Hilo, Hawaii-based Shaka Tea brings a native Hawaiian plant used in ancient Hawaiian medicine to modern consumers in a tasty, convenient ready-to-drink format.
Mamaki is a small tree that is endemic to the Hawaiian islands where it thrives in the tropical rainforest ecosystem. Native Hawaiians used different parts of the plant for several purposes. They used the bark to make cloth, the roots were used as dyes, the berries were used topically for healing wounds because of their antibacterial and antifungal properties, and the leaves were used as a tea for stomach issues; they also aid in lowering blood pressure and support blood circulation.
Shaka Tea co-founder and President Bella Hughes, who was born and raised in Hawaii, wanted to share this special piece of the islands with the world. She lived outside of Hawaii for more than a decade during her career in art and culture as a curator, art critic and director of a non-profit, and traveled extensively. “I was always very homesick,” Hughes said.
Everywhere she went she found consumer packaged goods that were marketed as Hawaiian under false pretenses. “95 percent of the products out there didn’t have a single ingredient from Hawaii,” Hughes said. She thought, “How is there no brand out there doing something that is largely scalable, accessible and authentically representing where I’m from?”
Hughes and her husband, Shaka Tea CEO Harrison Rice, decided to create a healthy bottled herbal tea from mamaki leaves and in April 2016 they founded their company, Shaka Tea—the first bottled mamaki tea on the market. They had noticed that many ready-to-drink teas try to give the impression of being healthy while actually containing a lot of sugar. Shaka Tea is caffeine-free, sugar-free and each bottle contains 0-30 calories. It was initially sweetened with apple juice and then reformulated using monk fruit in response to customer feedback. Hughes and Rice created all four tropical botanical flavors—Lemon Lokelani Rose, Guava Ginger Blossom, Mango Hibiscus and Pineapple Mint—in their home kitchen. All of the flavors were inspired by Hughes’ childhood in Hawaii.
The shaka, which is the universal hand symbol of Hawaii that means “take it easy,” is on every Shaka Tea label.
Initially, Shaka Tea launched exclusively in Hawaii, and later gained national distribution in 2018 through KeHE and UNFI. It can now be found in more than 1,000 stores in 41 states across the U.S. and is featured at chain retailers including Cost Plus World Market, Safeway. and Albertsons.
“I believe our teas are able to, in many ways, tell the story of Hawaii,” said Hughes. Furthermore, the company is supporting the growth of the mamaki industry from leaf to bottle.
Shaka Tea presently sources from a handful of local farms and is building its supply chain to source from more than 30. The Big Island of Hawaii is the center of mamaki cultivation. All of the ingredients used in the blends are either organic or natural.
Hughes believes in conserving Hawaii’s distinctive environment. Planting mamaki is an act of conservation since it is part of the endangered Kamehameha butterfly’s habitat. Shaka Tea’s sister company, Shaka Forest Farms, practices restorative, regenerative agriculture as it cultivates mamaki on 29 acres of volcanic rainforest among native trees and ferns.
“What’s good for the land is good for our bodies and good for the community and good for our economy,” said Hughes about the company’s values.
Hughes cofounded the Mamaki Association, which is helping the mamaki movement by spreading the message of the four different species of mamaki. The association aims to grow the knowledge base of the plant to facilitate its becoming a top export crop for Hawaii.
“We’re responding to that demand for authenticity,” said Hughes.
World Tea News readers can get a 10 percent discount by ordering on Amazon.com and entering the code: WRLDTEA10.