At Cloudwater Tea Farm, there are two varieties of Camellia Sinensis; var. assamica and var. sinensis, both of which sprout tea leaves in this tropical landscape that upon flushing require, with a mind clear of internal dialogue, hand plucking. My inceptive tea harvest fell upon the assamica variety, a larger leaf tea bush that has exhibited quality black tea, and so, the first tea that I created would be a hand-picked and processed Hawaiian black tea – var. assamica. After plucking leaves in the categories of one, two, and three leaves with one bud, these leaves, destined to become Hawaiian black tea, withered in the humid tropical climate for some number of hours and offered a change in aroma from crisp fresh apples to not-quite-ripe, sweet bananas.
This brings me to an interesting point regarding tea (and wine): that being terroir – a term (vaguely) describing the make-up of a natural environment in terms of climate, soil, topography, region, and year, among many other changing factors. This term has always alluded me as it is so commonly thrown around in books and discussions on tea. Only now, upon experiencing terroir first hand in Hawaii do I understand its role and impact on flavor profile and aroma. There is a distinct and consistent smell and taste to the tea here at Cloudwater and that distinction comes from the volcanic Hawaiian soil, the frequent bursts of rain and humid sunshine, the elevation above sea level, and the personal processing method of the farmer. Paradoxically, This is why one tea can never be reproduced again; the terroir (the natural regional environment) is in a constantly changing flux, and thus the nature of the tea is likewise always changing – never the same – which yields to the Japanese saying, ichi-go-ichi-e, “one time, one meeting.” And yet, the tea maintains to some degree, a consistent and distinct Hawaiian flavour profile, because while the terroir may be constantly changing, from harvest to harvest, flush to flush, its changing nature too is held subject to the very bounds of nature. It thus becomes a loose interplay between the nexus of change within boundedness.
In picking and processing my first tea, noting the changing aroma, and finally tasting the finished product, one learns more about terroir, but it is also just as important to experience what the tea experiences, from the same soil in your hands, to rain on your face, and the sun on your skin (ideally over a great length of time) – then, one gains an experiential understanding of what terrior really means.
Tea isn’t just about tea; it’s about labour on a farm, picking up deadened lauhala leaves, experiencing the same forces of nature that the Tea is faced with; it’s about aligning yourself on a parallel path to that of natural flow and becoming a medium through which tea (or any art for that matter) can express itself.
Ok, not ganna lie, I had a big list of events to blog about from my first week here at Cloudwater Tea Farm, but that last segment on terroir ate up way too much time. In summary, besides harvesting and processing tea, I also helped in the major process of building a 200 x 100 foot fence for a goat pasture, digging and filling 30+ trenches for more tea and some pineapples, and I’m reading this great book called Wabi Sabi The Japanese Art of Impermanence which is just outstanding; I already want to read it again before having finished it. I also fed the chickens today… They’re hilarious; I’ll have to save an entire blog entry for mowing the lawn alongside chickens.
All of this has been greatly influenced by my two new mentors, Michelle and Parker, the wonderful farmers here at Cloudwater.
If you’re wondering, I am drinking heaping amounts of tea every day, which is awesome.
ps: sorry for no pictures again; still waiting on my cable in the mail. I’ve taken some GREAT ones though!
What do you really want, and what really matters?