There are always lots of exciting things going on in the world of tea. One of the developing areas is the increasing production of tea in Hawaii. I had the good fortune to meet several Hawaiian tea farmers a couple of months ago at the World Tea Expo in Las Vegas. Among those I met was Sherri Miller of Moonrise Tea Garden, who is experimenting with cultivars from Japan, Taiwan, and India (Darjeeling) to see what grows best in the soils and climate of the 50th state.
TG: What’s your favorite tea?
SM: Currently, and this is subject to change, is the white tea I have been producing. A close second would be Onomea Tea’s orthodox black tea. (And yet I need to reserve a spot for an oolong too, but which one? and if I had to include a green it would be a gyokuro, which we learned how to make from a Japanese master.)
TG: How did you start on the path to tea geekdom? Briefly describe your history of tea exploration.
SM: As a child, my grandmother would always make me tea whenever I did not feel well, so I have always associated tea with comfort and health. Fast forward many years.
I was living on agricultural land, and had been researching for several years which crop(s) would best fit the land and my life. I saw a meeting at the ag complex about tea. The University of Hawaii had done research on specialty tea as a new crop for Hawaii. I went to the meeting and realized that tea was the perfect fit. I like to tell people I didn’t find tea; tea found me. Now I live with comfort and health.
TG: What aspect of tea do you find most fascinating?
SM: The processing. It’s amazing that the leaves make such widely varying tea. It is affected by weather, temperature, by wind and humidity, by the containers and elements it comes in contact with, by human hands. It starts out as the same basic leaf, but can become a subtle, honeyed white tea, a robust black, a fragrant oolong, or a pungent green tea….all from the same leaf. And little variations during processing can make a big difference in the result. Simply amazing. [Editor’s note: keep an eye out for Tea Geek classes about some of these variations, both online at the Tea Geek Store, and also at the upcoming Northwest Tea Festival in Seattle, in a class-in-development called “The Teamaker’s Art”]
TG: Who have you learned the most from?
SM: I have learned the most from the tea itself. It is a wise and patient teacher.
TG: What tea resource (book, website, person, etc.) would you recommend for a tea novice?
SM: James Norwood Pratt’s New Tea Lover’s Treasury for the basics of tea, or, The Ultimate Tea Diet by Mark Ukra, not for dieting, but how to incorporate tea into your life for health and enjoyment. A great resource for explanations of the chemical components of tea and how they benefit health.
I would also recommend just plain experimentation. Try different teas, different brewing methods, vessels, temperatures, time, etc. Learn what you like and what you don’t like. And realize that not all teas with the same name taste the same. Keep trying and experimenting. Others can give recommendations, but no one can tell you what you like. That is personal.
TG: And what’s your own favorite tea resource, potentially for more advanced tea geeks?
SM: The books I would recommend would be for growers. For the average, potentially more advanced tea geek, I would recommend STI. The classes, the resources, and the people involved cover a wealth of knowledge.
TG: What does tea mean to you?
SM: Tea is a way of life.
TG: Name your biggest pet peeve in the realm of tea and tea drinking.
SM: Misinformation about the healthiest type of tea, the levels of caffeine etc. and how the myths are perpetuated by so-called experts. [Editor’s note: Amen and Hallelujah!]
TG: If you could let everyone in the world know or understand one thing about tea, what would it be?
SM: Really good tea is not as expensive as it seems. Look at the price per cup and not the price per pound (like coffee). Yes you can afford good whole leaf tea, even on a budget. You do not have to drink old dust in a musty tea bag. (And brewing whole leaf tea isn’t complicated either)
TG: What’s the craziest/weirdest/most obsessive thing you’ve ever done in pursuit of your love of tea?
SM: I hosted a party just to name a tea drink, and worked with the guests and others, some thousands of miles away–for days–just for a name. Might not sound that crazy, but for days I was absolutely obsessed and thought of nothing else. Just ask my kids! I wouldn’t even cook.
TG: Thank you!