I first encountered James Norwood Pratt at his Tea Sommelier lecture at the Los Angeles Tea Festival. I was inspired by his understanding of the New Tea Lover and the renaissance of tea appreciation in the United States. My brother and I were invited to visit him at his home, a day that turned into a journey around the world through story. If walls could talk, they would say they witnessed tea history that day. Together, we explored a collection of Hawaii-grown teas from Mauna Kea Tea and Onomea Tea and four single-estate teas from Sakuma Bros. in Washington.
Green Teas. We first tasted two seasonal lots of Mauna Kea Premium Green Tea. The group agreed that one of the lots had a more appealing flavor profile and possessed unique cinnamon notes. We didn’t have much information about the two lots, only that they were harvested at different times. Taka Ino, the grower of this tea, mentioned that even a slight difference in rainfall during the time of harvest can have a drastic effect on the characteristics of the cupped tea. In addition, we tasted Mauna Kea Island Green alongside Sakuma Bros. Green. The Island Green was rich and sweet at the same time and had a much more complex flavor profile than the green tea grown and processed in Washington.
Oolong Teas. The round of Oolong tasting was quite exciting as we got to try teas from three farms – Mauna Kea, Onomea, and Sakuma Bros. The group was happy with all the Oolongs we tasted, but was especially impressed with the Sakuma Bros. Oolong, as it had the most refined processing characteristics. The Oolongs of Mauna Kea and Onomea were both unique, but the group agreed that Mauna Kea had the fullest flavor and most intriguing bouquet.
Black Teas. Our journey through the Black Teas was the most exciting because the teas from Onomea and Sakuma Bros. brought the most diversity. Unfortunately, the group agreed that the Sakuma Bros. Black was not properly withered, as the tea left an unpleasant metallic taste on the inside of the cheeks. The Onomea Roasted Black Tea, on the other hand, made Norwood stop in the middle of the sentence he was sharing as he took his first sip. He paused and exclaimed that it was like heaven. Its rich flavors and chocolaty notes were enough for Norwood to believe that Hawaii is, in fact, capable of producing some of the world’s finest teas.
My experience with Norwood was one of many memorable moments I have already enjoyed in the tea world. We connected as friends, tea collaborators, and frontier explorers of U.S.-grown tea. I look forward to sharing more teas and tasting notes with Norwood. In the meantime, you can begin exploring some of the teas we tasted on Tealet, with more to come.