Tea workshop presenters and attendees participate in a harvesting activity.
Fancy a cuppa tea, luv? The ubiquitous brew has moved far beyond its Asian roots and its obsessive allure for the Brits. In fact, tea (Camellia sinensis) is the most widely consumed beverage in the world, after water. Very little tea is grown in the U.S.—one place it does grow, though, is Hawai‘i. A recent report on the nascent tea industry in the Islands, presented to community stakeholders, legislators, and policy-makers by CTAHR in conjunction with Shidler College of Business, tells the story.
The cool, rainy volcanic slopes of the Big Island are well suited for tea growing, but there’s a lot more to the business than getting a good leaf. The questions and decisions keep coming: What is the appropriate density for growing the tea? CTAHR’s Mealani Research Station, which probably represents, according to the report, “the maximum yield under ideal conditions,” illustrates how many plants can be maintained per acre. Should the leaves be hand- or machine-processed? The report crunches the numbers to show the most costeffective choice. Marketing is also an issue. Some tea growers have formed collectives to market their teas under a common label and take advantage of economies of scale. Others use related inducements such as ecotourism or high tea service offers to entice customers to their misty, emerald-glowing plantations.
Then there’s the need for improved regulation. Partially because of its novelty and rarity, and partially because of its superior qualities, Hawai‘i-grown tea commands a high price amongst tea aficionados. However, a concern detailed by the report is the difficulty of distinguishing tea grown here from numerous brands that only leverage the image of Hawai‘i to sell tea grown elsewhere. Label protection similar to that afforded 100% Kona coffee is a goal of the industry, in order to protect the unique reputation of the real brew, and the report explains how to achieve this.
Tea is ready to take its place among other products with iconically Hawaiian images such as macadamias and pineapple, potentially offering a boost to both the agriculture and tourism industries, but information is needed to take that step, and this is the information Hawai‘i-Grown Tea: A Feasibility Study offers.