Annie and I set up an video meeting to talk about her China tea purchasing travel, this would be the first time to visit tea garden after her company found, the COVID-19 delays everything, thankfully it’s over now, everyone can in and out of China freely.
We talk about what regions and farmers she wanna visit, wow that’s a long list, I can see how exciting it is. Unfortunately April is a very busy month to me, gotta to make new teas, luckily my friend Lily in Hangzhou can lend me a hand, so I will go with her to Guangdong and Fujian then pass the job to Lily.
I asked a question, “what tea is you want mostly?” Annie didn’t answer me directly instead she told me a story that everytime a customer want to buy White Jade, she will say “no no no, you should try Raw Jade, it’s produced by a remarkable woman”, and then tell the story of how the woman fight with the life from ground and make beauty happen. This woman is Ms. Jade.
Annie wants to help this woman and promote more her teas but becasue of the weather and her organic farming method, there is no big chance to get high quality tea every year. It’s like a gambling, we both don’t like it, besides it’s a big loss to Ms. Jade, this kind of helplessness sucks.
Our last talk about Ms. Jade has been bothering me, it is stirring in my head, day and night. This morning about 5am, I suddenly got an idea to transfer all bad into possible good. I text Annie and told her I have a solution for creating new tea which can get the cost down a lot while have unique character, besides the quality could be much more stable. We agreed to talk more after her landing.
So why comes to this solution? Firstly I am aware of how Ms. Jade run her tea garden, how the tea garden looks like and when the leaves will have what bug problem. Also I am familar with how she make the tea, every step of the craft and why sometimes she screw it. The most important is Ms. Jade and I have trust, she knows I will not propose something to harm her, that’s the benefit of face to face meet and long time relationship, it let you feel you can count on each other. One more thing, I am not a traditional tea farmer, my father is a building material business man, this weakness leads me to different angle, the old way can not ties me up. It feels great to create something new, something you can proud of, something you can share with others.
I do read books and learn from old experience. In my house, we have three bookshelves, my kid has one, my wife has one and a half, the rest half belongs to me, most of the book is about tea and history, still can not get used to ebook, I heard ebook can be withdrawn even you already paid. Anyway putting a book beside the bed makes me feel easier to get to sleep.
It’s Monday. As a small company we do not have a MUST meeting today, why not get the water hot and cup the teas I brought back two weeks ago? We have three Rock teas and two black teas on the table, same organic tea garden, different varietal, how nice it could be?
I have big hope for them as the experience in that tea garden was fantastic. I met the owner last October and after talk we found we have many same friends, this immediately help reduce the distance between us, then later we had several contacts and agreed to have a meet in his tea garden which needs 12 hours drive for me. But the world doesn’t roll as you expect, last December China ended the Zero Tolerance of COVID-19 Policy and almost the whole country got the virus within one month, I recovered in 3 days but not fully recovered, the similar situation happened to Mr. Dragon, again we agreed to delay the meeting to next spring.
On February 02 I went off by high-speed train which took 2 hours, then another one hour bus, finally I arrived Zhou Ning County, it’s freezing man, I didn’t know why it could be so cold though we are in the same province. When our bus arrived, Mr. Dragon sent a taxi to take me to his factory, I thought this might take hours but to my surprise, it’s just about 10 minutes and we were in the mountains, so close of the mountain with the downtown, strange.
Another surprise came from the taxi driver, he complained the terrible road and worried a lot about the chassis of his car, he also swore he would never come again. It’s like riding a horse in the forest.
Finally the car stopped, I saw Mr. Dragon waved his hands standing in front of his factory. It’s a factory, I mean not a shiny big building, the main part is built with rocks and covered with tiles, a classic local building in the 50s. Many old but well maintained machines sit there, the Withering machine is Taiwan style, huge and seems quite advanced.
We went straight to the tea, discussed the varietal, weather, labor, craft and it’s about twelve o’clock and got a little sunshine, it’s too cold in house, I took out my phone and it showed 923 meters high. We decided to have a walk to his tea garden.
It’s amazingly quiet, only birds, wind and the sound leaves swung. The whole tea garden is surrounded by cedar forest and bamboo grove, still yet not the time for the cherry tree to bloom but unkown grass on the ground has already been green. Sometimes there is no road, we went through the tea plants under forest and saw several little cave that wild boar made, a long tail bird hopped and flew away when we got closer. I looked around and found a waterfall was frozen on the south mountain, Mr. Dragon told me we should be able to hear its sound next month. What made me happier was the varietals he planted, 12 cultivars in total, I was thinking what kind of teas they can be made.
Mr. Dragon has another tea garden in another location, the road to that tea garden ever had a car accident, I saw the car still in the valley, we almost sounded the horn all the way, they showed me where was the grand canyon. Finally we got there, the lost island, with tea plants. Four varietals available there, Qing Xin Wulong + Jin Xuan + Rou Gui + Tie Guanyin, all so great to make high class product.
It is a marvelous place but the teas are not right, there are so much potentials, this spring I will bring my tea making experience to this land.
To prepare for Annnie’s come, I decided to have a face-to-face talk with Ms. Jade today.
The world at 6:20am looks quite different, it’s an eary wakeup for me however I will wake up without bell, very naturally if it’s in the mountains, the city is still too much noise. Finally I started the drive at 7am, after 3 and a half hour I arrived Zhang Ping county, another friend Mr. Shiny Head also plants organically, I planned to pay two hours with him in advance.
Mr. Shiny Head and I haven’t met before though knew each other for several years already, he ever sent me a sample last year but frankingly speaking the quality is poor, so I didn’t have much expectation for this visit, but my experience told me the truth might be different if you put your feet dirty.
Our meet was a surprise, I saw a beautiful classic house roadside and wanna drove closer to take a look, then a man came out from another house and asked if I am Hong, I said yes and realised this man might be Mr. Shiny Head, then he explained how he recoganized me through my license plate. He invited me to step in to have a tea drink, this is his friend’s house, I was quite happy to see this other two friends are not old but middle-aged person, later came in another middle-aged man, why am I so happy? Young means energy, it means this industry can attract the youngs back home, it means this industry has future.
After some peanuts and cups of teas, we decided to visit Mr. Shiny Head’s factory, I dropped my car and climbed his horse. Mr. Shiny Head’s tea garden located in the end of the village, far from others, it’s the first protect for organic farming. Then he walked me around in his factory and tea garden, told me why he chose organic and showed me the soil, normally the first spot I will look in a tea garden is not the plant or grass or flower, it is the soil, see if it’s hardened or loose, good soil means good life circle, microbe, earthworm etc.
I was happy to see the watering system there but he told me this didn’t work last year, as the water comes from the peak but even the peak had no water last year, it’s a terrible drought year. I also catched some chickens in the tea garden, he said it’s for his daughter who would have childbirth soon.
Surprisingly he showed me one of his mistake, that’s how he plants the tea. The tea plants sits line by line but this line is vertical, if it’s horizontal it can help stop the loss by run-off soil, and he is keeping learning from another organic tea company which is run by a professional.
After this talk I thought he was an open mind man that I can share and discuss something disputed with him. I mentioned the poor sample he sent to me last year, this started the talk of why organic normally means poor quality especially for Oolong. Here is the truth, in the market, common one could have good aroma and much better quality, contrarilly his organic garden only generate poor aroma tea and the price received is sometime even lower than common tea. High aroma is the first priority for tea sale, we both agreed but the regular craft makes organic weaker.
I shared with him two other crafts that can make use of the advantage of organic leaf material, to get other types of aroma, not the aroma regular craft make but fruit aroma, honey aroma even roasting aroma, Mr. Shiny Head seems quite interest. Maybe because of this open talk, he suggested me taking a tour of his another old tree tea garden, it’s abandoned for over fifty years and he regained it. Sure I have interest, so we took another climbing and I noticed some milk boxes, he told me it’s for the tea tree, he used the real milk to let the tea came back to life, that’s riduculous right but how hot of his tea heart could be!
Another proof for his tea passion is a black tea he made, he used one bud with one leaf, picking by hands, one time Shaking and then fermentated, finally rolled into a ball shape, all by hands again, he has trouble of finding a name for this black tea, I suggested “Head Ball” which can be connected in the mind with his nickname. He promised to notify me when this new tea is ready and shall try my suggestion of two times Shaking.
Time flies quietly when you are with somebody you can talk, I got to leave and visit Ms. Jade. After one hour drive I met Ms. Jade, as we are old friend so I told her I shall not stay for long time, I told her Annie’s anxiety to meet her and would love to do more teas together. To my surprise she shared with me she decided to transfer organic into common farming, I knew she had big burden on the loan, in order to develop that organic tea garden, she loaned from the bank and Organic farming is difficult to make a life, she ever showed me a picture how terrible pest problem of last spring, that’s impossible to make good quality tea. I totally understand her decision, to survive is the most important. Luckily she spared a small indepentdent area to stand with organic, her passion seed is saved. She also has interest to try new craft I recommend, hopefully this new solution can help grow her seed.
Organic is the trend but most people still do not have the key, what’s organic? Most farmers just think pesticide free is enough, actually it needs more knowledge to take care of the soil, the insects, the birds and the grass too, that’s about how to run the tea garden to keep the balance between different life.
Another missing point is tea making craft, most farmers just follow the tradition, but the material organic tea garden can get is different from common tea garden, they need more communication with others, more open, more creative.
The third missing part is right customer, most organic farmers sell their teas to people who has no interst of organic, they only care about price and quality, this put them into an awkward position when asking for higher price.
Maybe I can build a platform to help them and help the consumers to find the good organic teas, for both this should be a win-win, but I have limited resources, it could be more promised if others have interest too, like organic tea garden managers, retailers, shops and drinkers, I wonder who wanna in?
Last couple days I had problem with sleeping, sometimes wake up around 5am, that’s good for tea travel drive but headache is not welcomed. So I made myself a healing recipt and bought some Chinese herb medicine which costed one dollar. That night finally I can have complete sleep, last night I can even continue the bed reading, I was reading some tea research report but what in my head was how to improve the White teas I made last year.
This morning, I finally got the better idea of the new craft. Actually I am thinking two types of White teas, both has Oolong Shaking craft, as well as Black tea fermenting, but their focus is different, Spring can be made into White Cock while Summer can be made into Half Summer. White Cock has Wuyi Rock tea alike high roasting aroma, along with clean sweety from White tea. Half Summer has powerful yet very gentle honey aroma all the way, no astringency no matter how hot water or how long steeping you make.
What bother me is should I make them to be suitable for aging? Aged White tea has charming aroma every year and no need to worry teas not sold in time, as the quality and value is increased as time flies. Now I finally got the Zen, as I already have another tea in this type, why not let White Cock and Half Summer jump out of this circle, just let it be nice in one or two years and forget about the future.
That’s the deal.
Today I did two things, watch old movie and read a book. I wanna to talk about the old movie in advance, the movie name is Happy Funeral or The Funeral of the Famous Star. It’s a comedy film, talk about how a nobody deal with sudden death of a famous dirctor Tylor, this nobody has to be creative to raise funds for the funeral as the director has no money left but it is what he want. This is my second or third time watching this movie, still feels so fresh. I am tired of 007 or marvel film, after watching these kind of movies, there is a feeling of emptiness but have a dew instead in hand after watching The Funeral.
The book of Tea written by Kakuzo Okakura, I forced myself to read it through as it is so famous, I read about 30 pages yesterday and almost gave up. Now I can tell my intution yesterday was right. I do not mean this book is not good, actually it is a great book, a fantastic marketing book, a master book to introduce Japanese or Oriental culture and it’s written in English. I heard many western people love tea becaues of this book, many people travel to Japan because of this book too. It’s a big success. I even want to learn some nice words from this book. But what I don’t agree is somebody put it on the same position with The Classic of Tea which was written by Lu Yu over 1000 years ago. Lu Yu created something in his book which formed the foundation of the tea what we know today. One is original, one is introductive.
This makes me think what I want to do, to be an introducer of tea or creator of tea. I spend over ten years to learn and spread the words of tea, this is a happy journey and got me many good friends, but what’s the meaning of life? I still don’t know, yet I know what kind of moment let me feel good and meaningful even it is not. It’s goodness and beautiful. My heart can take care of the former though the latter needs sacrifice, to sacrifice impetuousness and laziness, it needs guts and imaginations to create the beauty of tea, not a doorman anymore.
Yesterday Hu called me and sent over a picture of raw material to look for making suggestion, I was a bit surprised his picking could be so early. I am jealous of Hu who could play with tea without any financial pressure.
Hu is an old friend but we havn’t met for over 10 years, he is used to be a guider of World Tea Tours, I had several talks with him when worked with Dan Robertson. Just can’t imagin where the days have gone. We met up again last year and he showed me his White teas, frankly speaking, it should be called dark tea instead of White tea, a totally mess. But Hu showed me his passion for tea and borrowed a book from me, so I promised to help him.
That’s the background of the picture I received today, the varietal is Fuyun No. 6, a very early sprouting cultivar. He bought this tea garden several years ago, it’s abandoned for very long time and the plants are over 50 years old, in short, it is a not bad source. I just can not imagin how could he screw it.
White tea only needs two steps for manufacturing, Withering and Drying, this sounds very simple, even simpler than Green tea. But hey, that is a false image, White tea making is risky job as there is no way back for adjustment.
Today I received the updated picture, and it looks quite good, the withering goes very successful. I gave Hu more advices for the continuous Withering and tricks of Drying, as Hu is making this tea in his house instead of professional factory, we need to make use of existing equipment he has and make everything simple, thus make the final craft quite different from common one, a lot of challenges but isn’t it the fun of tea making?