has only been available for a handful of years, and in very short supply.
Hawaii’s Amazing Tea Farms
The remarkable agricultural setting offered by Hawaii has given rise to several pioneering farms, four of which we visited during our recent journey. They included Onomea Tea Farm, Big Island Tea, Tea Hawaii & Company, and (of course!) Mauna Kea Tea Farm.
Onomea Tea Farm
Just north of Hilo, HI, on a bluff overlooking Onomea Bay, lies the Onomea Tea Farm. In spite of it’s relatively low elevation of 200 feet, it is a top contender for the most picturesque destination on our itinerary – you can literally watch whales passing in the waters nearby, right from the tea fields!
Proprietors Rob and Mike very graciously toured the property with us, showcasing not only their certified organic tea operation, but also their efforts to return the property’s other vegetation to a more natural state (so sad to see how much of the island was overrun by exotic invasive plants). We sampled four of their delicious teas with them – gong fu style – ranging from green to black, including a wonderfully-aromatic oolong that held up nicely to multiple infusions.
Big Island Tea
Northeast of Volcano, HI, nestled amidst vast preserved forest land at 2800 feet, we found Big Island Tea. In addition to touring their lovely property (much of which they’re in the process of re-foresting), we had the pleasure of helping proprietors Eliah and Cam around the farm. All the while, they shared their tea knowledge and enthusiasm for farming with us, including their passion for ecology and genetic diversity.
After “earning our keep” a bit, we lunched with them and sampled a few of their teas – strictly black teas – once again, gong fu style. This was a particular treat, as Big Island Tea’s entire production is purchased and sold by Harrod’s, London’s most famous high-end department store. We felt luxurious, indeed!
Tea Hawaii & Company
At roughly 4000 feet, Tea Hawaii sits at the highest elevation we visited. Their growing occurred both under the forest canopy that covers much of the property, as well as areas that were considerably more open. It was fascinating to see how the different varietals grown there reacted to the different environments available on the farm. At the end of our stay, Eva cupped a variety of teas: white, green, oolong, and two blacks, one from her farm as well as another made from leaves grown on another farm in the area. All were delicious.
Like many of the growers we met, proprietor Eva Lee is a strong advocate for the growth and development of Hawaii’s tea trade. She emphasized the difference between “Hawaiian tea” (a botanical relative of the nettle plant indigenous to Hawaii, called mamaki), versus “Hawaii-grown tea” (tea made from the plant Camellia sinensis specifically grown and manufactured on the Hawaiian islands), versus Camellia sinensis tea imported from abroad and marketed by companies in Hawaii as “Hawaiian Tea”. I’m sure we’ll hear more about efforts to define and protect the identity of Hawaii-grown teas.
Mauna Kea Tea Farm
Mauna Kea Tea Farm produces our Organic Hawaii Premium Green Tea and Organic Hawaii Sweet Roast Green Tea. Located at just over 2000 feet elevation on the north side of the big island, Mauna Kea was the largest of the farms we saw, both in terms of the number of plants as well as total cultivated acreage. They had a variety of plots at different stages of growth, which gave an interesting view into the evolution of their farm.
After a leisurely tour of their beautiful farm, we spent literally hours cupping teas with husband and wife team Taka and Kimberly, along with their beautiful children. In addition to sampling their “official” offerings (Premium Green, Spring Green, Sweet Roast, and Oolong), they had some special surprises up their sleeves for us. These included a brilliantly green first flush, a tightly-rolled, tippy green tea Taka called “Hawaiian Sand” that was rich and pungent, and more. Perhaps most noteworthy was his latest batch of Premium Green that was a mere 12 hours old! We’ve NEVER had tea so fresh!
We were so grateful for the generosity, hospitality, and friendship offered by all the growers we encountered on our trip, and can’t wait for the next opportunity to visit them!
Reflections on What We Discovered
Unlike areas long-established in the tea industry, there is no single way that tea is made in Hawaii yet. It was incredible to find such variety in the vision and approach amongst Hawaii’s tea growers. Examples of this diversity included:
One thing all of the farms shared in common, however, was their stewardship of the land. Even the farms that weren’t certified organic took great pains to nourish the soil through aggressive composting, and to work *with* the natural landscape instead of against it. Definitely our cup of tea! You can believe that we’ll watch with rapt attention and great enthusiasm as the Hawaiian tea industry continues to flourish!
Mahalo for reading!]]>
Organic Korea Woojeon Green Tea
This is an excellent representation of the highest grade of organic green tea from Korea. Plucked in early to mid-April, this tea has a beautiful, smooth cup of concentrated vegetal flavor that lingers in the mouth and evaporates on the mid-tongue. The tight, small dark green leaves have the occasional bright green wisp of a curl that hints at the light yellow, jade-like liquor to come. Its cup is thicker in mouthfeel than our other Korean green tea, Organic Sejak, and represents the most premium of Korean Green Teas.
Organic Korea Sejak Green Tea
More akin to a Japanese green tea flavor profile than a Chinese green tea flavor profile, this Organic Sejak Green Tea has a brothy and boldly vegetal cup that pleasantly lingers in the mouth with smooth, mild astringency. The liquor color reminds of an early spring dandelion and the wet leaves smell of dried straw and cooked asparagus with a brighter and thinner cup than our Organic Woojeon Green Tea. PS – If you like Sencha Green, then try this tea! It is a great alternative for someone looking to replace their Sencha with a new organic tea or want to mix it up.
2013 Holiday Shipping Schedule
Also, plan ahead as Arbor Teas will have Reduced Hours for the Holidays: Dec 24, 2013 – Jan 3, 2014:.
Arbor Teas will have reduced hours for the holidays, Tue, Dec 24 – Fri, Jan 3. We will still accept online orders and make shipments during this time, but please plan for a slower turnaround (expect 3-4 days before an order is shipped). Free Delivery in Ann Arbor will continue as planned each Friday during this time period.
Wishing Everyone a Very Merry Holiday and Happy New Year!]]>
Our gourmet Tea Infused Chocolate Truffles are back for the holidays! We have offered these tasty little treats during the holiday season for 5 years in a row, brought back each year by popular demand. They are amazing! Each truffle is infused with a different variety of organic tea, carefully matched with the perfect combination of chocolates to highlight the unique characteristics of each. Flavors include: Earl Grey; Coconut Rooibos; Masala Chai; Jasmine; Matcha; and Lapsang Souchong. Available in a 6-pack and 4-pack assortment.
Enjoy sweet and smoky tea infused artisan caramels. Last year we introduced our Tea Infused Caramels based on Olivia May’s most popular recipe from the Arbor Teas Cooking with Tea section. They were a huge hit! In fact, they sold out in the first few weeks forcing Olivia to run back to the kitchen to make more caramels by mid-November. This year, Sweet Gem Confections is re-creating Olivia’s recipe so that we can offer these tasty treats again for the holiday season. Think buttery sweet smoke wrapped in one amazingly gooey and salty caramel!
Organic Holiday Spice Black Tea (NEW — available in decaf too!) A perennial favorite for the holiday season (and only sold in November and December), our organic and Fair Trade Certified Holiday Spice Black Tea is now joined by its decaf companion. Both pair bold organic Indian tea with generous doses of orange, cinnamon and clove flavor! Like all of our flavored blends, our Holiday Spice Black Tea uses only the highest quality organic loose leaf tea, essential oils and botanical ingredients, insuring an excellent cup every time.
New for this holiday season! We have teamed up with our friends at Sweet Gem Confections to create fun and Fabulous Tea Infused Lollipops. Yes, you read that correctly! These unique handmade hard candies make a one of-a-kind gift for yourself or fellow tea lover and contain a concentrated infusion of our organic tea. Available in 3 distinctive “grown-up” flavors (as seen in the photo from left to right): Southern Sweet Tea; Matcha Mint; and Crimson Berry. Sold in sets of 6, every package is tied with a ribbon and includes 2 each of the 3 flavors.
Holiday Gift Sets are Available! Choose between two tea inspired gift sets (regular and deluxe) for the tea lover or the tea novice in your life. The gift sets are tied with a raffia ribbon for a festive touch and shipped in an eco-minded kraft box. Plus, the price already includes a built-in 15% savings!]]>
What is Fair Trade?
Millions of growers and workers worldwide have dedicated themselves to the production of tea. We have their knowledge, skill and artistry to thank for this exquisite product. Most tea is grown and manufactured in developing countries, which often lack fair wages and suitable working conditions. However, the best tea gardens and cooperatives understand that high-quality specialty teas depend on the people and the environment that produce them. Fair Trade Certification verifies and acknowledges the commitment of these producers to meeting internationally recognized Fair Trade standards, which include:
• Wages that meet or exceed legally established minimums
• Absence of forced or child labor
• Freedom of association and organization
• Safe working conditions, including protection from exposure to harmful agrochemicals
• Adherence to national and international labor protections, including those established by the International Labor Organization of the United Nations and, in India, by the Plantation Labor Act
Recently, Hawaii has begun to make its mark in the tea world. With support from the University of Hawaii, tea production in Hawaii has been encouraged and developed. When we found a USDA Organic Certified tea garden on the Big Island we couldn’t have been more thrilled. Cultivated on the misty slopes of the tallest mountain in the Pacific Ocean, this tea is harvested and manufactured in micro-lots on the Mauna Kea Tea Farm in Hawaii. Its namesake, Mauna Kea (pronounced “MOUN-na KAY-a”), means “white mountain” and provides a rich base of volcanic soil for this small, family-owned tea farm tucked away at 2,000 ft above sea level on the Hamakua Coast of the Big Island.
Organic Hawaii Premium Green Tea
Handpicked from the newest spring growth and pan-fired, this Premium Hawaiian Organic Green Tea is a work of art. Each dried twist reminds of a bonsai limb artfully created to reveal the whole leaf and bud. The brew is a beautifully clear, light yellow-green that is subtly complex: delicate; smooth; buttery; green; and sweet. Enjoy the slight dryness felt on the backend and note how it becomes more astringent as it cools. A USA-grown green tea that can stand up to its international counterparts — a true delight!
Organic Hawaii Sweet Roast Green Tea
The Organic Sweet Roast Green Tea is selectively harvested, processed, and roasted to accentuate its naturally sweet character, reduce astringency, and add a slight roasted quality that hints at grilled sweet corn. Easy to prepare and easy to drink, the Sweet Roast is a popular drink in Hawaiian Farmer’s Markets and is delicious hot or iced. The wet leaves smell of sweet hay and create a brothy, vegetal cup that has a bright note felt at the back of the throat.
Recently, she posted a new recipe for Chai Iced Tea Cubes using Arbor Teas Organic English Breakfast Black Tea and created a giveaway of Arbor Teas tea samples.
Of her Chai Iced Tea Cubes recipe, Willow says: “I love to wrap my hands around a nice hot chai in the winter, but in the summer months I prefer a cooler option. That’s where these super-concentrated chai iced tea cubes come in. Just add a couple cubes to a glass of milk (or dairy-free substitute), and you’ve got a refreshing glass of iced chai tea.”
We think Chai Iced Tea Cubes is simply a brilliant idea!
Check out her recipe and giveaway!]]>
We made a Facebook poll to keep track of which steeper is the most common! Let us know which Tea Personality YOU are by Monday, July 8, and we’ll enter you in a drawing to win a free Arbor Teas T-shirt. The winner will be announced on our Facebook page on Wednesday, July 10!
The Super Steeper
The Serious Steeper
The Sidetracked Steeper
The Serene Steeper
The Simple Steeper
Well, this already complicated system might be getting even more complicated. As reported in the Business Standard today, the Tea Board of India is proposing to rate tea factories too. During his address at the inaugural session of the 24th annual general meeting of Federation of All India Tea Traders Association (FAITTA), the chairman of the Tea Board Board of India, M G V K Bhanu, announced that the Tea Board of India has proposed to give all the tea factories in India a category rating ranging from A to D, with A being the top quality category. Bhanu stressed this rating system would help spread awareness about the importance of good quality tea among the small tea growers and ensure good quality tea production in the country.
“We propose to map all the tea factories on some of the key parameters. An independent agency will take samples of tea from these factories and certify them with respective categories like A, B, C and D. This will give the factories an identity and ensure the quality production of tea,” said Tea Board of India chairman Bhanu.]]>