Hawaii and Mississippi Teas Show Well at Competition

Photo courtesy of the Onomea Tea Co.

Two American-grown teas garnered the attention, appreciation and acclaim of the Global Tea Championship judges during the September competition. The teas were produced by the Onomea Tea Co. in Papaikou, Hawaii, and the Great Mississippi Tea Co. in Brookhaven, Mississippi. In the American Tea category, tea from Onomea Tea won the gold medal and tea from Great Mississippi won the silver medal.

Onomea Tea Co. owner Rob Nunally said, “It was wonderful, and kind of a surprise because it was the first international championship that we had entered. So to receive a gold medal was quite an honor.”

Great Mississippi Tea Co. founder Jason McDonald said, “We were quite surprised because it’s really our first year of commercial production.” He added, “We pretty much entered just to get the judges’ notes.”

However, Nunally and McDonald also stand behind the quality of their teas and explained how they are able to cultivate excellence on American soil.

Photo courtesy of the Onomea Tea Co.

Onomea Tea Co. is an organic tea farm that went into production in 2003 and about six years later began to sell locally. A few of the cultivars he used in the beginning were: Bohea, Utaka Midori, Yabukita. He has since developed his own cultivars. The tea he submitted to the Global Tea Championship was a blend. “We have a nice mix of seedling plants and cultivars and, to make up some kind of volume, we pick all of those different plants.”

Nunally spoke of how Hawaii’s rich terroir makes it an ideal environment for growing tea. “We have very good soils here. Our pH is naturally on the acidic side. Our soils are the product of volcanic ash. The soil is fertile and very well-draining and we get more than 100 inches of rain each year,” he said. Hawaii also gets a good mix of sun and cooler weather. “Hawaii-grown teas are very smooth and, I think to a large extent, have a floral, sweet character,” Nunally said, adding that his tea has some caramel and dark chocolate characteristics.

Photo courtesy of the Great Mississippi Tea Co.

The Great Mississippi Tea Co. debuted its tea commercially in 2017 after five years of growing trials. McDonald described the process, saying, “We’ve kind of had to feel our way through with cultivar selection and a lot of trial and error and basically find out what works here.” Rather than taking the approach of others who have brought in foreign cultivars to re-create a tea they like, he chose to find out what grows well in Mississippi. He cultivated seeds from the Republic of Georgia and from other parts of the United States.

Photo courtesy of the Great Mississippi Tea Co.

“We’re still in research and development, but we’ve got our eyes on a few plants that do well for us. This year, we did about 57 different batches and we’ve kind of settled on two,” said McDonald. “However, we’re always trying something new.”

“There is a big fascination here with the flowering camellia sinensis,” said McDonald, who added that the tea he entered in the Global Tea Championship was most likely a Yabukita or a Taiwanese oolong. “It was one that we had originally discounted, but then it turned out to have really good flavor,” which McDonald describes as pleasant, fresh and well-balanced.

“People have a preconceived notion of U.S. tea; to exceed those expectations is a good thing, that’s what we’re aiming for,” McDonald said. “American tea is quality tea that will be on the horizon soon.”

Onomea Tea can be found on the company’s website, and at Arbor Tea in Ann Arbor, Michigan, Dobra Tea in Burlington, Vermont, and at Harrod’s in London. The Great Mississippi Tea Co.’s tea is distributed exclusively through the Cultured Cup in Dallas, Texas, and can also be purchased on the company’s website.