Afternoon Tea on Onomea Bay
On a beautiful Spring afternoon not long ago, I was invited to join friends for tea. Now, I know that many people welcome friends to drink afternoon tea and share scrumptious food, but how many people have the pleasure of experiencing drinking tea at the source?
My friends Rob Nunally and Mike Longo are the owners of Onomea Tea Company a boutique tea garden located on one of the most beautiful bluffs overlooking Onomea Bay near the Village of Papa’ikou on the East Coast of Hawai’i Island.
The setting for our beautiful tea was their spacious open upstairs lanai with a view of the bay, the ocean and included, just for our enjoyment, a playful mama and baby whale jumping and having fun just off the bluff. A double rainbow and a ship leaving Hilo Harbor completed the stunning ‘special effects’.
The three teas we drank were a 30% oxidized Oolong, 90% oxidizes black and a blend of Onomea black teas with a hint of Bergamot. Cream, lemon, sugar and honey were available for those who wanted to add them to their tea.
The savory food served to complement the teas were finger sandwiches of tomato sprinkled with salt and pepper, mayonnaise and thyme on multigrain bread and sliced cucumber, cream cheese and fennel tips also served on multigrain bread.
The sweet course consisted of tea nut bread (see recipe below), Madeleines and red, juicy red, plump island grown strawberries.
Rob and Mike started planting tea on their 9 acre property in 2003 and currently have nearly an acre planted. Their goal is to have 3 acres under cultivation by 2012.
Sonia – What are the types of tea you are producing commercially at the moment and how can customers buy it?
Rob – We have whole-leaf green, semi oxidized (slightly darker than green to almost black) oolong style teas and whole leaf Black Tea. As this growing season progresses we are planning on offering some black tea processed in the CTC (cut, tear, curl) method. At the moment, people can only buy directly from us on location but we will eventually have teas listed for sale on our website.
Mike- As we work with different ways to process tea we are consuming a lot of tea ourselves. We have sold tea at local agricultural festivals, cultural events and direct from the tea farm. We do have tea available in limited quantities. Please contact us on the currently available tea.
Sonia – In future are you thinking of doing flavored teas?
Rob- Our black tea blend with bergamot you tried today was a flavored tea and we are experimenting with other flavors including vanilla, however, our focus will be on traditional tea without adding flavors. We want the true taste of Hawaii grown tea (camellia sinensis) to be experienced.
Sonia – Hawai’i Island is known for Kona coffee, but now we also have several people planting outstanding tea. Any comments you would like to share?
Mike – We both feel that the growth of the tea industry will be a boon to Hawaii. Hawaii is a wonderful place for tea farms as well as all aspects of tea culture. It will not only enhance the growth of clean, chemical-free, agriculture in our state, but also provide opportunities for diversified tourism and local experiences.
We envision many more tea farms, tea presentations, tea houses, B & B’s providing tea experiences, not to mention a wide variety of tea products and value-added gift items that both tourists and locals will be able to find at local shops and markets. Tea is coming to Hawaii and we are very excited for everyone.
Our intention is to create a small, family operation growing, hand-processing and marketing our own organic, green, partially-oxidized as well as black teas. Part of our dream includes completing the tea house on the bluff which is a work in progress and ultimately will be a rest stop for tea farm tours.
Rob – Another part of our dream is to build another tea house on a site overlooking a stream right on our property bordering the Onomea Scenic Road that will provide a market place for our teas and other Hawaii-grown teas and value-added products, as well as offering tea-cultural experiences to the public.”
Our experience so far has been that tea, Camellia sinensis, grows well in Hawaii at all elevations and that tea growers here are already processing some very fine teas. We see ourselves as pioneers and facilitators in Hawaii for people to learn about and experience the joys and health benefits of tea.
Onomea Tea Bread Recipe
(Note from Rob) A few years ago for Christmas, my Mother provided me and my three brothers a set of recipes she has collected over the years. They were presented in a green binder titled, “Recipes from Home”. This recipe was originally called A to Z bread because you can add a whole variety of ingredients from Apples to Zucchini to flavor the bread. I expanded the recipe to include tea as an ingredient. I do play with this recipe changing what I add and experimenting with different flavors.
3 cups flour (I use two cups unbleached white flour and 1 cup whole wheat)
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon soda
3 teaspoon cinnamon (I reduce this to 1/2 tsp cinnamon so this flavor doesn’t overpower the tea and other ingredients)
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup oil (I have experimented with the oil, usually using 1/2 cup butter with 1/2 cup grape seed or peanut oil)
2 cups sugar (I frequently use 3/4 cup honey and 1 cup sugar)
2 cup A to Z (lots of room to experiment here, I use 1/2 cup pre-brewed green tea leaf, chopped, or 1/3 cup crushed dry tea, allow the dry tea to set for five minutes in wet ingredients, I also add 1 shredded apple and 1/2 cup yogurt).
3 teaspoon vanilla (Hawaii Vanilla is a good choice!)
1 cup chopped nuts
Mix dry ingredients set aside. Beat eggs in large bowl, add oil, sugar and cream well. Add tea, apple and yogurt and vanilla and mix well. Add dry ingredients, mix well and add nuts. Spoon into well greased loaf pans. Bake in preheated oven at 300 degrees for about an hour. Test by inserting toothpick in center of loaf. Remove from ovens as soon as toothpick comes out clean. Makes two small loaves.
Note: For A to Z ingredient use what you have on hand. This recipe is very flexible. Other options to add are: grated carrots, peaches, pineapple, canned pumpkin, berries; I’ve even used grated eggplant.
Tea Tours – from 4 to 15 people in group – $10 per person
Tea Tastings – from 4 to 15 people in group – $25/per person
High Tea – Limit of 12 people in group – $35/per person
All tea tours and tastings offered by reservation only.
Tastings follow the tradition of Gong Fu style ceremony
(c) Sonia R. Martinez