Kauai's Cloudwater Tea Farm Is Former Flight Attendant's Decade-Long Experiment

The organic farming trend is making its stamp on the island state and on a product sparsely grown in the United States.

Organic farming is in full swing across the United States, even in far-away Kauai, where Michelle Rose of Cloudwater Tea Farm is making the trend uniquely her own. Not only is she running the island's only tea farm, her husband and business partner, architect Parker Croft, has constructed a series of Hawaiian-influenced bungalows to house the couple and their children. Eventuallly it will serve as a guest-house for travelers looking to experience the art of tea.

Rose is a former flight attendant from Minnesota who bought 10 acres of rough, jungle-like land in Kauai and for 10 years has been experimenting with growing the tea plant camellia sinensis. She's planning a series of classes and workshops, and hopes to inspire other farmers in Hawaii to take up tea growing, as it is a crop that has the potential to help boost Hawaii's agricultural economy.

There are tea farmers in other parts of Hawaii who are also experimenting--namely on the Big Island, in conjunction with the University of Hawaii. Professor CY Hu is an assistant Dean who emigrated from Taiwan to the United States in pursuit of his doctorate in nutrition at UC Davis. And after 6 years at the University of Hawaii, he's decided to stay put and help support the growing tea movement.

I've covered the tea industry in different locales--from Hong Kong to New Zealand to New York City--and the Hawaiian tea industry is both promising and heartening. The Hawaii Tea Society is a 100-member strong group spanning all of the islands and its constituents all want to see the ancient crop do well in the island state. The industry is certainly still in the experimental stage, but Hawaiian tea is already making an impression on tea masters from afar--a delegation from Kunming, China, recently made a stop in Hawaii to try the tea and gave positive reviews, Professor Hu told me.

And Rose herself was just back from a visit to Taiwan with a new baking tool when I stopped in to visit Cloudwater last week. So in the same way that the tea plant historically traveled from China to India and then onto Europe and even Africa, it's still making its move--to grow in places as lush and exotic as tropical Hawaii. We'll keep our eye out on the growing industry and in the meantime, check out our slideshow of images from Cloudwater Tea Farm.

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Photos by Jenara Nerenberg.

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