Makai Black (Assam)
Origin: Hawaii Island, Hawaii, USA, teahawaii.com
Thanks to the emerging terroir of Hawaii, this black tea’s flavor profile is completely different from that of any other tea. It is tremendously clean, smooth and refined, with no astringency or bitterness even when brewed for long periods. High-quality leaves brew into a crystalline amber infusion. A thin, crisp body yields delicate notes of mugicha (roasted barley tea), caramel, barley malt and rice syrup, with a slight taste of roasted sweet potato. Each sip warms, refreshes and reveals new dimensions of flavor.
A man named John Cross cultivates it from tea plants that his father planted as an agricultural experiment 15 years ago. The soil is particularly suited to tea production, as it is both fertile and acidic. The plants are a Cambodian sinensis varietal, which is thought to be a hybrid of the small-leafed Chinese plants and the larger-leafed Assam varietals. John’s Hakalau Tea Garden is on the slopes of the now-dormant Mauna Kea Volcano. It is located at 900 feet above sea level, and you can see the Pacific Ocean while standing amongst the tea bushes. It is locally known as “Makai Black;” the word “Makai” is Hawaiian for “toward the ocean.”
John cultivates his plants and prepares them for harvest, and then fellow tea grower and processor Eva Lee of Tea Hawaii & Company harvests them, transports them to her farm and hand-processes them overnight with her husband (a potter who creates art for tea and a practitioner of the Japanese tea ceremony) and, sometimes, her daughter (an artist who lives abroad most of the year). Eva feels that Hawaii is the only state in the U.S. that is likely to be able to sustainably produce specialty tea. She said Hawaii’s air, soil and water are amongst the purest on earth. Tea growers in Hawaii do not face many of the environmental concerns of other tea-producing areas, such as typhoons and natural predators, so they can grow teas at lower elevations without facing the wrath of nature.
Eva Lee, teamaster of Tea Hawaii, belongs to a collective of local tea growers that has joined together to promote their products. Eva also processes an Hawaii-grown Forest White tea with leaves from Tea Hawaii Tea Garden and Mauka Oolong with leaves from Volcano Tea Garden. She sees her role as helping growers bring their teas to fruition and customizing teas to suit the needs of tea vendors and drinkers. Now is the ideal time to taste Hawaii-grown tea and provide feedback to suppliers and growers in order to shape the future of Hawaii-grown tea.