February 10, 2023 Cold

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 every time 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 because 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.

February 15, 2023 Still cold

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 familiar 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.

February 20, 2023 Weak sun

Patrolling in the tea mountains

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.

February 23, 2023 Warm sun

Tea cupping in old house with Mr. Shiny Head

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 frankly 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 recognized 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 caught 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, conversely 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 ridiculously 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 fermented, 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 independent 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 interest 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?

February 28, 2023 Happy sun

Immortal chrysanthemum

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 recipe 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.

March 11, 2023 Lovely hot

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 director 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 intuition 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 because 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.

March 18, 2023 Preparing for raining

Mr.Hu is making White tea

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 imagine 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 imagine 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?

April 3, 2023 Sleepy Sun

Today I am making the first tea of 2023, have been waiting this moment for so long time, from the face of everybody, no matter the pickers or neighbor’s boy, you can see the exciting smiles.

An overview of the whole China tea production, it’s reduced a lot this spring because of the drought last year as well as last couple months, however quality is very good as last week we had raining, two days later we will have four days raining too.

This drops in production happens in Yunnan, Fujian and Zhejiang, mostly in the South.

Back to our tea, this year we applied New Machine Picking System (NMPS), comparing to hand picking, there are two advantages:

  1. Efficiency: As we only have two days sun thus need to pick as much tea as possible, speaking of this, machine picking can pick 10 times more quicker, thus possible to make good tea with sunshine.
  2. Freshness: Picking one basket leaves might need 2 hours, this means the leaves have to live in the basket for two hours to risk early fermentation and hence the finally quality suffers. Machine can decrease it to 5 minutes.

The common problems of machine picking are:

Our New Machine Picking System (NMPS) resolved above problems by the following method:

  1. Varietal: some sprouts evenly some not, plant the right one
  2. Management: by pruning, good feeding, planting right grass etc.
  3. Training: good skill needs practice so as the machine operator

Does this new system work? The result beats everything, check Red Dawn 2023 on TeaSource.com and your mouth will tell you.

August 17, 2023 Not cold yet steaming day

Tea Making Gift in MeiZhou We three arrived yesterday, here is an Organic tea garden owned by a not very new friend in Guangdong province. My wife’s classmate is cartoonist (Instagram @leax2333), we plan to publish a tea book together, I am for the script and she is for the painting.

Late afternoon of yesterday there was a rush raining, the garden owner guided us to the mountain and showed us the status of different varietals of tea, no tea sits in the right timing for making but varietal Mei Zhan is close, so we decided to pick 50kg fresh leaves of this tea next morning.

Then what tea type to make or how? As the meaning of this whole trip is to get @leax2333 involved and have a personal tea experience, so maybe have a complex craft is the right one and that is Oolong, White or Black is too simple. Yeah make Oolong tea.

We live in the factory, the room is very simple, I am Ok but the girls might have difficulties. Anyway a new day opened, no big sun, no rain too. Three geese gang shows up with their special music, they also show us their takeoff posture, it gives a very powerful feeling especially when they run for me, now I can understand why the snake runs away.

Later the owner came back, we discussed this situation and decided to mix up Black tea craft if our amendments doesn’t work in the end. We applied 4 times Shaking and the yes or no result arrives at about 2am, still four hours to go, so the owner sleeps in the office and I get back to the room.

The girls can not endure the room of the factory haha, I totally understand and send them to a hotel in the town. It’s a nice and clean town. They had a special local breakfast, it’s just 5 minutes walk away. The fruit longan is very delicious and cheap too, I never have this kind of fruit.

After breakfast, I got them back to the factory and the processing continue.

After 5 days, I received the final tea in my office.

This tea might mean something to @leax2333, so I decided to apply roasting and show her two versions: virginal and roasted.

November 1,2023 might not the winter day you think

Quite dry and hot, that’s the perfect time for roasting. I decided to stay in the warehouse for whole day to read book, drink tea and play with my tea roaster.

Actually there is a Rock tea I want to try again, last time I put 60°C on it and it gave me very charming aroma which is hardly to find in Wuyi Rock tea, but but, there is a bit of astringency. I don’t like it and didn’t know why, I thought the reason might be the young leaf picking, as for Oolong tea, too tender leaf could easily get you astringency. The picking standard is quite different from the common knowledge. Normally the picking is the younger the better, that’s true for black tea and green tea. For Oolong, the buds is bad, it can not tolerate the Shaking which is a special processing step of Oolong, it will get ruined. Also too young leaf is lack of aroma, that’s why the aroma of Oolong can beat green or black tea.

So what’s the picking standard for Oolong? No buds or bud growing stopped, along with 3-4 leaves. Different varietal has different demand for these 3-4 leaves, someone needs to be younger, someone needs to be older. That’s the charming of China tea, every one is unique.

Ok, now I need to set the temperature for the roaster, what degree? and how long? I set 70°C instead of 60°C, let me tell you how I think.

Astringency has two possible causes here:

  1. Too young picking
  2. Tea is loose not solid

I chose cause two hence to promote the roasting temperature to enhance it. Ok temperature set, tea set (still my favorite tea), book set, just open the fan as in order to create the aura and seal the heat, all doors closed, it’s a bit hot inside actually.

That’s my day. And the roasting result? Guess what? It’s amazing, I will smile in the dream.

April 3, 2024 A tea thief

I am having my breakfast quietly, Ms. W lowers her voice and said, “We have a thief.” Ms. W is the chef that cook food for the whole factory, yesterday was the first time tea making after new year, about 2000kgs fresh tea leaf, 10 workers.

“Thief?” I am surprised. One night of 15 years ago, we three people drove to Anxi tea mountains for purchasing Tieguanyin, we put an iron bat in the car as we ever heard many mysterious robbery stories. But today in 2024? Any people, male female, old or child can freely walk anywhere without concerns no matter day or night, so a thief? That’s a shocking news.

“My pork is missing, more precisely the lean part.”

“Maybe someone cooked it last night.”

“But I just offered you all an extra meal last night at 10pm.”

What happened last night?

Last night could be a disaster.

The old workers didn’t like the new assistant.

All tea processing work might stop and abandoned.

The complain all comes from one word that the assistant said, “We should get 1000kgs more fresh leaf.”

The assistant just join the factory for no more than two months and other workers have been here for over 5 years. The assistant and the cooker are husband and wife, they live in the factory.

“How could your husband ask for one more thousand leaf? We are both just employees that should stand in the same team.” The old workers complain to his wife.

But jobs are still need to be done even when the assistant is not welcomed.

Comparing to the weather, human politics is nothing.

The lighting raining begins from the afternoon of April 4, the in-house humidity is 99% but luckily the floor is still dry which means the humidity is much better than outside.

So what’s the matter?

What’s this have to do with tea? There is a little background about tea making, the craft or tea processing steps you may already know however, I wanna tell you the key of tea making is not these steps, is how and why tea transforms.

Playing with moisture is one of the keys.

Moisture or water content inside fresh leaf is something like a matchmaker.

The tea processing has several stages and different stage needs different rate of water hence be able to let different matter talk and transform.

OWOO, you might see the point, the rate of water needs to change at different stage.

Then how?

Or how to remove extra part of moisture?

Three factors:

  1. Temperature
  2. Humidity
  3. Speed of airflow

Humidity is the most important factor. Normally you cannot Rolling the tea until the moisture content is blow 1/2. So 2000kg fresh leaves = 1000kg water needs to remove, the air conditioner cannot do this heavy job.

Tea Juicing

So what can we do? We look around and the shiny new Oolong Shaping machine got our eyes, it reminds me several hundred years ago in Song dynasty how our ancestors made the tea for the emperor, they squeezed juice from tea leaf.

“Yes we can do it.”

As good fermenting requires right rate of water, otherwise it would be like throwing a drop of ink into the ocean, nothing change, only water remains.

So Oolong Shaping machine becomes black tea juicer.

Bitterness and Astringency are removed.

Actually Withering is a continuous job, not just this Juicing.

April 3rd

April 2 morning is foggy, before that we already have raining for one week.

To all farmers sun is the God.

Without sun, there is impossible to make good tea.

Luckily April 2 afternoon we got the sun, as well as whole next day.

So April 3 is a happy day, just one day before the Qing Ming Festival.

I woke up at 6am, still quite chilly, coat is a must have. The factory is surrounded by a big springs, in front of the factory, Ms. W plants many vegetables, just one month and they grow so well. A small river is singing all day, we can see it has a tiny but nice pitfall.

Luckily at around 10 we got lovely sun.

We chose to let the sun dry the mountains a little bit and began to pick tea at around 12.

In front of the factory is a big drying field, all picked leaves are welcomed here to enjoy sunbathing, the Sun Withering is harder than common as we know the next day might not be good.

China tea secret is hidden in the sun.

Oolong craft for black tea

Oolong tea could get you fruit flavor that other teas can’t, so we decid to apply this technique, the key craft of Oolong, Shaking.

A long and big bamboo basket that contains over 50kg tea, once power on, it will go round and round like tumbling, the teas inside will collide to each other and break the surface thus have more chance to interact with the air, more intense.

Two times Shaking applied and also harder than usual, the 2nd Shaking normally is just 10-15 minutes and this time it takes 30 minutes. As Shaking can help remove moisture from leaf quicker and harder.

But if it’s tortured too much, it would die.

Minor torment is training, major torment is hell.

Also all lights are put on to help warm the air.

Truth of the theft case

A friend ever tole me a story, about 20 years ago they decided to invent in his hometown, to build a big factory and tea farms. One day they found a big bag of tea was missing, it’s about 50kg. They reported it to the authorities, later the police found the tea was stolen by a local farmer.

Guess how this case was ended? “Just let it go.” The police said, “We are all neighbors.” The thief was warned. The friend hardened the security but more importantly enhance the influence as time goes on, after that no more such things happened ever.

In the faraway countryside village, everything is not 100% controlled by law, sometimes a smile is more important.

But who would steal a piece of pork in a tea factory?

April 5th

The whole mountains including the factory is surrounded by heavy fogs, at about 10am everyone shows out. The tea making is finished, everyone is invited to try the tea.

Tea cups are cleaned and warmed, everyone is sitting around the tea table. After first cup, everyone is satisfied with the final taste, we thank each one. The assistant’s wife mentioned the missing pork, one replied it’s cooked by them, as they work quite late until 3am. They also bring the complains on the table, drink and talk face to face.

Everything ends with a cup of nice tea.

It’s a very big challenging tea season however the thousand years wisdom won’t say no.

When you are drinking this tea thousand miles away, the vegetables in front of factory should be ready to pick, everyone everything is connected with the nature.