Byron Goo

Jo McGarry photo

The Tea Chest

Where were you born and raised? Kaimuki. I was born into a restaurant family.

My grandfather had a country store in Manoa Valley that supported the plantations back there. Then Safeway came in, and he had to reinvent himself. He opened Manoa Chop Suey.

Did you work there as a kid? Yeah, my job was to clean the bean sprouts. We had these giant tubs of bean sprouts and I had to pick all the green shells out of them. I was so jealous of my friends out playing while I worked.

Did it give you a passion for the restaurant business? No (laughs), I hated it ! I saw my grandfather and my parents get up at 4 in the morning and work all day in the restaurant. But now here I am working with people who love food, who love the food business. I guess it’s in the blood!

You started your tea business at the perfect time. The early ’90s … I had an idea that what was happening to wine and to coffee would happen to tea … This was 1993. It took me two years to connect the dots, do the research, and we opened in 1995.

Do some teas blend better than others? We pride ourselves in having the largest loose leaf collection in the state. There are 2,000 varietals and then infinite possibilities in blending, but there are personal favorites that receive the tropical flavors really well. Our Indian teas have great body, better acidity – they’re vibrant in your mouth. They’re the teas we have won awards for.

What are you drinking right now? A jasmine pearl iced tea. It’s very clean – there’s no aftertaste, there’s no sugar in it, but it’s a very refreshing tea.

Where do you like to go out to eat? CPK with our family. And we go to Alan Wong’s once a year. Oh, and The Pineapple Room has the best iced tea in the world! The rest of the time we love hole-in-the-walls.

With whom would you most like to share a pot of tea? My mom. She passed away before I started the business, and everyone still reminds me what a great baker she was. It would be fun to sit with her and drink tea. Tea is the ultimate talk-story drink.