First, a quick refresher on Tea 101: officially, “teas,” from green to black, all come from the same camellia sinensis tea plant. Every other botanical infusion is an “herbal” or “tisane” (pronounced tea-zahn). This is important background knowledge for today’s post about our summertime tea tour at Maui Tea Farm, perched on the slopes of Haleakalā Volcano in Kula, Hawai’i — where the farm organically produces both teas and tisanes.
Maui Tea Farm founders Alex and Andrea de Roode moved their operation to upcountry Maui two years ago, to the former site of the Maui Lavender farm. Lavender plants still abound on the property, which has been leased from Haleakala Ranch since the 1800’s. We arrive for the one-hour “Meet the Tea Tour,” which is offered Monday through Saturday, for $35 per person. Maui Tea Farm also offers a two-hour “Tea Lovers Tour” for $80 per person, which includes a guided tea tasting with light snacks.
We walk up to the farm store to check in, finding a tea counter inside, as well as a gift shop displaying a variety of locally made finds and tea accessories.
The Tea Farm Tour Begins
Our expert guide is Mason, the farm manager. He starts our talk in the covered picnic table area, where he begins to point out the farm’s conservation work: cutting back invasive species like the eucalyptus tree (which invites the pest Japanese rose beetle) to bring back more native tree species like koa and ʻōhiʻa lehua trees.
While we listen and take in the beautiful scenery of Maui Tea Farm, we sip on a sample of Kai tea (an organic green and white tea blend with green rooibos, lemon verbena, raspberry leaf and cornflower petals). Blended by Maui Tea Farm’s tea company, PONO Infusions, this is one of three tea blends sold at the farm (more on that later).
We walk down a trellised tunnel of flowering vines to begin our tea tour at the gazebo, which like the covered picnic area is also available to rent.
The fenced deck looks out over a gorgeous view, 4,500 feet above sea level. From this vantage point, we also have a panoramic view of the farm property, allowing Mason to point out the variety of plants they grow, many inherited from the previous lavender farm. Below at right a court of pavers is bordered by lavender bushes, feeling a bit like the Queen’s garden in Wonderland.
Surprisingly, there are olive trees growing on this farm (pictured below). When asked if these aren’t usually found in the Mediterranean region, Mason explains that 12 of the world’s climate zones are found on Maui, so you can grow almost anything here – cool! The exotic blooms of flamboyant protea plants are interspersed with low-growing lavender.
Tea Grows Here
Ah, and finally the star of the show appears as we reach the tea garden. Using Darjeeling cultivar seeds and cuttings from the Big Island, the farm’s tea plants are given 3 to 5 years to establish their root system before harvesting. You can see the youngest plants on the far hill (below).
How Does One Pronounce “Pekoe”?
Mature tea plants are harvested every two weeks from spring to fall, and used to create PONO infusions teas. Mason takes time to describe the different processes that create white, green, oolong, black and matcha teas. We like how he describes green tea as a “fresh-cooked leaf” that locks in the freshness. He explains that industry term – oxidation – in laymen’s terms, as the process of oxygen interacting with juices and oils inside the tea leaf. Understanding how tearing the leaves causes rapid oxidation, which alters the flavor profile of the tea, we can better appreciate that Maui Tea Farm hand-picks their teas to specialize in making whole pekoe premium grade tea. What’s a pekoe? We have a toe-may-toe/toe-mah-toe moment (we say pee-ko, he says pecko) when Mason picks two leaves and a bud, which if processed gently will be known as “pekoe”: the highest grade of whole, unbroken tea leaves.
Meeting Our New Favorite Herbal
We have no idea, upon seeing the native Hawaiian māmaki (ma-MAH-key) bush (below), how much we will love this local nettle plant. Mason explains that māmaki tea is a general health tonic, long used by Native Hawaiians. You can steep it in boiled water for 6ish minutes, or boil the leaves for 15 minutes or more to create an immune-boosting, cold-fighting elixir.
To finish the tour, we head back to the picnic tables for a māmaki tasting…and it is so delicious! With a slight honeyed sweetness, it is refreshing and not at all bitter or medicinal in flavor. We head inside to buy some to take home, and learn that we can also purchase a tea tasting at the shop counter.
Wanting to try every product here, we select the Lani (hibiscus petals, lemongrass, lemon verbena and lemon peels), award-winning, small-batch Haleakalā Black Tea, and Mauna (black tea, ginger root, cinnamon, black peppercorn, vanilla, cardamom and cloves).
We decide that the māmaki is our favorite, even better for being naturally caffeine-free, making it the perfect evening treat for the whole family to enjoy a light sweetness without dessert. We almost always prefer teas to tisanes, so this is quite a remarkable herbal, if we may say so. Inside the gift shop, we also take home a locally made Chinese tea cup in blues and greens that reminds us of kai (Hawaiian for “ocean”). If you’re looking to support small, organic tea farms that hand-pick their teas, visit Maui Tea Farm in person or online. Our thanks to Mason for the friendly and informative tour!