These notes are maintained by
Ben Discoe (who also has a
How to grow tea in Hawai‘i?
Jump to any subject: Tea Society
Books, Articles, Media Coverage
, Big Island Tea Growers
Harvesting and Processing
, Soil and Fertilizer
, Pests and Diseases
- There are endless resources on buying tea, brewing tea,
drinking tea, selling tea, and so forth - but very few on growing
- TeaUSA.org is the site for:
- The Tea Association of the USA, Inc., The Tea Council of the USA, and
the Specialty Tea Institute (STI)
- to do: learn more about these
- The (English) Wikipedia articles on
Tea (the beverage) and
- If you can read Traditional Chinese characters (or just want to look at
interesting maps and pictures) then the Professional
Consultancy for Chinese Healthy Kung-Fu Tea has an amazing wealth of information.
- Some areas are partly bilingual; we've tried
Google Translate for
sometimes hilarious but often fairly close results.
- Most online resources such as
startateabusiness.com ($500 for access to some
educational materials, hard sell) assume you will be retailing or catering tea.
- For really big tea operations, there are international consultants such
as Teacraft which can help with sourcing,
growing, processing, packaging, marketing etc. but we here on the island of
Hawai'i are still a bit small for that.
- The Hawai'i Tea Society (HTS)
is nonprofit organization with a few dozen people. There is no mailing
list, and the forums are
idle. They do schedule meetings and occasionally arrange for interesting
- Their site section on
Growing Tea has a few good small articles.
is the focus of a USDA Hawai'i project, which doesn't seem to have a page on
the USDA website, although "Investigating the Potential of Tea, Camellia sinensis,
as a High Value Niche Market Crop for Hawaii:" is mentioned on
AGRICULTURAL POSTHARVEST, VALUE-ADDED PRODUCTS AND PROCESSING PROGRAM,
in their 2005 Annual Report
- That report, as well as the CTAHR website, mentions that "Over 10,000
cuttings were provided from the Mealani Research Station in June 2005 to
initiate their program". If true, where
did those 10,000 cuttings go?
- The USDA station on the Big Island doing tea research is south of Hilo on
the Stainback Highway. It is component of
Basin Agricultural Research Center).
Zee is the Research Leader.
- USDA Tea pictures
shows a rooted cutting, flower, plants and hedges in Hawai'i.
- They have distributed cuttings a few times, through the HTS, see below under 'Tea Plants:
University of Hawai'i College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources (CTAHR)
has a tea research program.
- The program includes three tea experimental planting areas, in Volcano,
Hilo, and Mealani.
- Strangely, although it's a fairly large program involving tens of thousands
of plants, the CTAHR website seem to have little mention the program, or tea
- CTAHR does have lots of great general material about
Agricultural in Hawai‘i, although it does not apply (much) to tea.
Dwight Sato is the CTAHR person to contact about tea. That's him in
the tea field at Volcano to the right.
- CTAHR helped launch the annual 'Taste of the Hawaiian Range' event back
in 1996; since at least 2003 it has served tea samples and tea information at
- CTAHR publications on tea:
Tea Plants: Seeds
- I tried looking online for a source of tea seeds. I am assuming that importing
cuttings could be complex because we are in Hawai'i, but seeds should be OK.
However, looking online didn't turn up much. The only company i found selling
seeds online is SeedRack which:
1. Was out of stock on tea when i visited.
2. Lists it as just "Camellia sinensis" with no cultivar/variety name at all.
- There was an effort by a few island tea growers to do a bulk order of
assamica seeds. Specifically there appears to have been a order from Assam,
and a later order from Darjeeling.
- 2006-2007: Eliah, Mel and others worked with and distributing seeds/seedlings
from Darjeeling. Eliah describes them thus:
- "These seeds come from plants grown from the same area where the best
Darjeeling has made its name. As for the origin, I cannot answer that. I
am not so set on origin of plant material. The proof is in the tasting.
Unless one does the DNA sampling, we are left to believe in its origin,
as stated by the seller. Just the same as we are faced with the USDA issued
Genetic scrambling is good according to my resident geneticist. Just yesterday
I was fertilizing one of my fields and I was talking about the variety in
appearance in the USDA issued Yabukita. Incidentally, my Yabukita is not
doing as well as the Benikaori and Darjeeling.
Since our stand of tea will be small, as we are small scale tea farmers,
there will be a blend of tea within our own farm. Again, this affirms my
believe that the exclusivity of monoculture and the status of one origin
over another will matter not once we taste what we have grown. Furthermore,
keeping small isolated gene pools is risky from a sustainability perspective."
- "The seeds were ordered from Himalayan Orchids, India. I met this fellow
3 1/2 years ago. By chance I found Himalayan Orchids on a tea search on
- March 2007: I got two flats of Darjeeling seedlings from Mel, 100 seeds
in each tray. Of those 200 seeds, around 100 were healthy young plants,
50 were germinated but getting a slow start, and 50 were duds. That seems
like a pretty good success rate.
- June 2010 summary: Two rows of the seedlings (around 50 plants) were
planted in the field in 2008. The appearance and growth habit of the
plants is very diverse. A few (2-3 plants) grow
abundantly and produce many harvestable tips, but the bulk grow strangely
(too sparse, too horizontal, too slowly, or few tips).
Mealani is one of the three CTAHR sites doing tea propagation and research.
It is located near Waimea at around 875m elevation with high rainfall.
Their tea is grown in a flat field of straight rows, with the soil covered by
permeable ground cloth, and both irrigation and fertilizer delivered by tubing
('fertigation'). Photos by Deb from
- They are doing many experiments with cultivation, propagation, etc.
Here are some in-ground rooted cuttings, and perennial peanut ground-cover:
- Mealani got their 4 original cultivars (presumably 'bohea', 'yutaka midoi',
'benikaori' and 'yabukita') from the
Lyon Arboretum on Oahu.
It is acknowledged that the lineage of some of these cultivars may not be exact.
- Some pictures by Deb of the cultivars:
- The head of the Ag Station,
Milton Yamasaki, says they are not so concerned with specific cultivars.
They have planted a large area with hundreds with individual seeds, the genetics
are randomized, and the plan is to go through the slow process of testing each
promising plant, producing rows of cuttings from them, and developing new Hawaii-specific
cultivar(s) with unique attributes.
- Reportedly, they've made good tea out of almost all the plants at Mealani,
even one batch made out of the randomized field of plants! Milton says other
indicators and advice from tea experts has not held up, e.g. the plants with
reddish tint to their leaves should have made an inferior tea, but in fact made
a superior tea to the light greenish bushes. In other words, it's all wide open
and full of new possibilities.
- "Bohea" is a particularly ambiguous cultivar designation. There is
no tea industry description of it; nobody has ever heard of it. (Maybe
we could hunt down someone at Lyon who would know more.) Both Mealani
and some HTS members have found "Bohea" to grow more healthy and vigorous than
other cultivars. But, Milton says that the tea they made from "Bohea" was not
so great, until they blended it with some other tea from down near Volcano,
and the resulting blend was very good.
Other Islands: Maui
- Liam Ball, Kaupakalua Maui (upper Haiku)
- His online journal
The Hāmākualoa Tea Garden has descriptions and pictures of
beginning tea in November 208, with 100 baby plants.
- "Elevation ~1200 feet - rainy side - The soil on
my property seems to be in very good shape - never was pineapple and was
cow pasture for about 25 years. It gets cool at night and stays pretty
72F-ish during the day. I have a nice lush valley that I am starting to
terrace in the hopes of planting some of the valley in tea. The
keiki are planted in soil (from my property), compost, and cinder. A
third a third a third."
Other Islands: Kauai
- Michelle Rose of Cloudwater Tea Farm, near Kilauea on Kauai
- no info online yet, although there is a
photo from 2004 that might be the tea on that farm
- The Kealia area on Kaua'i has a large tea operation planned (see
the Media page under
- kealanani.com is their website.
It has a few paragraph
about their planned
tea. A 'Kauai Tea Company' will be formed which then works with each
of the residents that will grow the tea.
- Not many other details are public yet. According to a consultant working
with them, they are bringing in live plant material from Africa and plan to
begin planting 2007. The local partner (Andy Friend, Kealanani project
manager) is also a member of the HTS. Encouragingly, they see it as the
more tea growers in Hawaii the better for the industry, so there should be plenty
of opportunity to be open and help each other.
- December 2007, New York Times article says: "Final approval from County
came in Sept., 47 lots went on sale, 15 are now under contract." It
includes a picture labeled 'Workers tend to green tea crops as Kealanani".
Apparently they are scraping away the surface, and using white plastic and
irrigation tubes, in very widely spaced rows:
- June 2008: We visited Kaua'i, drove around the Kealia area, took pictures,
and blogged it (Tea on Kaua’i
at Kealanani). There was no tea visible except for the test field,
which looked exactly like the New York Times photo from the previous year.
- As of 2007, it seems so far that Big Island growers have been selling their
(small to date) output directly, although there are reports that the
Bibbitea Bobbitea Brew tea
store on Oahu has carried some Big Island tea.
a list of tea stores in the state.
- As of 2008, there is one tea store on the island,
Kohala Winds of Change, which
sometimes has local tea in stock. As of 2010, it seems they moved to
Waimea, but still carry tea.
- Found in 2008: Hawai'i Community
College, Hawai`i Island Educational Explorations -- Volcano
- "We offer you and your family an educational exploration of our volcano
area. [...] You will also be ushered into a dreamlike world where a tea
garden exists and share in the pleasures of a Chinese Tea Ceremony. [...].
The fare for the national park tour, visit to a tea garden with tea ceremony,
chef cooking demonstration, and lunch is $96.00 per person. Thursdays 8:15
a.m.—3:30 p.m. or by appointment."
- Is this the TeaHawaii.com folks?
- Reportedly, tea doesn't mind being on a hill, so there is no need to terrace
steep land. The main reason to smooth the land is to make it physically
easier for people to do the cultivating, weeding/mowing, etc.
- A reference
from India says:
- Based on style of planting:
|Up and down:
||1.2 x 1.2 m
|Contour planting, single hedge:
||1.2 x 0.75 m
|Contour planting, double hedge:
||1.35 x 0.75 x 0.75 m
- The double hedge planting will accommodate more number of plants per
unit area. Early high yield, better soil conservation, less weed growth,
efficient cultural practices and better supervision are other advantages
of double hedge planting.
- Pits of size 30 x 45 cm. Keep the top and bottom soil separately. In
clayey soil and drought-prone areas, deeper pits (60 cm) or trench planting
will be advantageous. Planting hole of 45 cm wide and 75 cm depth are better
for establishment of young plants.
- Those numbers seem a bit high. A more typical range to expect is around
- In wetter areas, established tea can grow just fine with rainfall, so
irrigation is only needed for:
- keeping plants healthy and productive through droughts, dry spells
- very small plants, still getting established, without a root base
- delivery of fertilizer in the irrigation, for those (like Mealani)
who want to use 'fertigation'
- The major irrigation company Netafim
actually has a small page about
Tea plantation irrigation & Nutrigation
- There are basically two ways to harvest tea: by hand, or by machine.
Since the finest teas are hand-picked and Hawaii pretty much has to produce
fine tea to find its niche, it's assumed that most people here will take that
route. However, that's surely going to require a lot of labor. Are
each of the small growers currently hand-picking?
- Are they hand-picking
at the CTAHR fields at Mealani and Volcano? It seems not - the
Tea—a New Crop for Hawai‘i shows a pruning machine straddling a row at
- There is an experimental processing facility in Mealani since Fall 2005,
with some rolling and drying machines.
- Some videos on O-cha.com
"for those interested in the finer details of Japanese green tea", shows harvesting
and machine processing mostly, with some brief footage of hand processing.
- Processing bears on marketing: consider the target market. "How
do you take your organic green tea?"
- The classic CTAHR publication on
Tea has a section (pages 12-13) describing 12 steps that involve partial
oxidation, with a microwave oven in steps 6-7.
- A similar but different set of steps for Dr. Zee's microwave method is
on the page Make Your Own
- The eHow article
Process Green Tea also involves using a microwave oven (!)
- wikiHow's How to
Process Oolong Tea is vague (no times given)
How is Japanese sencha tea hand-processed? has a loose description of
the steps for sencha, with a few pictures. It doesn't show how the
leaves are steamed or spun-dried before the hand-rolling stage.
Apparently machines are involved. There are a few unclear
online of the machinery for the step called "leaf pounding" (葉打ち, bauchi)
- By one account, "a healthy 1-acre field of mature tea plants, those
growing at least five years, will produce 300 pounds of processed tea
annually". At 4000 plants/acre, that's around 34 g/plant/year.
- With our moderately young tea in 2010, we're getting (very
approximately) 10g/plant. This will presumably increase all the hedges
fill out and the roots grow out.
Misc. Tea Notes