The invitation said 'Experience the Art & Pleasure of Tea' - on a recent Sunday, Slow Food Hawai'i hosted a tour and tea tasting at the Onomea Tea Company, a premier Hawai'i tea boutique farm where 100% certified organic, hand-crafted artisan tea varietals are grown, harvested and packaged.
Not sure what happened with this blurry bit...but this is a partial view of the upper tea planting - the Asian teas.
To make white tea, only the very single top bit is used. The three leaf tips are used for green, oolong or black tea. The bluriness persisted!
About 15 people, some from nearby areas and some as far as the Kohalas, got together to walk around the farm while hosts Mike Longo and Rob Nunally conducted a tour describing the plants, the process for growing and what to look for when 'tea picking'.
Rob and Mike are committed to growing tea organically and sustainably, with the least amount of external intrusion, even using the trimmings and waste of plants from the property for mulching the rows of tea plants.
Located on a bluff right above beautiful Onomea Bay, the tea farm is not only a working place but a place of beauty and relaxation - although the relaxation is the part enjoyed by the guests!
Tea is made from the top leaves of the Camellia sinensis, a member of the camellia family but with a very small and what most people would call an insignificant bloom.
The tea house is open on all sides offering breezes and a bit of respite - a section of the teas from India in the foreground.
The house sitting amid fields of tea
Tea settings at the table
The tray for the Gongfu Cha tasting - a Chinese style tea ceremony
During the tasting, tea was poured into the small, narrow 'aroma' cups which are then inverted over the small tea cups and then inmediately picked up to smell the lingering aroma of the tea left in the cup.
We learned that white and green tea contain more caffeine since the higher leaves of the plant - the tips - contain higher quantities of caffeine, and only the very tips are used for white and the tips and the next two leaves below are harvested for green tea. Oxidation changes the chemistry of the antioxidents in tea.
We tasted three different teas, and each was tasted in several different 'brewings' using the same leaves for each brewing. What follows are my own and others impressions of each tasting.
Whole Leaf Green - 1st brew: Beautiful light green color, delicate grassy aroma and taste...someone mentioned it reminded them of the smell of fresh garden peas. 2nd brew: stronger flavor and aroma, a bit more astringent.
Dark Oolong - 1st brew: golden color, sweeter taste with a hint of vanilla. 2nd brew: less 'sweet' and deeper aroma. To me the taste reminded me of 'sun heated grass'. 3rd brew: much darker amber color, very astringent aftertaste but the first taste is a bit mellower than in the 2nd brewing.
Whole Leaf Black - 1st brew: a bit more oxidation, deeper amber color, much stronger in aroma. Higher acidity but a smoother taste. Someone compared it to a caramel malt, but I could taste hints of sugarcane or molasses. 2nd brew: mellower taste, smoother with no acidity. 3rd brew: darker color, much mellower but no hint of sweetness left.
The brewed tea leaves can be used in cooking. The most popular dish made with brewed tea leaves is the Lahpet or Burmese Tea Salad, but the leaves can also be added to quick breads such as nut or banana breads. Rob bakes a delicious tea bread and he shared the recipe with me a few years ago for a previous blog post and you can find the recipe by clicking on the link at the bottom.
The sweets served with our tea were compliments of Short n Sweet bakery in Hilo; delicious liliko'i and shortbread bars, German chocolate bars and a Hilo bars made with macnuts.
The gates to the property are the work of Big Island artist Henry Bianchini and were the inspiration for the labels used by Onomea Tea Company.
Find Rob Nunally's Tea Bread recipe here: Afternoon Tea on Onomea Bay
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