Published February 19, 2012
This is tea time like none other. People are talking about Big Island Tea like they normally would a bottle of wine. It's no wonder.
This certain type of tea, hailing from Hawaii, is actually more expensive than most bottles of Pinot Noir. The seemingly record-breaking price tag is around $5000 a pound, that’s about $20 a cup.
It’s also extremely hard to find. In fact, Harrods of London is the only place on Earth where you can get it. The legendary London department store bought the entire initial crop of Hawaiian tea -- a little more than 22 lbs. -- last year and recently started stocking it on store shelves.
Certified Tea Specialist, Lisa Boalt Richardson says Harrods paid $90,000 for the privilege of being the first to sell Hawaiian tea. That’s what the 22 lb. crop cost them. "They don't have much output as you can see, but clearly Harrods thought they could sell it for a handsome price,” notes Richardson, author of the book “Tea with a Twist.”
Hawaii only just began growing tea in the last decade, with just a few small farms around the island. Most of the farmers produce a quantity too small to sell, leaving just one farm with enough goods to snap up.
One would assume it must have come from lifelong tea purveyors. Nope.
The story behind the tea is almost as unusual as the tea itself. Call it tea for two.
Dr. Cam Muir, a conservation geneticist professor and his wife, Eliah Halpenny, a backyard horticulturist, are actually behind the costly crop. Halpenny says a while back, she decided to reinvent herself and found tea to be a perfect platform.
“It was proving to be a natural fit,” she said. The 58-year old said few if any insects or predators exist, and the Big Island of Hawaii provided just the right amount of rain, and fertile volcanic soil. Which is why, she added, that “I jumped at the possibility.”
That’s how Big Island Tea was born on the Northeast slope of Mauna Loa Volcano, one of the most active volcanoes on the planet. Halpenny said, “With my husband’s ecological and scientific background and my horticultural interest, we have grown and learned how to process tea over the past 10 years -- with a passion.”
A passion that late last year brought that pricey pay out from Harrods. A rep for the London department store told us they like the couple’s tea because it's made to strict standards, using artisan methods.
"The tea is hand-picked, hand-rolled, hand-fired and produced in small batches by the farm-owner,” according to a Harrods spokesperson. The limited amount and intimate cultivation help explain why the tea is particularly expensive. It comes from a farm that covers just five acres of the volcano, with soil that sits on a 400 year-old ash deposit.
The tea comes in two flavors, Kilinoe Green and A's Black Tea. Kilinoe Green is described as "a true connoisseur's tea’ - the name means 'misty rain' after the mist-like rain that falls on the tea farm. Citrus flavors of lemongrass and lemon oils emerge from the leaves as well as eastern leaf greens and subtle fennel-anise hints.
If that isn’t your cup of tea, perhaps you'd enjoy A's Black Tea. According to Harrods, "This tea has an evident Darjeeling character with an added richness of sweet raisin and autumn fruits as base notes. The floral top notes perfectly compliment the tea's sweetness."
Just like a good husband, Muir credits his wife with much of the company’s success. “It has always been our goal to produce the finest quality tea we can,” says the 48-year-old. “So I shouldn't be surprised that my sweetie has accomplished the goal of determining the best processing recipe (she really is a persistent superstar).” The pair could be real tea stars in the coming years.
Miur tells Fox News Harrods wants to be the exclusive supplier of their tea so they have already pre-purchased their 2012 harvest (for an undisclosed price). “This is all very exciting for agriculture in Hawaii.” Muir proudly tells us “very high value crops like tea can contribute to the revitalization of the agriculture industry in Hawaii, which has not yet economically recovered from the crash of the sugar cane industry.”
The irony is that while the couple’s tea may be on the shelves at Harrods, they can’t see for themselves. “We can’t afford to go, let alone shop in, Harrods,” said Muir.
If their tea continues to brew record sale prices, it’s safe to say they will soon be able to travel to London -- or anywhere else.