Tea at Halekulani in Waikiki

On the last day of my recent trip to Hawaii, I treated myself to afternoon tea at Halekulani in Waikiki.  Known as one of the most exclusive and pricey hotels in Honolulu, I could only hope to be spending bit of time there as a guest for tea.  A few hours surrounded in luxury at a much more affordable price point can only be a good thing, especially after having splurged at the Lupicia Tea Shop earlier in the week.

True to the ideal time for afternoon tea, Halekulani serves tea daily from 3-5:30 pm.   As I arrived at the tail end of their afternoon tea time, I was seated in the Veranda, a smaller room overlooking the main courtyard at the hotel.  Not far from the Veranda area, Orchids, one of three restaurants at Halekulani, also serves tea with from 3-5 pm.  Orchids sits oceanfront with a beautiful view of Diamond Head in Waikiki Beach.

Just after a large group of local women dressed in the most elegant island style sundresses left the tea room, I was seated at one of the 6 tables in the Veranda.  While the restaurant Orchids has a warm and breezy vibe, the Veranda is peaceful, intimate, and classy.

Halekulani’s afternoon tea offerings include European style tea sandwiches, scones, and pastries.  While their savories are traditional classics, some of their desserts are uniquely island-inspired.

Shortly after being seated, you’ll be presented with a gorgeous wooden box of Halekulani’s loose leaf teas to choose from.  I had a hard time choosing between their Pineapple Coconut Rooibos with Mango blend and their signature Halekulani Blend, made from black, peppermint, and jasmine teas.

After 10 minutes of sniffing my way though all of the elegant boxes of tea, I decided on the Halekulani Blend.  It was my last day on the island and I knew a kick of caffeine would help me make the most of my last hours there.

Being the signature blend of the hotel, I expected more from the Halekulani Blend.  It was just a little on the flat side.  A pleasant-tasting black tea, just not particularly memorable.

The picture perfect current scones were quite delicious, with a texture somewhere between crumbly and flaky.  The Kula Strawberry Preserves that accompany the scones are made from locally grown strawberries from the neighboring island of Maui. The cute little canele were eggier and lighter in texture than the scones were, and the poppy seeds flecked throughout were a unique addition.

What was extremely delightful and memorable was the spread of afternoon tea goodies that came next.  As is expected when you have an elegant afternoon tea, quality, art, and vibrance is the emphasis of the meal, not quantity.  The elegant presentation of the sandwiches and petit fours was spot on and so luxuriously inviting.

The Smoked Salmon with Lemon Cream on Rye was basic yet delicious.  I’m always impressed to see how many ways top chefs can shape a slice of smoke salmon to create a beautiful canapé.

halekulani afternoon tea smoked salmonThe Chicken and Horseradish on Whole Grain tea sandwich was also fairly good.  They coated one side with crushed peanuts, which an interesting and unexpected variation.

By far my favorite bite of the meal was this Shortbread topped with a Passion Fruit Mousse and Edible Flowers. It was a fresh, airy bite of tropical island fruitiness with a bit of buttery richness to finish.

My second favorite petit four was this Matcha Green Tea Sponge Cake with a Coconut Cream Filling.

Since the tea room is completely open to the hotel’s main courtyard, you’ll occasionally see birds flying through–a charming twist on having tea in a place as inspired by nature as Hawaii is.  I suppose at some point the birds would become less charming, but on the day I was there they added a touch of leisure and whimsy to my tea experience.

halekulani tea room birdsAfter leaving tea, I took a stroll around the hotel grounds.  I came across the gift shop, where you can buy some of Halekulani’s tea blends to take home.  They also sell Harney & Sons’ Guide to Tea, which I already have in my collection of tea books.  If you are looking for a reference-like book to learn about different kinds of tea in a systematic way I highly recommend it.

I came across this intricate and artistic teapot egg upon leaving the gift shop.  Inside this panoramic hollowed goose egg lies a Chinese maiden in classic Han dynasty clothing. What’s even more amazing is that the figurine itself is completely made out of noodles by a local artisan who lives in Hawaii!  What a way to finish my Halekulani tea experience.

I’ll leave you with a picture of a sunny yellow hibiscus, Hawaii’s state flower, outside the entrance of Halekulani.  If you love taking tea and are in Hawaii, an afternoon at Halekulani is an elegant and unforgettable experience that shouldn’t be missed.  Despite the hotel’s fancy decor and exclusivity, a tea break here will leave you relaxed, rejuvenated, and wondering when you’ll be able to return back for more.


Lupicia in Honolulu

If you are a tea lover and find yourself in Honolulu, you simply must drop by Lupicia in the Ala Moana Mall.  Lupicia actually has a few locations in California, but only one store in Hawaii, on the island Oahu.  The store in Hawaii isn’t like the ones on the mainland.  Many of the teas you find in Lupicia Hawaii are unique and exclusive to the Honolulu based store, and definitely shouldn’t be missed!

The Hawaii location recently underwent a renovation that transformed the little shop situated in the basement level of the mall into a glorious and vibrant tea boutique.  Although it simply goes by Lupicia Fresh Tea, I use the term boutique because shopping there is like shopping at a department store for tea.  The selection, quality, and packaging of the teas is really impressive.

What sets this tea store apart from others is the way the teas are organized and showcased. There are easily hundreds of tea blends available at Lupicia.  The non-flavored teas are sold in tins or sealed bags, while their specialty or seasonal teas come pre-packaged.

For most of their teas, Lupicia Hawaii lists not only the name and description, but also the plantation and country and where the tea was grown.  This is ideal for the tea drinker who takes a holistic and qualitative approach to enjoying their teas.

Opening a tin of Lupicia Hawaii Original Blend Teas is like taking a walk through one of Hawaii’s lushest botanical gardens.  The smell and taste of tropical flavors like hibiscus, guava, papaya, and pineapple are distinctively warm and relaxing.  Since these island blends are only available at the Hawaii location, you can actually call the store in Honolulu directly to order the teas!

Their most popular Hawaiian blend is Hua Ki, a fragrant black tea infused with mango, papaya, and pineapple flavors.  Hua Ki is perfect served as an iced tea in the heat of summer when you need a drink to chill out and start planning your next trip to Hawaii.  I buy this blend everytime I go back to visit.

Other than tea, Lupicia also carries some very beautiful tea wares, both modern and traditional.  These chic Japanese coolers can be used to brew both hot and cold teas.

Of course, my favorite is the matcha section, complete with all the tea ceremony accoutrements for making your matcha experience both beautiful and unforgettable.  Heavy stoneware matcha bowls (chawan), matcha whisks (chasen), and matcha spoons (chasyaku) are available in many different shapes and sizes.

If you are looking for a unique and lovely Mother’s Day gift, you should check out Lupicia’s La Belle Epoque Book of Tea.  It includes 30 of Lupicia’s tea samples and 2 petite tins of their Kyoto and La Belle Epoque seasonal teas.  This pretty package is based on Okakura Kazuko’s classic, The Book of Tea, originally written in 1906.  In it, Okakura shares his thoughts on the serene and simple art of taking tea.  This elegant box of assorted teas would be treasured by any avid tea-drinker!

And if you’re interested in seeing Lupicia’s flagship store in Jiyugaoka, Japan, please check out my friend Lisa Kunizaki’s blog on the Chambre de Sucre site.  If you visit, you’ll also catch a glimpse of the store’s lovely afternoon tea spot and their unique collection of teapots.  With teas a delicious as the ones found in Hawaii, it’s hard to imagine that the store in Japan could get any better.  Hopefully I’ll get the chance to visit the Jiyugaoka store for myself someday soon…in the meantime I’ll be quite content with a tall, cool glass of my favorite Hua Ki tea!

Lupicia Hawaii
1450 Ala Moana Blvd.
Honolulu, HI 96814
808.941.5500 (call directly to order Hawaii tea blends)
866.574.4832 (for customer service)