Tea in Strange Places – Hawaii

With all due respect to the good people of our fiftieth state, most of us in the other forty-nine and likely much of the world at large probably think of it as a sun-drenched vacation spot whose main exports are pineapple, macadamia nuts, and a high grade of coffee known as Kona. But in recent years Hawaii has been making a name for itself, albeit in a modest way thus far, for producing another popular beverage. Yes, you know the one. Tea!

Hawaii Tea Society (Photo source: screen capture from site)
Hawaii Tea Society (Photo source: screen capture from site)

As I’ve noted in a number of articles in these very pages, the United States is not exactly what you’d call a hotbed of tea production. The longest standing effort in this arena is in South Carolina, where they’ve been dabbling in tea for several centuries and where you can still find the Charleston Tea Plantation. More recent times have seen more modest efforts to grow tea in Washington and California and, most recently, a Mississippi farmer announced his intentions to get into the game.

If you’re trying to find out more about the tea industry in Hawaii, you could probably do a lot worse than to start with the Hawaii Tea Society. As one might guess, the organization and their Web site offer a wealth of information on tea production in the state.

While it appears that tea was grown in Hawaii as early as 1887, according to a tea-related bill proposed in the state legislature, serious efforts to cultivate it there date back only to not much more than a decade. According to a 2005 article in Businessweek magazine, “Hawaii tea is only about five years old and remains largely untried, with the current crop occupying less than eight acres.” Some of the earliest efforts there came about courtesy of the USDA and the University of Hawaii, who were exploring options for diversifying their local economy.

Seven years later, as Boston.com reported in an article on the aforementioned legislation, the state Senate was looking into making tea an official specialty crop for the state, with the bill setting “regulations for marketing and advertising Hawaii teas, making it clear which are 100 percent Hawaii grown and which are blends that include local teas. As the bill notes, “the purpose of this Act is to protect the marketing of Hawaii-grown tea by requiring labeling standards.” Read the full text of the bill here.

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