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Is There Tea Growing in the US?

Joy's Teaspoon News JT Herself

Hawaii Debuts Legislation to Solidify Growth of Tea Industry

by JT Herself

I do a lot of organized tea tastings and events and the #1 question I hear is: "Do we grow tea here in the US?"  Why yes, yes we do!  And if Hawaiians have their way...everyone on the mainland will be in on their secret! My husband and I had the pleasure of spending 10 glorious days in Kauai and Oahu back a few years ago.  We snorkeled, hiked, kayaked, luau'd and had one too many Mai Tai's. The weather was near perfect and we left the islands a few pounds heavier than when we arrived. At the time, I wasn't a raging TEA-aholic. Hindsight being 20/20, I do wish I would have ventured through some of the great tea offerings Hawaii has to offer! Tea is not new to the islands. In fact, the University of Hawaii's College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources (CTAHR) has a great write-up on the history of tea and its' impact on the current burgeoning industry coming from the West. "Camellia sinensis was first brought to Hawai‘i in 1887. The Hawaiian Coffee and Tea Co. established a five-acre plantation in Kona in 1892, but eventually it was abandoned due to economic reasons." (CTAHR website)  If it's been there so long, then why are we just starting to hear about and taste these teas?  There are a number of factors at play:

  1. The famous sugar crops of Hawaii have run their course and there is renewed interest, and land availability, in other agricultural offerings.
  2. The cost of labor, and therefore the final cost of the tea per pound, has always been a hindrance for Hawaiian grown teas to make a major play in the States.  With the current booming tea market and focus on health, consumers are beginning to realize, and pay top dollar, for the work that goes into producing orthodox teas.
  3.  Last, but certainly not least, is that the teas are good.  I had the pleasure of sampling Hawaiian grown teas at the 2010 and 2011 World Tea EXPO held here in Las Vegas.  The leaves are huge and the teas have incredible flavor and body.  Very unique and like nothing I've had before.

It's exciting to know that there is quality tea being grown right here in the United States. Not every climate is ideal for tea but Hawaii most certainly has an advantage with it's warm temps and adequate rainfall.  Perhaps my favorite part is that the growers are all small compared to the size of a tea garden in Japan, China, India and Sri Lanka.  I'm a huge small business lover and these companies are working with just a few acres each.   There is a very hands on approach to growing and processing the teas and the growers are striving to educate themselves via other tea growing regions (namely Japan), the Hawaiian Tea Society and U of H's efforts. In an effort to protect the tea farmers, Hawaiian tea consumers and the specialty tea industry on the islands, Senate Bill 2957 has been introduced in state legislature to regulate the marketing placed on packaging.  Per WestHawaiiToday.com, "The statement 'Blended from Hawaii-grown teas and other teas not grown in Hawaii' would have been required on all labels for blends, those containing no less than 25 percent of Hawaii-grown tea by weight, the bill stated."

To be discussed in later posts, there are two other tea growing locales that I am aware of here in the US.  Bigelow owns/operates the Charleston Tea Plantation in South Carolina. There is also Sakuma Brothers Farms in Burlington, Washington, that grow and sell their teas. Have you had any experience with teas grown right here in the United States? How did they hold up to their international counterparts?

Sources

Tea History: Hawaii and CTAHR (The CTAHR Tea Project)

Legislation Backs Hawaiian-Grown Tea (World Tea News) Feb. 15, 2012

Time for Tea by Carolyn Lucas-Zenk (WestHawaiiToday.com) Feb. 16, 2012

Tea Production in the United States (Wikipedia.com)

Hawaii Tea Society



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  • The Lazy Literatus (Geof on

    I’ve had teas from Charleston, Sakuma, and Tea Hawaii. They were all quite superb. I’d say the U.S. is off to a dandy start in the tea trade. The Mauka oolong is DEFINITELY worth your valuable sip.

  • The Tea And Hat Lady on

    I just enjoyed a cuppa of Hawaiian tea — a Mauka Oolong. The tea definitely reflects the volcanic soil in which it is grown. I look forward to enjoying more Hawaiian tea! Thank you for helping to bring this hidden treasure to the forefront.

  • joysteaspoon on

    Passionate is a great term for Hawaiian growers and thank you for sharing that! They were so kind at the EXPO and wanted to share their excitement about their teas with anyone that would listen. That kind of excitement is contagious!

  • Robert Wemischner on

    I have had the pleasure of cooking with Hawaii grown teas at the Taste of the Hawaiian Range in 2011 on the Big Island; wonderful subtle teas, passionate and knowledgeable growers…..and now with the Government’s backing perhaps a greater awareness of one more of the agricultural riches of the Islands.


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