Saturday, September 4, 2010

Kama'aina Green and Oolong Teas

I was eating my lunch at Teacup last week when I got an unexpected phone call from the Mauna Kea Tea Company on the big island of Hawaii. The proprietress, Kimberly, and I had a nice discussion about her and her partner Takahiro's tea farm. I could tell that they had truly found their calling producing organic tea in Hawaii, so after our conversation, I went right to their website and ordered one 25-gram bag of both Kama'aina Oolong Tea and Kama'aina Green Tea.

A week later the teas arrived, and I am excited to now share my opinion of them in the following two reviews. Keep in mind that I had no idea what these teas would be like before I first opened the bags and inspected them. Only at that point was I able to attempt an educated guess on how best to brew them for my first time.

I started with the green tea on September 1, 2010. According to Kimberly this tea is "a mix of varieties picked on June 30th, July 5th, and July 6th." The dry leaf was quite lovely and had a pleasing toasty aroma. Because it kind of looked and smelled to me closer to a Chinese style green tea, I decided to use one teaspoon of dry leaf in a 5 ounce gaiwan, 170° spring water and a two minute steep.

Kama'aina Green

The resulting tea soup was a striking fluorescent yellow color. It smelled sweet and nutty and I was in love from my first sip. To me this green tea is very complex and satisfying. It was unique and familiar at the same time. It had moments that reminded me of my beloved Yang Xian Mao Feng (陽羡毛峰) green tea, but it also hinted at gyokuro in the aftertaste. My tasting notes were all over the place and included: buttery, macadamia nut, black peppercorn, sauteed Swiss chard, and raw summer snap peas. I would reorder this tea in a heartbeat.

Green's Tea Soup

Green's Leaves

I drank the Kama'aina oolong throughout the day on September 2, 2010. Its dry leaves looked similar to the green, but it also had flecks of yellow, gold and brown. This tea was harvested on May 20th and May 21st.

At first I decided to brew it like I normally would a hearty Chinese oolong. I used two teaspoons in a 5 ounce gaiwan and boiling water. I gave the leaves a five second rinse and proceeded to smell them. Unexpectedly, they had a grassy, earthy aroma that reminded me somewhat of Japanese bancha green tea.

Kama'aina Oolong

My first infusion was about 60 seconds with boiling water. It presented an amber-yellow color with a heady grass and wildflower aroma. My first exploratory sip yielded a harsh and disappointing liquor. I had clearly over-steeped it so I backed off quite a bit on the steeping time, but the obvious potential in these beautiful Polynesian leaves was proving highly elusive.

Oolong's Tea Soup

The mouth-feel was bold and thick but the taste was "blah." The aroma on the underside of the gaiwan lid, on the other hand, was intoxicating. It was so fruity and delicious. My wife was reminded of candied pineapples and I of passionfruit. The question became... "How do I get this aroma into the cup?"

So after 3 infusions I removed half of the leaves from the gaiwan and cooled my water down to about 180°. This method became my saving grace and the softer, sweeter soup that it now poured was milky, floral and smooth. I do like this tea but I think I need to brew it like the green tea.

Oolong's Leaves


Froxilanthe said...

Thanks for your comments about the Mauna Kea teas. Perhaps I'll give them a try soon.

But Polynesian leaves? How so?

Brett said...

Hi Froxilanthe. Thanks so much for your comment!

Perhaps my use of the adjective "Polynesian" to conjure a certain "island feeling" in my readers, was a bit of a stretch to describe a non-native plant being cultivated in Hawaii... but as the Hawaii islands are considered part of Polynesia and the tea is grown there, I'll keep the post as it is.

It is kind of as if I had describe the leaves as "American" which, like "Polynesian" would also be a stretch but still not technically wrong.

Froxilanthe said...

Thanks for your reply, Brett. Yes, I know the Hawaiian Islands are among the ~1000 in the Pacific that are included in the geographical grouping called "Polynesia," but generally when we describe something as "Polynesian" it's because it's a product or tradition or artifact that's unique to (or at least primarily associated with) one or more of the diverse Polynesian cultures. In other words, we happen to grow sweet corn in Hawaii, too, but I doubt that it would occur to anyone to refer to its "Polynesian kernels," or even to the "beautiful Polynesian leaves" of our locally grown bok choy.... ;-)

But anyway, I'm glad to hear that the Mauna Kea teas were of decent quality, especially considering their respective selling prices. I hope more of the tea farms in Hawaii will be producing good teas in the near future, too.