We split the visit between both the Hilo and Kona side of the island…both so different but equally magical.
When I was on the Big Island last month, I met with Ross Alaimo, pastry chef at Mauna Kea Beach Hotel (see my Serious Eats post here). Such a great guy…and his banana bread is amazing. Chef Ross is big on using local Hawaii ingredients (I know we often talk about local this and that…but things always feel more genuine in Hawaii :)
I met him at 8am on a Monday morning and we powered through many delightful sweets. Want to take a look?
Lilikoi cheesecake with fresh lilikoi (from Hilo side of the island). The puree is mixed into the cheesecake batter and turned into lilikoi curd to top. Graham cracker crust.
Mochi ice cream wrapped to order, paired with fresh mangoes. Super soft mochi stuffed with vanilla bean (from Hamakua coast) ice cream.
Kee’au apple-banana bread pudding with cinnamon grated straight into the pudding.
Big Island goat cheese cheesecake – sweet and savory paired with caramelized pineapples, walnuts, and local honey.
Soufflés! In both vanilla bean…
And my favorite of them all…banana bread!! Bought an extra loaf to take back to Honolulu. Thick slices, grilled and topped with butter. Ooh la la o_O
If you visited Harrods in London in the past year, you might have noticed a black tea retailing for $4,800 a pound. That tea came all the way from Hawai’i, grown and hand harvested from Eliah and Cam of Big Island Tea. The tea is offered only at Harrods for now…but fingers crossed we’ll be able to try it in other places soon ^_^
While I was on the Big Island last week, I got a chance to meet Eliah and Cam (thank you for being such wonderful hosts!) at their tea farm. They’re located 3,000 feet up on slopes of the Mauna Kea volcano.
In addition to tea plants they also grown kukui nut and koa trees, blackberries and blueberries, and even bamboo orchids. Serene and calm, the air is remarkably fresh…almost makes me want to never return to the city.
Here’s a peek at the black tea…
…and the first steep. Look at that color, can you see all the downy hairs? It’s from the high proportion of tips. So beautiful. It drinks the way it looks, rich and vibrant with an understated sweetness.
We enjoyed it with cookies Eliah just baked, fresh figs from the farm, and fruit and nut bars from the nearby farmer’s market. What a spread! If only every Sunday could be like this :)
Is there any drink more enchanting than tea? I think not.
P.S. If you haven’t seen a tea seed before…this is what they look like.
As we walked through the Tea Hawaii farm on the Big Island last Sunday, Chiu plucked two leaves and a bud from a tea plant. We ate it raw, so sweet. I thought it was my first time trying their tea leaves fresh…but I was wrong.
Let’s backtrack to a dinner nearly three years ago in NYC.
Remember this six-course tea feast at In Pursuit of Tea? The first course featured tempura tea leaves (fresh tea leaves dipped in a honey batter and deep-fried). Guess where the tea leaves were flown in from just that morning? Hawai’i! I never found out exactly where in Hawai’i the tea leaves came from…
…until last Sunday, when I did a cupping with Eva and Chiu in their studio. Eva mentioned that they collaborated with Melanie Franks (who is now a chef at Amankora, the Aman property in Bhutan…let’s go! :) on a tea dinner in NYC years ago. And it turned out to be that very same dinner.
Eva was a dancer and Chiu a photographer. Together they created this stunning tea farm and ceramics studio deep in Volcano, Hawai’i. High ceilings, soft light, shoji doors, and this beautiful, soft air of tranquility.
They’re located on the summit of Kilauea Volcano where they harvest and process four types of tea (black, green, white, and oolong), plus mamaki (an herbal tisane) which is popular in Hawai’i. Pictured above is the Forest White which brews golden and sweet, very delicate. Chiu himself makes all the ceramics, a complete tea experience.
Here’s a look at the white tea leaves before steeping (we did five infusions).
What a magical place. Thank you, Eva and Chiu, for your kind hospitality :)
Saturday at Cochon Island (the first Cochon 555 to take place in Hawai’i :)…
…that top photo was taken seconds after the boys dug that pig from the imu.
Along the Kohala Coast, breezy afternoons at the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel…
…and Four Seasons Hualalai.
That moment right before the sun goes down, my favorite part of the day.
Lunch at the original Merriman’s in Waimea for kalua pig saimin…
….and avocado poke bowls with garlic-mac nut rice.
A visit to two exquisite tea plantations..what a dream. The future of Hawaii’s tea industry is looking bright.
Thank you, Big Island! Can’t wait to return.