Tea plants were originally brought to the islands over a century ago, but it wasn’t until recently, around 20 years ago that tea was reimported and a consistent effort was undertaken to grow and produce tea that is unique to our island.
Tea cultivars grown in China, Taiwan, Japan and India were selected and brought to Hawai‘i and planted on small farms in Waimea, Pa‘auillo, Mountain View and Volcano and for the past 15 years black, oolong, green and white teas have been produced, not only on Hawai‘i, but now on Maui and Kaua‘i.
Teas are grown mauka to makai; that is from as high as 4000 ft. in elevation at the summit of Kīlauea volcano down to sea level in Onomea, just outside of Hilo and at every elevation in between in Kea‘au, Kurtistown and Mountain View as well as Pa‘auillo and Waimea.
The unique terroir of Hawai‘i that is found nowhere else in the world gives the teas grown and processed in Hawai‘i a uniqueness that cannot be duplicated. From the naturally acidic volcanic soils, the clean unpolluted air, the abundant rains, the ‘Ōhi‘a forests, the perfect temperatures and the absence of major tea pathogens and pests, they all combine to make the teas grown in Hawai‘i extra special and worthy of your consideration.
Abby’s Ohana Tea prides itself in its efforts in sustainability. The tea in our tea garden is grown under the strictest of organic practices and we mulch our excess tea trimmings back into our farm’s own compost along with the Hāpu‘u tree fern fronds mixed with organic crumbles and liquid organic feed to nourish and grow our tea. We try through our processes to be as carbon neutral as possible, letting the tea soak up as much carbon as possible, creating a richer soil. Picking and processing by hand, we leave the land better than we found it for the generations that are coming after we are gone.
The teas take on their own distinctive taste and flavor. Each cultivar has its own genetic makeup which is expressed in its growth rate, leaf shape and thickness, moisture content and chemical composition, not forgetting the touch of the tea crafter too.
Our Hawaiian Dragon Bohea can trace its origins back to the Wuyi Mountains in northern Fujian. Grown at high elevations, this tea in China is said to be worth more than its weight in gold. Our Bohea undergoes a similar processing as our Benikaori tea. Bohea, however, has a bouquet that is truly unique amongst our teas. It has floral characteristics in its aroma and taste of citrus and jasmine as well as smoky woody notes that come from the ‘Ōhi‘a that the tea grows under and alongside. This tea, like its relations on the mountainsides of Fujian, is prized because of the distinctive terroir of the mountainside on which it is grown in Volcano. Our Hawaiian Dragon Bohea is a darker tea, and the leaves are thin and twisted with slight balling.
The Benikaori cultivar which we use to make our Kīlauea Beauty was developed to produce a black tea that has a flavor uniquely suited for the American market. Benikaori 2+1 leaves and shoots are withered overnight and hand rolled over a period of 2 hours before each tea ball is carefully separated into the individual rolled tea leaves and allowed to oxidize under conditions of high humidity until the tea has transformed from emerald green to a deep bronze and a jasmine fragrance fills the room. After oxidation is completed the tea is wok fired and finished to a water content of 3-4%.
The Benikaori cultivar which we use to make our Mauna Loa Estate Oolong was developed in Japan for the American palate. Oolong is a traditional semi-oxidized Chinese tea (Camellia sinensis) produced through a process including withering the plant under strong sun and oxidation before curling and twisting. The degree of oxidation, which varies according to the chosen duration of time before firing, can range from 8% to 85%, depending on the variety and production style. Oolong is especially popular in China and in Southeast Asia.
Yutaka Midori cultivars were developed for green tea and when plucked and slightly withered, the grassy and floral notes shine through. On drying, our tea turns a dark shade of Connaught Green. When wetted, the greenness of the leaves shines through. After a 3 minute steep your cup will be filled with a warm green liquor from the unoxidized and fully unfolded leaves found in your teapot.
When initially planting out Abby’s Ohana Tea we carved out a small area for a select few Camellia sinensis var. assamica plants. These were going to be grown so we could produce a black tea reminiscent of the tea Ronald drank as a young man in Ireland. We soon discovered that the black tea produced was too good not to share. It has a naturally sweet taste that removes the need for additional honey, sugar or other sweetener. It is low in tannins making it much less astringent so removing the need to add milk. Its bright orange color is warming to the soul, its mouth feel is soft, but its full body satisfies your craving for a rich tea. It is an earthy, woody tea as our tea is grown in the heart of the Ohia rainforest of Hawaii. It is a coppery appearance as the bright orange color illuminates the cup into which it is poured. Its bouquet takes you to a place that if you close your eyes you are transported to the teahouses that sit along Piccadilly or along Pall Mall in London.
These unique teas are grown in an environment that some would say was made for tea. As West Hawai‘i has an environment fitted to produce the best coffee in the world, so East Hawai‘i and especially the slopes of Kīlauea has an environment uniquely suited to the growing of the world’s best tea.
We at Abby’s Ohana Tea use only the best leaves, grown in the best conditions and produced in a manner that best suits the teas of Hawai‘i. We bring you the highest quality whole rolled leaves for a cup of tea of your choice, whether first thing in the morning, at lunch, high tea, or at suppertime.
We hope you enjoy your tea drinking experience and come back again to savor all we have to offer at Abby’s Ohana Tea.
As we start this journey in tea we should, as they say in Hawai‘i … Ho’omoe Wai Kahi Ke Kao’o, let us travel together like water flowing in one direction.
Mahalo nui loa, Ke Akua pū, and a hui hou, from our ohana to you and yours, Aloha.