Help available for new tea growers


The University of Hawaii has done considerable research on growing tea in Hawaii and has found that tea can be grown successfully and produce a viable cash crop here.

Stuart Nakamoto from UH Manoa has been part of the research since 1990 when he worked on the first UH College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources publication on the subject. This and more than a dozen other publications have been produced since to help us learn the best ways to select varieties, prepare soil for growing tea, propagate plants, harvest and process tea and deal with pests and diseases. All are available at ctahr.hawaii.edu/site/info.aspx by entering “tea” in the search bar. Most are free downloads, some are for sale.

One of Nakamoto’s projects during his tenure at UH has been risk management education for growers. He recommends crop diversification as a way to manage risk for those reliant on their crops for income. Then, if one crop fails, you have another to fall back on. In looking into potential crops to replace sugar and augment major crops such as coffee, bananas and macadamia nuts, tea appears to have potential as a new crop for Hawaii.

Research and growing trials of tea began on the Big Island at three locations in early 2000. The trials at Mealani in Waimea at 2,800 feet and those in Volcano at 4,000 feet elevation were most successful. UH-CTAHR Mealani Research Station in Waimea has continued doing studies and research in tea since then. The climate has proved ideal for growing Camellia sinensis, allowing for extensive study and research into it as a cash crop for Hawaii. Randy Hamasaki, working as an agent at the Mealani Station, has been involved in these studies and research projects.

He and Nakamoto continue to research and learn about tea production. They are currently attending the World Tea Expo in California to learn more and share information with tea growers and producers from around the world. They are joining forces to share their knowledge and experience through workshops on tea production and processing that will be offered at regular intervals in Waimea.

“Tea 101: Tea Production and Processing Basics” workshops are presented by the CTAHR Tea Project and Risk Management Hawaii. During each session, Nakamoto and Hamasaki offer basic training in tea production and processing as well as share information about tea research being conducted by UH in Waimea.

Included in the workshops are tastings of various teas and an overview of varieties currently available in Hawaii. Information on proper fertility and pest management as well as techniques for pruning, harvesting and processing will also be covered.

These workshops and their follow up sessions, which are more specific dealing with propagation details and other topics, will be offered on a recurring basis, depending on demand.

The workshop planned for Thursday still has some openings. The course at UH-CTAHR Mealani Research Station begins at 8:30 a.m. and ends at 3:30 p.m. and costs $25. The Research Station is at 64-289 Mamalahoa Highway, near mile marker 53. The phone number is 887-6185. Attendees should be prepared for full sun as well as the possibility of showers and chilly weather and come dressed in long pants and closed-toe shoes. To reserve a space and receive last minute updates call Perci or Randy at 887-6183 or email proque@hawaii.edu.

Once the workshop is full, names and addresses will be taken for notification of future sessions.

Tropical gardening helpline

Pat asks: I have a large cinnamon tree growing on my property. I know I could make cinnamon sticks from the bark but was thinking that the leaves might be edible and useful and would take less work to use. Any ideas if or how they can be used?

Answer: Yes, the leaves are edible and have several common uses.

They can add a cinnamon flavor to many dishes. Try cooking them in your oatmeal or rice. You can also add them for a light cinnamon flavor to warm milk, coffee or green tea.

The leaves can also be used to make a tea that can be drunk plain or sweetened with honey. The tea is reportedly helpful in weight loss, can ease flu and cold symptoms and relieve an upset stomach.

Cinnamon oil is extracted from the leaves usually by steam distillation. Crushing the leaves and using them in the process yields cinnamon oil. The leaves are heated in water and the steam produced passes through a condenser, cooling the vapor. The liquid collected from the condensed vapor is pure cinnamon oil. The extracted oil contains eugenol which has antiseptic as well as anesthetic medicinal properties.

Email plant questions to konamg@ctahr.hawaii.edu for answers by Certified Master Gardeners. Some questions will be chosen for inclusion in this column.

Diana Duff is a plant adviser, educator and consultant living on an organic farm in Captain Cook.