All posts by Nicole Basso

Green Tea from Big Island Tea

Kilinoe Green Tea is grown on the Big Island of Hawaii. This tea is hand picked and hand processed by Eliah Halpenny of Big Island Tea. Grown on a farm on the slope of a volcano on a 400 year old ash deposit, Kilinoe Green Tea has a unique taste due to its unique terroir. The small-batch tea is fired and rolled by hand at only certain times of the year when the weather permits for the perfect growing conditions. The end product consists of only the finest whole, twisted leaves, which are selected through careful inspection. image This unique tea is grown using agro-ecological methods that are used to develop a balanced agro-ecosystem. Other native plants are also planted along with the tea to attract endangered species.


Matcha Green Tea and Matcha Bites at Sip Tea Lounge

imageIt is said that green tea was first introduced to Japan in the 8th century by a monk named Saisho.  He brought back tea seeds from China, where he was studying Buddhism.  During meditation, the tea was used by the monks to help keep them awake.  In the 12th century, Eisai, a monk who had also been studying Buddhism in China, began to popularize tea in Japan.  Eisai instructed that the tea should be consumed for its healthful properties.  While in China, the monks had learned to prepare tea during the Song Dynasty (960-1279) by grinding it into a powder, then mashing it in a bowl before brewing it. Eventually, the Chinese stopped preparing tea in this way and the custom was appropriated by the Japanese and integrated into the tradition known as chanoyu.

imageIn the 16th century, Sen No Rikyu codified the tea ceremony (chanoyu).  From 1641-1853, about 200 years, Japan was isolated from the rest of the world.  During this time, China was supplying many countries with tea while Japan was developing its own ways of processing and brewing it.  Matcha was mainly used in the Japanese tea ceremony and it has now become a very popular tea due to its health benefits.  Japanese researchers had studied the tea in the 1920s, proving that it contained catechins and antioxidants.  More recently, numerous studies have been ongoing to uncover the health benefits of tea, particularly matcha green tea.  Green tea has remained the most popular in Japan and although there may be some black teas produced domestically in Japan, the green teas are mainly the types associated with Japan.  Tea trees in Japan are often covered with canopies to shade the leaves in order to help them produce higher levels of chlorophyll and amino acids, and fewer tannins.  Primarily these shaded plants produce premium gyokuro, tencha and matcha.  To process matcha green tea, the leaves are picked, cut into tencha and ground into a fine powder after being steamed.  The result is an emerald green tea leaf that brews a brightly colored, almost fluorescent green liquor.  To brew the matcha green tea, the powder is placed into a traditional Chawan or appropriate bowl, 175 degree Fahrenheit water is placed on top of the powder (just enough to cover it) and the tea is vigorously whisked with a chasen (bamboo tea whisk) to create a thick frothy, bright green liquid. At Sip Tea Lounge, we have adopted our own version of serving this healthy brew.  The tea is whisked and prepared in a bowl similar to a chawan, but made for our tea lounge.  Additionally, we have added matcha tea to some of our vegan sweet treats including our Vegan Matcha Bites.  These can be a welcome tasty treat for anyone who would like to get a small taste of matcha, but is not ready to try the traditional Matcha Bowl by itself.  First time matcha tea drinkers may find straight matcha to be slightly bitter.  To balance out this bitterness, it is always nice to enjoy something sweet with the tea. image

The Tea Plant (Camellia sinensis)

There are three main varieties of the Camellia tea plant, the sinensis, assamica and cambodiensis. The Camellia sinensis is most commonly used for the cultivation of tea including black, green, oolong, white and pu er. The Camellia sinensis is a sturdy plant that can withstand harsh conditions and can grow at high altiutudes. Among the sinensis, there are many cultivars that have been created, some more cold resistant than others and some better for certain types of tea. The life of this plant can span decades and there are trees that are 100-1000 years old in existence today. Though the leaves tend to be a bit sparse on an older tree, leaves still can be gathered to make tea. If left uncut, the Camellia sinensis can grow to 20 feet while assamica varieties can reach almost 100 feet. On a plantation, most tea plants last approximately thirty to fifty years. Most plants used for tea are kept at waste height to make picking tea leaves easier. The Camellia sinesis is a perennial plant, and in some regions, can be harvested all year round. Where sunlight is less than 11 hours north or south for more than five weeks, however, growth slows and the plant may go dormant until the next season. Typically the first new leaves are picked in spring. This first picking of the season is also known as the first flush. It is said that the highest quality tea is picked at this time because the plant’s ingredients are more concentrated and aromatic when it awakens in the new season of spring.The five main tea-producing regions are China, Taiwan, Sri Lanka, India, and Japan, but tea plants also grow in Turkey, Africa, Argentina, Australia and even the United States as well as some other regions. The quality of the tea is greatly influenced by the condition in which the plants grow including soil, climate, altitude and latitude. In the United States, the most productive tea growing region at this time seems to be the Big Island of Hawaii. It can take some time for plants to mature, and to produce a significant amount of tea requires older plants, a fair amount of them and the labor to harvest and process the leaves. image


imageMamaki (Pipturus albidus) is a native herb to Hawaii and has been considered a sacred plant for generations. It is also called Hawaiian Nettle and is said to be the only nettle plant that does not have stinging leaves. It is said that local Hawaiians give the tea to the sick and the weak, and that this tea helps regulate high blood pressure and diabetes. This caffeine-free, anti-oxidant rich herbal tisane contains catechins, chlorogenic acid, and rutin. The tea becomes a deeper red the longer it steeps.image

Making Tea

As Sip Tea Lounge is only open for a portion of the day, sometimes it becomes necessary for one to enjoy tea in the comfort of one’s home, or god forbid, at work. Not to worry! It’s easy to brew loose tea on your own. Here’s my guide for making things a little less scary.

IMG_6130Loose tea offers greater quality and variety than bagged tea. The bits and pieces you find in tea bags, the finings and dust, come from the leftovers of the tea manufacturing process. Why not treat your body to the good stuff!

Loose tea should be stored in lightproof containers that seal well in a relatively cool place. Light, moisture, and air will change the flavor of your tea. It is also important to keep your tea canisters sealed against the strange cooking odors that are usually found in the kitchen, as tea tends to pick those odors up. You don’t need to buy official looking tea canisters, although it looks nice. Spice jars, reused tea canisters, and metal and ceramic containers will do well. There’s no problem just using the bag the tea came in, either! As you can see, I use an assortment of containers and I label each one.

Now for the important stuff, making tea sans tea bag.

You’ll need:

  • Your favorite loose tea of the moment
  • A teaspoon
  • A tea ball, infuser basket, or tea sac for your leaves
  • Your cup, or a teapot and cups
  • A rest for your infuser or strainer
  • A timer

If you are brewing green or white tea, it’s useful to also have:

  • A digital barbecue thermometer
  • A ceramic or glass cup or pitcher


I tend to stay away from the cute little tea balls or infusers you might get as a present. Loose tea needs room to expand, and room to let the hot water pass through the leaves. It’s best to use the biggest strainer possible for your tea. Our store sells an infuser basket that works well for both coffee mugs and teapots. I use a basket that just barely fits inside my teapot that you can find at stores. Those come in different sizes, so measure the opening of your teapot.


Start boiling your water. Measure out your tea. For the majority of teas, one teaspoon per 8 ounces of water is enough. For fluffy teas, such as White Peony, or some herbal blends, you might need more. The package usually will tell you what you need to do. Here, since I know my kyusu teapot holds about 12 ounces, one and a half teaspoons of a Chinese green tea from Anhui province will do. My basket filter drops nicely into the pot, and the tea goes in there.


Whether you use a teapot, an infuser, or a tea bag, it’s important to get both the water temperature and brewing time correct for a good-tasting cup of tea. What you might read on the package may not really be the best advice. Especially with green, white, and Darjeeling teas, brewing with water that is too hot, or brewing for too long, will give you astringency and bitterness that overpowers the fine flavors you want. And overbrewed black tea gets kind of funky. With tea brewing, it’s always better to go a little bit under, rather than over. If you want a stronger tea, either add a little more leaves, or agitate the tea leaves to create more water flow-through. Here’s my (Dan’s) personal guide for temperature and time. Certain teas, such as Gyokuro and Jasmine Green Pearls, may have different requirements.


Tea Temperature Time
White 175-195°F 2-3 minutes
Japanese Green (-cha teas) 175°F 30 seconds – 1 minute
Chinese Green 195°F 2-3 minutes
Oolong 200-208°F 2-3 minutes
Darjeeling 208°F 3 minutes maximum!
Black 208°F 3-5 minutes
Herbal 208-212°F 3+ minutes

Here’s a trick for getting the water temperature down quickly for white and green teas. I use a heavy ceramic cup to cool off the water. My cup holds 12 ounces, just about the size of my teapot, and when I pour boiling water into it, it drops things down from 212° to about 190-195°F instantly. Then, if I need the water down to 175°F for Japanese teas, I just have to wait about 3 minutes for it to cool off, instead of a very long time. I like to make sure I’m in the range by measuring with a digital thermometer. Once you get used to getting the temperature right, you probably won’t need the thermometer much!

IMG_6137 Now pour that water over your tea leaves, and set the timer. Once you’re done, get those tea leaves out of the pot and let them rest. You can reuse your tea leaves for a couple more steepings, but if you leave them in the pot… you will have overbrewed, useless tea. IMG_6139Now pour yourself a cup and enjoy! Super-Domo approves!



– by Dan Kerr