At Mauna Kea, on the rainy east side of the Big Island, I began to discover how they are crafting tea magic using the philosophies of Natural Farming.
Mauna Kea green tea, Kona, Hawaii
At a dinner party on a beach north of Kona, Hawaii last January, I had a cup of island grown, organic green tea. It was rich and grassy, like a Japanese Sencha, but with sweet and aromatic notes of tropical flowers and ripe island fruits. It turned my idea of USA-grown tea upside down*.
A lovely setting for a seaside feast,Kona, Hawaii
That night on the beach, I was lucky enough to meet Kimberly and Taka Ino, the makers of that memorable cup.
The Inos’ tea farm on the east side of the Big Island
A week later, at their tea farm, Mauna Kea, on the rainy east side of the Big Island, I began to discover how they are crafting tea magic.
Fresh tea harvest. Healthy, vibrant leaves
A few months later, I got to join in the harvest and make my own lot of Hawaii- grown tea.
Mauna Kea green tea
Now, having recently received a shipment of of their spring green tea to share with Firepot’s online community at our Bazaar, I find myself indulging in a cup every morning. It keeps calling me back as if my body innately knows that there is something rare, vibrant and clean about the tea from Mauna Kea…
Mauna Kea tea farm
“The ultimate goal of farming is not the farming of crops, but the cultivation and perfection of human beings.”
Masanobu Fukuoka, The One Straw Revolution
This quote sums up the secret to the Ino’s success. In one word, it is intention. Taka and Kimberly’s intention is to live a life in harmony with nature. So, tea farming, to them, is more of a spiritual path or practice than an occupation. Their land is certified organic, but their ecological practices go much deeper than that certification demands.
The Inos grow tea according to the laws of Natural Farming, a method established by Masanobu Fukuoka that allows an ecosystem to thrive without controlling it with manufactured inputs. Dubbed “do-nothing farming”, Natural Farming requires the farmer to slow down, to be present and to open their senses to understand what the plants need instead of applying prescribed programs of fertilizers and pesticides.
Firing fresh leaf, the “kill-green” stage, when oxidation is halted to make green tea
When showing me how to harvest, fire or roll the tea, Taka says, “listen to what the tea is telling you”. This intense intention elevates the final tea to medicinal levels. He says that “plants grown according to the philosophies of Natural Farming are known to heal cancer patients who can not consume even organic foods grown with organic fertilizers and pesticides… How can tea become an elixir of life when produced with chemicals and greed for high yield?”
Vibrant green tea in the rolling stage
His might be the cleanest green tea you can find anywhere on earth…until I drink it all, you can find it here at our Bazaar.
Mauna Kea 2016 Spring green tea: Dry leaf, steeped leaf, liquor
*Until that day, I had understood USA-grown tea to be inferior in taste than a comparably priced tea from China, Japan, Taiwan or India– it is difficult and expensive to grow tea in the US. We have only just started learning the ancient secrets of cultivating and processing flavorful teas and applying them to our unique climates, soils and social dynamics to develop a true USA tea terroir. Not only do we not have the perfectly tropical climate with regular rainfall and well-drained, acidic soils that tea loves, we also do not have the ancestral knowledge or historical tradition of tea making. Compared to China’s millennia of tea growing and making experience or even East Africa’s 100 or so years, the industry in the US is brand new. On top of that, wages and land prices in the US push up the cost of USA grown tea.