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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Isle growers heading to Tea Expo

By Wanda A. Adams
Advertiser Food Editor

Some years ago at a food festival, a Big Island farmer showed me a bag of tea leaves he'd grown and dried and predicted that tea would become an important part of agriculture here.

I've seen lots of what sound like good farming ideas come and go and was skeptical.

But now a delegation of tea growers from three islands are preparing to attend the World Tea Expo in Las Vegas next month, and the Islands are the largest tea producer in the United States (although still a tiny industry).

Project director Eva Lee said the group will include four tea growers who will also be taking along value-added tea products from three others.

The tea growers owe much to research carried out in recent years through the work of Dr. Francis Zee of the U.S. Department of Agriculture Agricultural Research Service and the University of Hawai'i-Mānoa's College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources' tea project. A particular challenge was finding the right, high-quality root stock and learning how to dry and roast tea. At the Mealani Research station in Kamuela a few years ago, I tagged along with Alan Wong and a group of young chefs to watch this process.

Tea growers here include Eva Lee of Tea Hawai'i and Co., Kimberly Ino of Mauna Kea Tea (both Big Island), Liam Ball of Nā Liko Tea Garden (Maui), Michelle Rose of Clearwater Tea Farm (Kaua'i), Mike Riley of Volcano Tea Garden, John Cross of Johnny's Garden and Alex Wood of Volcano Winery (all Big Island). They are producing white, green, oolong and black teas with characteristics particular to the Islands.

There is a Hawaii Tea Society and the growers meet to share information and collaborate, Lee said.

Besides attending the expo, they will host a visit next month from renowned tea expert and consultant Jane Pettigrew, who works in the United Kingdom and travels the world's tea regions; she has written 13 books on various aspects of tea.

Pettigrew will appear at 3 p.m. June 4 at the Mealani Research Station (808-887-6185) and 3:30 p.m. June 6 at Volcano Art Center (808-967-8222) to give a cupping evaluation of locally grown teas.

Information: Eva Lee, 808-967-7637.