Sunday | October 22, 2017
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What do bamboo, tea and coffee have to do with cocoa?

So, what do bamboo, tea and coffee have to do with cocoa?

Actually, almost nothing except they all grow well in Hawaii and next week, there are two events that celebrate these fascinating plants.

First is the Big Island Chocolate Festival, May 1-3.The activities start with tours of cacao farms and factory. The second day includes events at the Fairmont Orchid Hotel with a culinary student competition. The final day is the Gala Fundraiser, featuring unlimited chocolate tastings and savory pupus from 25 professional chefs. Live entertainment by Yis Var and Girls Nite Out band will make this a fun event you won’t want to miss! Proceeds from the festival benefit the “Equip the Kitchen” Campaign-Palamanui College and Kona Pacific Public Charter School.

For more information and tickets for farm tours, seminars, demonstrations as well as the gala chocolate tastings, go to

Secondly, you should top the weekend off with the Hawaii Chapter of the American Bamboo Society meeting and tours. This will be hosted Sunday, May 4, at the Kona Cloud Forest Sanctuary in Kona. They will start with a potluck lunch at noon and finish with tours of the sanctuary and a new all-bamboo constructed home on the scenic highway to Holualoa. Potential new members and folks interested in bamboo are invited.

For further information, contact President Jacqui Marlin at 966-5080. To get directions to the sanctuary, Google via Yelp “directions Cloud Forest Sanctuary, Kailua Hawaii” and start with your location. You also can use your GPS to find 73-1865 Hao St., Kailua-Kona 96740. When it comes to bamboo, there are more than 1,200 species growing from a few inches tall to more than 120 feet in height. These are used for food, construction, crafts, medicine and even wine. In the landscape, they are used for erosion control, windbreaks, soil building and beauty.

Back to cocoa, or cacao: Note cocoa and tea are now commercial crops in Hawaii, along with coffee. They grow well and produce very good quality. Cacao comes from the humid tropics of South America, so it does best below 1,500 feet elevation on the Big Island, where there is sufficient moisture and little wind. In cooler regions, tea is a better choice to grow well.

What we think of as English tea, or Chinese tea, is coming into its own in Hawaii.

Plants can be found in many Big Island gardens as ornamentals. They make attractive small trees to 30 feet. Most folks think tea is a crop grown in and confined to equatorial countries. This, however, is a misconception. Tea grows in a wide range of climates and can be grown in areas extending from equatorial to temperate zones. For example, it grows in southern Russia near the Caucasian Mountains on the latitude of 40 degrees N, and in Argentina near the latitude 30 degrees S. On a recent trip to Brasil and Argentina, we saw tea production and in the market. But the more widely used tea was something called Yerba Mate and this will be mentioned later in the article.

Tea belongs to the camellia family. Its correct botanical name is Camellia sinensis, and is closely related to horticultural varieties that bloom magnificently in many home gardens and public parks.

The tea plant is an attractive evergreen shrub native to Assam. There are about a thousand varieties known, which differ in flower and shade of green leaves as well as flavor when brewed.

The stimulating drink was originally used medicinally but since the 5th century has been the chief beverage in China. It became popular in Europe in the 17th century and was America’s chief beverage until the Boston Tea Party.

An alkaloid, like caffeine, and a volatile oil give tea its flavor. Long brewing extracts tannin, which is bitter and not considered beneficial.

Yerba Mate is a popular stimulating drink of South America and even more commonly used there. It comes from the leaves of Ilex paraguariensis and is called the “Drink of the Gods” and the “Incas Green Gold.” We also saw coca tea from the same plant from which cocaine is derived. Yerba Mate is something we could grow in Hawaii but, of course, not the coca tea even though as it is used by locals there, it is just a mild stimulant.

Another drink we enjoyed every day was made from the acai or assai fruit. This is very popular in Rio and was sold at juice stands combined with Yerba Mate. The acai fruit comes from the palm tree Euterpe oleracea. It is an attractive clumping palm that would do well in many Hawaiian gardens. Several growers who attended the International Palm Conference in Rio imported seed of this palm. The plants are beginning to show up for sale at local nurseries. Last fall, there was an International Palm Society meeting in Peru, where we were often given coca tea. This is a beverage that helps one breathe at high elevations. Unfortunately, because it is also the plant that produces cocaine, we are unable to grow it in Hawaii at this time.

Traveling really opens our eyes to new crops for Hawaii as well as better ways to grow and sell the crops we have.

Hopefully, more folks here can experience some of the horticultural conferences in the USA and abroad. The next one several folks from Hawaii will be attending is the American Bamboo Society Annual Meeting and Convention from Oct. 16-19 in San Diego.

This information is supplied by the University of Hawaii College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources.


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