Missing the Forest for the Teas

Friday, September 9, 2011
Photo by Rick Gutleber

Photo by Rick Gutleber

Yet again, I journeyed to Hawaii. Okay, not literally but at least in tea form. I hope to get to those damn islands someday, but when your wallet’s a moth-colony, you have to settle on a cup of tropical tea instead. This marks the third Hawaiian-grown tea I’ve sampled. The first was a black tea that was wonderful, if unusual; the second was an oolong that lent well to a gaiwan/gongfu approach – loudly fruity, too. The existence of a Hawaiian-grown white, however, reached me a bit late.

Independent growers Eva Lee and Chiu Long of the Volcano Village estate grew tea plants at an elevation of 4,000ft., deep within the rainforest at the base of Mt. Kilauea. Both were also behind the big push for forming Hawaii’s first tea farming collective – The Hawaii Tea Society. While they offered four different types of tea, the Forest White was actually one they grew, dried and rolled themselves.

I saw rumblings about the Kilauea Forest White on Steepster. Many were singing its praises, but it wasn’t available for regular purchase. In the following months, I learned that KTeas – an internet-based “virtual tearoom” (as they call themselves) – had acquired some for sale. The titular “K” of that vendor op had a good eye for good tea and apparently scored some. Via Twitter, I “nudge-nudge-wink-wink”-ed about possibly reviewing it in the near-future.

Surprisingly, she remembered that nudge and – in no time at all – the Kilauea Forest White was in my possession. Yet another checkmark notched on my “Tea WANT!” list. (They’re falling like flies, I swear.)

The leaves for this were larger than most white teas I’ve beheld, ranging from light greens to dark purples in spectrum. It didn’t even smell like a white tea on first sniff, yielding an aroma of peppers, spice and charred earth. First impression, for me, would’ve been that this was a green tea – an unorthodox one at that. However, the leaves did have the mandatory downy fur that embodied most quality whites.

Brewing instructions on the sample bag recommended 3g of leaves (roughly a teaspoon) per serving. I assumed that meant an 8oz cup. Also puzzling was how one could measure out a teaspoon when the leaves were so bloody large. What really confused me further was the brewing temperature they recommended – 208F.

Now, sometimes I’m a bit of a simpleton in the steeping department, but I know for a fact that white teas generally require a lighter steep. Sure, there are some that can take boiling water – Assam, Darjeeling, and Ceylon whites come to mind – but rule o’ thumb is to administer a light touch. That and this stuff was pricy; I didn’t have a lot of it, either. Screw up a brew, and that’s two dollars down the drain. Literally. The KTeas site mirrored the prep with a three-minute steep.

Oh well, I risked it.

Even with the boiling water and lengthier infusion, the liquor only brewed to a pale gold typical of white teas. The aroma echoed another American-borne white I had – the Sakuma Bros. Sun Dried White. It was equal parts sweet, buttery, and grapy. Like a Bai Mu Dan by way of a Bai Hao oolong. As for flavor, the first thing to note was the fruity kick; it channeled tropical fruit and basalt on “tongue”-down. The middle was where it kept some of its white tea trappings – the nuttiness, melony lean, and floral texture – while the finish tapered with pleasant grassiness and a creamy trail-off.

I dared a second infusion at an undetermined steep time. In the interim, I surfed the web for cat pictures that made me giggle…and nearly forgot about the tea. When I came back, the liquor had darkened to amber-gold with a mango-sweet aroma, which was weird. This time ‘round, the flavor started with a creamy texture laced with fruitiness, transitioning to a top note of sour citrus that faintly reminded me of…bergamot? Quite bizarre but awesome.

It lasted one more indeterminate, “faint fruit” infusion before fading. I’ve gotta hand it to the grower, this is one badass leaf. It can take a boiled beating and yield some fabulous results. Even more surprising was the level of caffeine. This is not your usual, fluttery, cup o’ wussy white. I made the mistake of sipping this at midnight and have the jitters to prove it. Tread lightly with this not-so-light white…but do enjoy. I certainly did.

To purchase the KTeas Kilauea Forest White Tea, go HERE.

7 Comments

  1. Profile photo of says:

    Man, you’ve been getting some interesting whites lately!

    I can’t help mentioning that one of my first and greatest experiences with tea was in a little Asian tea shop in Hawaii when I was 13 or 14. There was a little man behind a long, glass case. The wall behind the man and the glass case was filled with shelf after shelf of the exotic boxes, bags, and tins. The man behind the case allowed my grandparents and I to try several, delicious teas, and that was enough to rock any teenager’s concept of tea!

    1. I don’t know if they were doing their own tea growing THAT far back, but it could be possible. Whatever it is, those growers know what they’re doing.

  2. What a complete review! Like you I am surprised at the brewing instructions. I like to think the growers know what they are doing but feel odd bucking conventional wisdom….am I too much a follower?

    1. There are times when growers don’t try their own products and don’t know what the proper methods are. However, I like to think there’s a bit of room for experimenting when need be. :-) Not a follower at all…just cautious.

  3. Profile photo of xavier xavier says:

    Tea in Hawaii? Sounds quite exotic to me.

    1. It is. You’re not afraid of a little bit of exotica in your cup, are ya? *heh*

  4. Wardsworth says:

    What a wonderful title! I want a cup of tea. Please share this cup with me. Thanks for sharing…man!

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