Sunday, September 8, 2013
From Technology to Tea
Rob Nunally and Mike Longo started Onomea Tea Company in 2003. This was a second, if not third career for both of them. Rob and Mike started Onomea Tea after realizing that their initial crop of choice, daylilies, would not grow as consistently as needed for cultivation. Considering their options while drinking tea, they thought – “Why not grow tea?” Having green thumbs and plenty of available property on Hawaii’s Big Island, they jumped in. A new career was born.
Before Onomea, Rob lived in California. He attended CA State University and received a BA in Business with an emphasis in Information System. This was perfect for Silicon Valley and he started in with a software support job and ultimately his own technology business. Since most of the technology was sold internationally, this business could be run from most anywhere. In 2010 the political climate for the business changed and the business income dropped substantially, since that time he has been more focused on tea.
Mike was born and raised on the East Coast. He grew up working in his father’s nursery and garden business and studied Biology and Chemistry at Marquette University. After teaching high school biology, Mike’s path led him to the National College of Chiropractic and a career as a Chiropractic Physician and Natural Health Practitioner. Mike lived in Fiji for a short time and eventually moved to Hawaii Island in 1977. He began hybridizing daylilies in the late 80's. In the mid 90's he moved to California and owned a retail nursery and a daylilies garden. His interest in daylilies led to the creation of an online auction website for daylilies, which he still runs.
After a few years in California Mike began to feel the pull back to Hawaii. He convinced Rob to accompany him on a trip there. Rob became attached to the big island overnight. They began to look for a residence there in 1999. In a short time they discovered available land overlooking Onomea Bay that was breathtaking. They both packed up and moved to Hawaii in 2000 and began building their house. Their first tea plants were planted in 2003.
It has only been 10 years, but Rob and Mike are tea experts. They have certifications galore and have trained with world renowned authorities. Set on a nine acre plantation above Onomea Bay, Onomea Tea grows, cultivates, and processes some of the finest tea available. Impressively, Onomea Tea is completely organic. As Mike pointed out, tea isn’t washed before it is processed, so whatever is on when it is picked is on it when you drink it. Pesticides – out, sea spray and Hawaiian sunshine – in. Beautiful.
The tea is picked and processed by hand on site. They have been cultivating new hybrids of their tea plants after painstakingly selecting the best from their existing stock. Currently, they produce and sell white, green, oolong, and black tea. Onomea does not add flavors and uses only their own crops. Recently, they produced an aged black tea “Koko Ki” that had subtle hints of cocoa. (Yes – with no additives or flavorings they brought tea and chocolate together in one luscious cup.) Unfortunately, the demand is so high that they often sell out quickly.
This second career seems to be working out quite nicely.
If you are on the Big Island, contact them for a tour of the plantation and afternoon tea tasting! You won’t regret it.