The World in a Tea Cup – Black Tea from Onomea Tea Company, the Big Island

Rows of tea and the beautiful view across the Onomea Bay, the Big Island of Hawai’i. ©EarthRelated

A cup of tea has a fragment of the world in it – I learned this while picking tea with friends at the Onomea Tea Plantation, on a sunny morning in July.

A perfect cup of tea draws its essence from the soil, the light, the climate, the passion of the people who grow the crop, and the joy of those who gather around it to experience the aroma, the flavors and to share stories. The goodness in a cup of Onomea Black Tea comes from the Hawaii’s unique micro-climates and the fertile soil that allow the Camellia sinensis to thrive. Both the climate and the soil are in essence linked with deeper energies inside the Earth, which define these islands in such a profound way.

Big Island of Hawai’i. Credit: NASA GSFC Landsat/LDCM EPO Team

It all started about two million years ago, when the Big Island came into existence from a temptation of the deep Earth to give birth to new land in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.  We geologists call this “temptation” a hot spot, a plume of hot magma from the Earth’s mantle, that pierces a lithospheric plate and forms a volcano.  The Big Island of Hawai’i is made of five such volcanoes that in time coalesced to give the beauty we enjoy today.  Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa are the two most important volcanoes on the island today.

There is immense beauty and a mystery beyond words in the delicate balance between the Earth’s inner forces, the climate and the life on the Big Island.  The tall volcanoes trap the moisture from the trade winds, so that barren basalt is quickly turned into fertile soil to nourish a lush tropical vegetation. There are nurturing tropical rains, small annual variations in the altitude of the sun above the horizon, small annual variations in the length of the daylight period, small variations in air temperature because of relatively constant flow of fresh ocean air across the Island.  All of this permeates every living being, human, animal or plant, with the unique spirit of Aloha:  the joyful sharing of life energy in the present.

Tea at the Onomea Tea Plantation. ©EarthRelated

All of this, and surely much more, inspired Mike and Rob, the owners of the Onomea Tea Company, to put their passion and time into growing tea on the Hamakua Coast.  I knew very little about tea before my visit and the picking on that July morning, but talking with Rob and Mike, and the entire experience of being there gave me a new appreciation for growing, processing, preparing and enjoying the tea. It showed me that tea has a culture built around it, which blends seamlessly with the geography and the geology of the place where it is grown.

Tea picking is a very social experience.  As you share row after row of plants with a partner, all you do is pick tea and talk.  I met my tea picking partner for the first time that day, but by the time we finished picking we talked about more things that I usually talk with some people who I know for ages, and it all came so naturally.  Drinking the tea, of course, is very much a social experience.  As we enjoyed a delicious meal on Rob and Mike’s lanai that afternoon, we tasted various kinds of teas, all prepared to perfection, we shared stories, watched the waves reaching the shore and enjoyed a perfect Hawaiian afternoon.

Onomea Black Tea. ©EarthRelated

Wherever I am, as I enjoy a cup of Black Tea from Hawai’i, the flavors, the color and the aroma always bring back that world to me: the tall volcanic mountains, the energy from deep inside the Earth that creates land in the middle of the ocean, the gentle rain, the trade winds, the fresh ocean air, the sunny and crisp days, the people and their spirit of Aloha.  The whole world in a teacup…


To learn more about subjects related to this post, click on the links below:

Hawai’i Tea Society – a platform for tea-enthusiasts and tea-growers in the state of Hawai’i
Zakti – a website where you can discover information about the history and culture of tea,growing regions around the world, steeping techniques and much more.
U.S. Geological Survey – Hawaiian Volcano Observatory – everything you want to know about volcanoes and volcanic activity on the Big Island.
Volcanoes in action -impressive spattering at the western margin of the lava lake at Halemaʻumaʻu, Big Island of Hawai’i.
More volcanoes in action – lava lake at Halemaʻumaʻu, Big Island of Hawai’i (with sound too).

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