Hawaiian tea producers Eva and Chiu

Canton Tea Club Week 5: Hawaiian Volcano Green

The first sip of the Volcano Green was a revelation to all of us: a moment of pure tropical bliss. We hope you are as excited by this tea as we are. It is the first of three teas (oolong and white follow in the next two weeks) grown in the lush rainforest environment of the volcanic island paradise that is Hawaii. 

We were introduced to Hawaiian tea by Jane Pettigrew, who recently visited Hawaii and was seriously impressed with the work Eva Lee is doing to produce artisan teas and promote tea culture on the island. Eva and her husband Chiu are involved with all aspects of the teas production: from picking to selling, and are pioneers in bringing the culture of tea to Hawaii.

Eva answered my questions on the history of tea production in Hawaii and the making of this week’s tea.

Kate: How long have people been making tea in Hawaii?

Eva: Research in tea was reintroduced in the year 2000. Farms have been in commercial production for the past 6 years.

Kate: How long have you been growing tea?

Eva: Chiu and I have been growing tea for 10 years and have been in commercial production of rare teas for 6 years. The Volcano Green is new as of 2012.

Kate: What makes Hawaii a good place to grow tea?

Eva: Isolated from other countries, no pollution and minimal pests. Hawaii has the perfect acidic soils to grow tea due to past and present volcanic activity, clean air and pure clean water.

Kate: How did you get involved with the Hawaiian tea industry?

Eva: The announcement made to the public from research scientist Dr. Francis Zee from USDA (Pacific Basin Agriculture Research) that Hawaii had excellent conditions for growing tea initiated our interest in tea agriculture. Since that time I formed a collective of growers interested in working together to bring Hawaii grown teas global.

Kate: What elevations are the teas grown at?

Eva: The teas are grown at 4000′ and 3600′ elevations. Presently our farm grows the highest elevation teas in Hawaii at 4000′.

Kate: How is the Volcano green made?

Eva: In 2011 we had met with tea growers from Japan at the World Tea Expo discussing harvesting techniques and the challenges to increase production without mechanical harvesters. The US environmental protection agency changed their laws a few years ago blocking importation on two cycle engines used in tea farming that were not US EPA certified and since the US is not known as a tea producing country it is impossible for manufacturers to retool for US regulation unless a huge volume of mechanical harvesters are requested.

One step closer, the folks from Japan were kind enough to send us an old family hand shears for tea harvesting. So our process in harvesting is first hand harvest the top bud and two leaves and then shear the third leaf. We pan fire to stop the oxidation, roll and roast dry.

Kate: Finally, why do you think Hawaiian tea is special?

Eva: We are pioneering domestic USA Hawaii Grown Teas free of pesticides and chemicals etc. Hawaii grown tea has a unique history developed through numerous collaborations with USDA, College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources. Many individuals from the County to Federal government have completed further research for us tea artists of Hawaii interested in small scale specialty crops.

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