Text by Kathy YL Chan
Images by Jonas Maon

A classic afternoon tea consists of four primary components. One is savories, two-bite wonders presented in the form of delicate tea sandwiches. Another is scones, served warm and generously dotted with currants, accompanied by clotted cream, housemade lemon curd, and strawberry preserves made from the sweetest Kula strawberries from Maui. A third is sweets, miniature bites ranging from itty bitty roll cakes to cubes of haupia-stuffed crepes.

Finally, the most important component: the tea itself. Halekulani offers a broad selection of 12 loose-leaf teas. The majority of this selection consists of pure teas, a welcome departure from many other afternoon tea services that are focused rather on serving sweetened or flavored blends. Pay particular attention to the Darjeeling selection and the Silver Needle, a notably beautiful and delicate white tea from the Fujian Province of China. Earl Grey and English Breakfast—brisk black brews that demand a spoonful of sugar and splash of milk—are also offered.

Halekulani Tea

Guests also have a chance to take this afternoon tea experience one step further. Created in collaboration with the Urasenke Foundation of Hawai‘i, Halekulani recently launched a collection of matcha-based drinks to compliment its classic afternoon tea service. Matcha, which has a vibrant history, dates back centuries in China, and was popularized and perfected in Japan as part of the traditional Japanese tea ceremony. Today, matcha is experiencing a decidedly modern type of resurgence, having been embraced in the commercial sector by both the culinary and beauty industries, among others. The popular tea powder can be found blended into everything from a latte at the corner coffee shop to ice cream and even luxe facial creams.

Matcha is set apart from all other teas by the simple fact that it is not a brew, but rather a suspension. With all other teas, the drinker steeps the tea leaves, removes them, and then sips the resulting brew. But when it comes to matcha, the entire tea leaf is stone-ground into a fine powder. That powder is then directly whisked into hot water and consumed. The health benefits of ordinary steeped teas are already significant, so one can imagine how many more benefits there are to consuming the entire leaf.

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Matcha’s resurgence is fueled by a contemporary focus on healthy living, a strong third wave of tea culture, and its enchanting visual appeal. Bartenders love to blend it into specialty cocktails, baristas enjoy adding it to espresso, and chefs relish it as an ingredient for cooking (think of the brilliant matcha and scallops dish at L’Arpège in Paris or Dominique Ansel’s matcha beignets in New York).

The matcha options served during Halekulani’s afternoon tea fittingly range from traditional to whimsical. There is the matcha straight, a classic serving of matcha whisked to order—a must-try for all matcha first-timers. Then there is the matcha einspanner, a slightly fancier take featuring matcha topped with a billowing dollop of freshly whipped cream. A luxurious and velvety matcha cappuccino is offered both hot and iced, served with a side of local Hawaiian honey. And for those with a sweet tooth, complete your afternoon tea with the vanilla ice cream float, composed of an iced matcha cappuccino coupled with a scoop of vanilla bean ice cream. Devour as you would any delicious dessert.

Enjoy afternoon tea at Halekulani’s Veranda starting at 3 p.m. For more information, or to make reservations, call 808-923-2311.

This story was originally published in Living Magazine for Halekulani.