After more than a decade living and working all over the world, Isabella “Bella” Ellaheh Hughes moved back home three years ago. It was also around that time when she and husband Harrison Rice launched their locally made line of mamaki-based teas under the moniker Shaka Tea.
The idea for what would be their ticket back home was thought up about five years ago, while the couple was living in the United Arab Emirates.
Necessity, as they say, is the mother of invention, and the sentiment holds true for locally produced and cultivated Shaka Tea, which currently comes in Mango Hibiscus, Pineapple Mint and Guava Ginger Blossom flavors.
She’s also co-founder and former di- rector of Honolulu Biennial Foundation, an organization that puts local artists and Hawai‘i’s art scene on an international platform.
Indeed, the realm of consumer-packaged goods is quite the leap from Hughes’ background in the arts and culture. She earned a bachelor’s in art history from Boston University, where she and Rice first met, and then a master’s in museum studies from Johns Hopkins University.
From there, she spent years traveling, speaking on panels and conferences in locales from London to Hong Kong, writing, curating and everything in between.
She and Shaka Tea even earned a spot on the Burt’s Bees’ Natural Launchpad third cohort last year, which supports her overarching goal to practice sustainability.
While Shaka Tea is Hughes’ commercial focus, sister company Shaka Forest Farms, based out of Volcano, adds to her passion for regenerative, restorative agriculture. Through that process, Shaka Forest Farms removes invasive species like Himalayan ginger and plants ma-maki in its place.
And, it seems, her love of art still plays a role in Shaka Tea and its future. For the company’s newest venture—mamaki tea blends for home brewing—artist Nanea Lum is slated to design the product’s packaging.
“Everything I was doing in art and culture was always about storytelling, and raising awareness about artists from Hawa‘i,” she says.
Shaka Tea is also a true family affair. Hughes and Rice work on developing new flavor profiles and expanding on the brand. Son Koa and daughter Roya, meanwhile, are the perfect taste-testers for every batch concocted—made even more perfect because the absence of added sugar makes for a healthy drink option.
Shaka Tea recently transitioned its operations to the Big Island, which means Hughes and her family have moved, as well.
“It was sort of a little bit of fate,” says Hughes, who honeymooned on the Big Island with Rice back in 2010. “It was just always in our mind as somewhere we’d like to live.
“Shaka Tea was just really looking to home,” she adds. “Focusing on how we could do something sustainable, to have our company possess values reflective of my own. What‘s good for the ‘aina is good for our bodies and our community.”