Inside Tea Chest | The Hawaii Tea Company that puts Taste First
History & Culture: A 25–Year Journey of Award–Winning Teas
Tea Chest Hawaii is about teas as unique as Hawaii itself. Hawaii has come to embody many things to many people — a fluid mix of Asian, American, and native Hawaiian cultures; moments of warmth, relaxation and wellness in a world that grows increasingly hectic. Tea Chest Hawaii is all of these things, in cup after cup.
Tea Chest Hawaii was originally founded in 1995 by Byron and Satomi Goo, beginning as a distributor of fine teas. Not long after, Byron and Satomi began their evolution as tea makers, drawing on their Hawaiian, Chinese and Japanese heritage — cultures with deep-rooted tea traditions — to source and craft teas for the modern table. Today, we offer three distinctive house brands — Hawaiian Natural Tea (organic tea bags), Island Essence (signature blends of loose tea) and Tea Chest Hawaii Tropical Iced Tea and several specialty collections. Our signature Original Blend Nilgiri Iced Tea, the base of all our iced teas, was named Best Iced Tea in America in a national competition sponsored by the Tea Association of The U.S.A.
From farm to cup, we have an intimate understanding of tea. We are inspired by refined tastes with a distinct sense of place. We try to capture the lush fragrance of Grandma’s beloved mango tree or the scent of pineapple drifting through the window as you drive to Haleiwa on the North Shore of Oahu. Our cacao teas, chai blends, and herbal teas are imbued with flavors that conjure up thoughts of Hawaii — lilikoi (passionfruit), coconut, strawberry guava, chocolate.
Tea is an affordable luxury and healthy everyday beverage. Our products complement the moments of life—refreshing iced teas for after yoga or a mid-day surf session; Mango Peach for gatherings with friends; Lemon Chamomile to relax in bed with a good book or Netflix binge. We select teas that pair well with Island cuisine — sencha to go with sushi or fresh-caught poke, or a floral oolong to contrast with wok-fried foods. No matter how formal or casual the setting, tea is about care and hospitality. It is a small representation of the larger picture to take time to nourish ourselves, to “talk story” with loved ones, and to take care of relationships.
Partners and Ingredients: Trust and Quality, Always
At Tea Chest Hawaii, we spend a great deal of time vetting our ingredients and growers. Our core value of malama is about good stewardship — to leave a place better than how we found it. This philosophy extends to both people and our surroundings. Malama Aina guides us to preserve and protect the land and waters that sustain us. We work with many family-owned farms to source high quality organic, sustainable and local ingredients. These ingredients are grown from seed, rather than cloning or using GMO techniques.
Read our blog for more information about the benefits and sources of our quality ingredients.
We work with local growers to cultivate a growing tea industry, collaborating to craft high-quality products found nowhere else in the world. We source tea and other unique ingredients, such as cacao, lavender, mamaki, and moringa, from Maui, Hawaii Island, and Oahu. Our local farm partners include:
Big Island Tea — Situated on a bed of 400-year-old volcanic ash soil enriched by the surrounding forest over centuries, the terroir of Big Island Tea is unmatched. As it grows at the 3,000-foot level on the northeastern slope of Mauna Loa on Hawaii Island, the tea is bathed in cool morning mist and shaded from the afternoon sun by ohia and other native trees. Research indicates that shade-growing practices encourage the tea to express more of the compounds associated with excellent flavor and health benefits, while also preserving agricultural diversity. Founders Eliah Halpenny and Dr. Cam Muir cultivate each plant from seed, using natural cross-pollination techniques and no pesticides, harvesting and processing entirely by hand. Their methods propagate a complete tropical cloud-forest ecosystem, resulting in healthier tea crops, a sustainable farm system, and a flourishing natural environment. We are proud to be one of the few sellers of their ultra-premium, rare A‘a Black tea.
Maui Tea Farm — At the 4,000-foot elevation on the slopes of Haleakala, the House of the Rising Sun, Maui Tea Farm is located ideally for tea cultivation. The high elevation, volcanic soil, cool temperatures and alternating sunlight and rain produce a very special tea. Farmers Alex and Andrea de Roode use organic farming techniques and maintain a diversity of crops along with their high-quality tea. Picked and processed entirely by hand, only a few pounds of their precious Haleakala black tea are available each harvest.
Mountain View Farm — Tucked away in Waianae, Oahu, Mountain View Farm uses natural farming techniques to grow moringa that is rich in beneficial enzymes and microbes. Not even organic pesticides or herbicides are used at this small family enterprise headed by farmer David Wong. Instead, they use natural micro-organisms to cultivate the soil and nourish the plants, following a technique pioneered in Korea. Moringa, commonly known in Hawaii by its Filipino name, kalamungay, is rich in beneficial nutrients and has long been used throughout Southeastern Asia and Africa for culinary and medicinal purposes. To preserve the beneficial compounds, the crops are hand-picked and carefully processed, protected from heat and humidity. We source the moringa we use in our MANA and OLENA teas exclusively from Mountain View Farm.
We are also excited to have worked with some of the top names in Hawaii’s culinary and hospitality fields. We have collaborated on menu curation and product development with tastemakers such as chefs Wade Ueoka and Michelle Karr-Ueoka of MW Restaurant and Anthony Rush of Senia as well as with iconic Island hotels such as the Halekulani, the Royal Hawaiian and the Mauna Kea Beach Resort, among many others.
Building Community: Strengthening Our Islands
It is important to us to support other Hawaii businesses and play our part in creating a thriving and diverse state economy. We have a dream that Hawaii will one day support a robust tea industry that complements the state’s world-renown coffee industry.
Tea has been grown in Hawaii as far back as the 1800s, but large-scale commercial attempts to cultivate the crop, in the manner of sugarcane and pineapple, never took hold. In the early 2000s, with interest renewed in agricultural diversity, small farmers began exploring tea. We have helped some of these growers expand into commercial production.
The U.S. Small Business Administration has recognized Tea Chest Hawaii with a Small Business of the Year award for our efforts to foster the tea industry in Hawaii. Tea and botanicals now grow on Maui, Molokai, Oahu, Kauai and Hawaii Island. Out of 30 farmers we’ve put through our training process, five farms have begun to produce commercially.
Our communi-TEA has grown internationally. Our founder, Byron Goo, is a U.S. Secretary of Commerce appointee to the Hawaii Pacific District Export Council, now in his second four-year term. The Council provides assistance to companies based in Hawaii and the U.S. Pacific territories seeking to expand to international markets.
We serve both hospitality and retail wholesale accounts. We provide hospitality accounts with staff training and menu development. We offer wholesale products, OEM products, and private label services to retailers.
Through a strategic partnership with Kamehameha School’s Kapili Oihana Career and Postgraduate Program, we have provided fun and meaningful opportunities for young adults to discover their career paths since 2012.
Tea for Life: What to Know About Tea
The four main types of tea — white, green, oolong, and black — all come from the same plant, Camellia sinensis. It’s the way the leaves are processed that result in the different types of tea. Tea can flourish in many locations around the world; it’s grown in more than 30 countries, primarily in China, India, Kenya and Sri Lanka. The most desirable teas, however, tend to come from high-elevation locations and are picked and processed by hand. Growing tea at high elevations encourages better — and more concentrated — flavor, while hand-harvesting and processing prevents damage to the leaves and helps preserve the nutrients and beneficial qualities of the tea.
Hawaii is uniquely suited for growing tea with our volcanic soil, tropical sunshine, and plentiful rainfall. Our multiple climate zones also make the Aloha State a fantastic place to be able to grow other crops suitable for herbal teas, such as mamaki, moringa, cacao, lavender, and other garden herbs.
Research demonstrates that tea contains numerous beneficial vitamins and compounds. This is hardly a surprise, considering that cultures worldwide have used tea for medicinal purposes for thousands of years. Studies have linked tea consumption to better health, with benefits ranging from weight loss and improved mental clarity to lowering cholesterol, blood sugar, and blood pressure. Tea is also reputed to have anti-inflammatory, anti-aging, and cancer-fighting properties. Scientists have not agreed on the conclusiveness of these studies, but they are certain that the phytonutrients in tea contain high levels of polyphenols, which contain antioxidants. (You may also hear about flavonoids or catechins in connection with the health benefits of tea — these are antioxidant compounds, too.) Examples of beneficial antioxidants include vitamin C, vitamin E, and beta-carotene. Natural consumption of antioxidants through food, such as drinking tea, is a safe way to bring these beneficial compounds into your body. The strong correlation between tea consumption and healthier populations also seem to indicate that it’s tea consumption that confers the benefits, and therefore taking pure antioxidant supplements is not necessarily any more effective — it’s certainly less enjoyable than a cup of tea!
Many of our existing teas are linked to health benefits, but we realized we could create blends specifically designed for modern living. These wellness blends help to boost resilience, feel better and maintain active lifestyles, combining tea leaves with other plant-based ingredients that have been used as medicinal remedies. Two blends, MANA and OLENA (and others in the works), are designed to boost immune fitness and reduce inflammation, respectively. We are especially pleased to use high quality, Hawaii-grown moringa and mamaki in these wellness blends. Grown in pristine conditions by trusted growers, both plants are high in antioxidants and other beneficial phytonutrients, while being low in caffeine.
Speaking of caffeine, tea is wonderfully versatile as a beverage that can be consumed to perk you up or soothe you. Depending on the type of tea and other ingredients added, teas can deliver nearly as much caffeine as coffee (Energitea), or have little or none (white teas like Yin Zhen Silver Needles or herbal teas like Chamomile Mint with no caffeine). Several of our teas include mamaki, which has a natural stimulating effect without caffeine.
The benefits of tea are not just about nutrients, vitamins and natural compounds. Tea gives us a way to create a personal-care ritual and bring mindfulness into our day. The handful of moments it takes to prepare your tea and enjoy a cup can be key to maintaining a positive and healthy frame of mind. Fragrance has a powerful impact on our sensory systems, and the aromas released when brewing tea can energize or calm us and bring clarity to our thoughts.
Read our blog for more features on the benefits of tea!