growing tea in hawaii: an interveiw with michelle rose at cloudwater tea farm

Michelle Rose started growing tea at Cloudwater Farm near Kilauea on Kauai Island in Hawai’I back in 2002. This tea farm is in an area more know for sugarcane, pineapples and macadamia than for tea, but what’s happening at Cloudwater is really interesting: organic farming, hand rolling and artisan teas.

Michelle’s interest in tea started during her sophomore summer of college she traveled east where she lived with a home-stay family in Japan in the principle tea-growing prefecture, Shizuoka. Michelle grew interested in the culture of tea that so permeated Japanese life and came to appreciate the global significance of tea outside its simple consumption as a beverage. This experience developed a respect for global tea culture, and has been the driver and inspiration behind Cloudwater Farm.

I particularly love this quote on Cloudwater’s website – to me this is why tea will never be just another crop, it’s something that means so much more to those growing it as well as those drinking it.

The privilege of growing tea has a tremendous healing component to it; tea picking is not so much a chore as it is an epic meditation, an answer to her questions.

I had a chat to Michelle about growing tea in Hawai’I, organic farming and what tea means to her.

Michelle Rose and her husband and business partner, Parker Croft

You are living in Hawaii, growing tea – this sounds like a dream come true to me, how do you end up in this magical place in life.

Our life on Kaua’i is a remarkable gift for which I am ever grateful. This privilege requires a good deal of energy and dedication. It may be a dream that others share, but the practice of farming requires hard work and resilience.

I came to this life as the result of a continuing interest in travel and a passion for food. As a high school student I received a scholarship to live in the tea growing area of Japan. I have lived much of my life in rural cultures. My travels have often taken me to tea growing areas, or cultures in which tea has been an important part of the small daily celebrations.

It was circumstance that brought me to Kaua’I and afforded me the opportunity to start this work.  I was fortunate in being able to recognize the potential that circumstance provided. Since I first had this vision I have been determined to bring it to fruition.

We produce black, green and oolong teas. All of them are developing in their sophistication. The oolong is earliest in the experimental stage.

How would you describe tea culture in Hawaii, what sets Hawaiian tea apart from teas produced in other regions.

The culture of tea in Hawai’i is young and evolving. In the same breath I assure you that we are a part of the millennia of tea cultures that have thrived is a variety of regions. We are in regular contact with our colleagues in various parts of the world. As a relative newcomer to the culture of tea growers I am quite surprised at the generosity, hospitality and openness that I have experienced from other growers.

It is this youthful quality of tea growing in Hawai’I, the variety of our tea growing environments, and the profound potential as a world class source of tea that distinguishes Hawai’i. I believe that Hawai’I is to tea what Napa Valley was to grapes in 1960.

What is particularly unusual about tea production here is that the farms are all quite small.  Generally they are about an acre. The leaves are hand picked and processed in small quantities. The results are extraordinary.

Why you choose to go down the organic path, what have been the most challenging things to overcome when farming in this method.

The great tradition of tea has been organic for far longer than it has been industrialized. Organic is actually the normal way to farm and to sustain the soil and the resources that make a tea farm thrive. The short answer to the choice of organic farming is that we take the long view of how we create value in our agricultural practice.

On a personal level, what does tea mean to you and how does working with tea every day make you feel.

Tea is a culture and a practice. I am both a farmer and a crafts-person. I feel that I am contributing anything that I can to both preserving the culture of tea and sharing it with a broader audience. That I can do this on our farm in a beautiful and supportive environment is a source of both awe and inspiration.

Outside of your own tea what do you like to drink, do you have a favourite style of tea.

The teas that may appeal to one change with the seasons, times of day and circumstances of one’s time in life. In a very real sense it is like music. At this stage in my life I feel most able to appreciate the fabulous oolongs that are being produced in Taiwan.

As winter arrives here and the rains become heavy I find that pu-erh teas have increasing appeal. However, the real find over the last year has been the Nilgiri frost teas. I urge your readers to try them for an extraordinary tea experience.

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