tea time in hawaii

Ai Tanaka
February 22, 2023

I’ve been drinking tea as long as I can remember. Born and raised in Japan, when we felt thirsty, we drank tea. When we had visitors at the house, we served tea. And like people in many parts of the world, we had a variety of teas to choose from.

Lucky we live in Hawaii because we also have access to many different kinds of tea. And with our weather, we can even grow tea ingredients ourselves year-round. Here are a few of my favorite ways to enjoy tea.

Meet your matcha
It’s no surprise that I love tea. My mother was a tea master from Urasenke School, one of the main tea ceremony schools in Japan. Then, at 50 years old, she learned pottery and started making her own tea bowls for tea ceremony. I didn’t fully appreciate the art until much later in life. I now rotate and use all her tea bowls to honor her and enjoy matcha, which to me, is very much like meditation.

Ai Tanaka with a bowl of delicious matcha.

 Matcha comes from the very tip of the youngest, most tender green tea leaves, which are shade-grown and stone ground into a delicate, fine powder. Luckily for matcha lovers, this tea has become very popular in America and is available at many coffee shops and in sweets. This tasty tea is beautiful in color, rich in flavor, and gives you a calm boost of focused energy. You need just five items to prepare matcha:

  • Matcha powder. You can find matcha powder at tea shops and Asian markets throughout Hawaii. Generally, the higher the quality, the higher the price. There are three primary grades of quality: culinary (baking), premium (coffeeshops/casual), and ceremonial (tea ceremony).
  • Cup or bowl. Referred to as chawan in Japanese, these tea bowls are used in traditional tea ceremonies to prepare matcha. However, you can use any cup or bowl.
  • Sifter. A small strainer will help ensure the tea is in its finest powder form and less likely to clump.
  • Whisk. While you can use a bamboo whisk for a traditional Japanese experience, any small whisk is fine. For best results, soak the bamboo whisk in warm water for a couple of minutes to soften.
  • Warm water. Using warm, not boiling, water prevents bitterness and preserves the amazing health properties of matcha.

To make a delicious cup of matcha, sift matcha powder into a cup (the more you add, the stronger the flavor and caffeine, and thicker the tea). Pour in warm water (not boiling!) and whisk until the matcha dissolves. To enjoy matcha cold, make it a latte with your favorite milk and sweetener and pour over ice. Add cinnamon or unsweetened cocoa powder to jazz it up.

Playing fast and loose
Another type of tea I love is loose-leaf tea. This tea is more aromatic and flavorful than tea made from tea bags since the leaves are whole. Earl Grey is a popular black tea that I drink regularly. Recommended by my sister-in-law, I often add lavender buds, which really complements the flavor. Plus, lavender is known for its therapeutic aroma and relaxing effects.

When I make loose-leaf tea, I add tea leaves to a tea pot and add boiling water. Gently swirl the pot to watch the tea leaves dance so the flavor is evenly distributed. The longer the tea steeps, the stronger the flavor. Once you’re ready to drink, use a tea strainer over a tea cup and pour. You can add honey, lemon, or milk of your choice.

Strain tea for optimal flavor. 

Cold comfort tea
Living in Hawaii, I often want to drink something ice cold and refreshing. My solution?  Repurposing a glass bottle to make cold brew tea. That’s right! Cold brew isn’t just for coffee!

All you need to do is fill a glass jar with water, add a tea bag, let it sit overnight in the refrigerator. In the morning, you have cold brew tea!

The beautiful colors of cold brew tea.

My favorites are local brands with tropical flavors like mango and lilikoi or healing Native Hawaiian plants like mamaki. I also love teas with beautiful hues like hibiscus (ruby) or butterfly pea flowers (blue or purple). Cold brew tea is inexpensive and extracts a lot of flavor from one tea bag. You can also enhance store-bought tea with fresh herbs and fresh or frozen fruit. I sometimes grab fresh herbs from the HMSA Rooftop Garden to boost my tea.

Let’s talk tea
If you haven’t noticed already, I love talking about tea almost as much as I love drinking it. Check out these videos where I share my favorite ways to enjoy tea, discuss ingredients and supplies, and show you some special cups from my collection. 

Ai Tanaka is a daily tea drinker. She collects teapots, teacups, and accessories from yard sales, flea markets, and antique stores locally and around the world.

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