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Mei Zhan, the Plum Blossom

Each of the many tea varietals grown across Fujian Province has its history. Steeped in folklore and rooted in the red-brown soil are tea plants that have been cultivated for generations, and bearing witness to great change in the world around. Think of Tie Guanyin, the “Iron Goddess” and Huangjin Gui, “Golden Osmanthus.” Consider Mei Zhan, a varietal that originated in Lutian Township of Anxi County. Its name can be traced to a line from a poem: “The Plum Blossom is the Queen of All Flowers 梅占百花魁” There are several legends about the origin of this tea, for example:

A folktale recalls that during the late Ming (1368 – 1644) or early Qing (1644 – 1911) era, a hard-working and pious farming couple from Lutian reached their early forties, but remained childless. One evening, as the couple hosted a Buddhist monk seeking alms, the visitor remarked that they seemed successful in life, prosperous, and with a well-appointed home and productive fields. Why, he asked, did they carry sadness in them? They explained their situation, in hope of his sage counsel, but he offered none. He left them that night, and continued on his way. Shortly thereafter, as the couple slept, they each had a vision of Buddha, instructing them to find the two tea trees clinging to Tiger Ridge outside their village, and to make tea from their leaves. In the morning, the couple were astonished that they had experienced the very same dream. Right away, they went to the location revealed to them the previous night, climbing high in the mountain, and found the two trees that had been revealed. They harvested the leaves, made tea, and immediately felt a change inside of themselves; spirits lifted, troubles vanished. The next year, they welcomed a healthy son. One month later, they celebrated the child’s birth in a banquet for the entire village, where the tea was named Mei Zhan. The couple gave the tea to plant all around the village, and shared the story of its marvelous power.  

Mei Zhan is often prepared as an oolong tea, but is remarkably adaptable, and can be made into excellent white, green, and black teas as well.

There are more stories to tell. I will steep another cup.

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Tea “mother trees” of Anxi County

Nestled in the hills of Anxi County in Fujian Province are villages where tea cultivation goes back centuries and where local histories are entwined with the plants rooted there. Legends of long-ago farmers and mystical encounters take botanical form in the stories people tell about their local tea varietals.

Contemporary tea enthusiasts have taken note of the large number of cultivated varieties of tea plant (varietals) that originated in Anxi. Evocative names such as Tie Guanyin, “Iron Goddess,” Huangjin Gui, “Golden Osmanthus,” and Benshan, “Original Mountain,” refer to distinctive plant lineages, with their own growth characteristics and processing qualities, that are harvested principally to produce the well-known oolong teas of the area. Tie Guanyin is recognized for its particular aroma, while Huangjin Gui has an especially distinctive flavor. In practice, tea leaves from different varietals could be blended to produce tea for the commercial market. Like grape vines and apples, these plants are not reproduced by seed, but rather by cuttings, so that each new bush preserves the attributes of the previous generations. Local communities in Anxi County have recognized this history by designating the tea “mother trees” of widely-grown varietals, in principle, bushes that represent the origins of various tea cultivation traditions.

The story of Anxi oolong tea

In Xiping town, local people talk about a distant forbear who discovered the method of making oolong tea. A farmer nicknamed Wu Long was out on a hillside picking tea leaves and caught sight of a deer. Engaging in a hunt, the man chased his prey for a considerable time, only returning home very late in the day. Rather than pan-fired after harvest, the freshly-picked leaves had been shaken in his woven basket all day, and then left overnight. In the morning, Wu Long noticed that they had developed a captivating aroma. After pan-firing and drying the leaves, his fellow villagers credited him with this new type of tea craft. Even today, some people in Xiping believe this history of tea innovation makes people there more adept at producing excellent tea.

Statue of Wu Long, a Xiping farmer.

Tie Guanyin

Xiping town also claims to be the place of origination of the Tie Guanyin varietal. According to one story, a bush grew near the study of a scholar-official named Wang Shirang. It produced a phenomenal tea, one so distinctive that the emperor himself became enamored with it, and offered the name Tie Guanyin: Tie or “iron,” for its dense leaves, and Guanyin, after the Buddhist deity known in China for beauty and compassion. In recent years, a structure has been erected to commemorate this consequential discovery, protecting within the Tie Guanyin “mother tree.” There is also another legend about Tie Guanyin’s origin, that recalls a pious farmer named Wei Yin, who was called in a dream by the spirit of Guanyin to search a particular mountainside for a tea plant producing leaves with an especially transcendent aroma. He searched for this miraculous bush and transplanted it to an iron pot just outside of his house, and indeed, its leaves yielded an exceptional brew. He named the tea for the iron pot in which he kept it, and for the deity that had spoken to him.

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YouTube is Killing Me

First of all, here is the video just uploaded to YouTube and I will explain why YouTube is killing me.

Tea in the Local food market

What torture me mostly is keeping the status of being :: I will get it done soon :: for whole year.

A YouTube video was my promise for 2019, I bought a tripod, a hand held stabilizer Zhi Yun Smooth 3 and iPhone 7 Plus, also got iMovie installed, but nothing happened.

I was upset, even got angry.

As I am not native English speaker, writing or talking is the last thing I will do.

But all the tea stories inside me needs a way out, video is the most possible solution, just recording …

It can tell how a stems picker help win a tea competition.

It can tell how farmers react to local government’s stupid order.

It can tell how anxious people are when it keep raining in the tea harvesting time.

It can tell how exciting we are when the Wild Wulong black tea got success after so many failed experiments.

It can tell how interesting talk we several tea producers cupping new teas together.


It’s January 20, 2020, five days later will be the Chinese New Year and one year will be over again, so I picked up the gears and asked a friend if he can accepted an interview, luckily everyone was so nice even strangers.

Also I found some nice place like picture below, it’s Ba Shi, the 8th Food Market in Xiamen, so many nice local foods available especially sea food, everyone was so busy still I found some nice tea moments there.


The lesson I learned from this video shooting:

Prepare a mini microphone and the voice will be much more clear
Do it right and fast is better than do it perfectly
Do homework for the gonna ask questions

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How bad coronavirus cause to China tea industry?

FIRST QUESTION
Is it safe to drink Chinese tea now? Short answer is YES. Let’s dig deeper.

According to the Chinese Medical experts of National Health Commission and the Minnesota Department of Health, the Coronavirus can only survive on inanimate objects for a few hours, maybe a day or two in perfect laboratory condition.

The cargo shipped from China to LA/USA for example, the shortest time is 15 days on the sea plus loading unloading and Customs clearance, 20 days in total; To MIAMI it’s about 45 days. That’s shipped by sea, by air like DHL or FedEx it takes 4-6 days. There is no time for the virus to survive. It’s no way to get Coronavirus from a package being delivered from China.

ANOTHER QUESTION
Will it lower down the tea quality or get price higher? My assumption is very unlikely.

Let’s clear some important puzzles now.

  • The timing of tea production: Qing Ming and Gu Yu, please remember this two most important time for tea plucking. Buds only or one bud one leaf picking mostly comes from 10 days before Qing Ming, that’s March 24th. Personally I prefer to tea picked from Pre-Guyu, also bigger production.
  • The exporting process: It takes time, from tea production, shipping, Customs clearance, final delivery, normally the tea you bought is about two months later after production. Here although we can ship to you directly and cut the process a lot, still it needs one week to prepare the new tea be packed and then ship to you.

According to the guidance from the government, people will eventually back to work after February 8th, including logistics company, so in March tea factories will be able to hire workers in time.

QUALITY

Because of this Coronavirus, this Spring Festival is very quiet and almost no firewoks or firecrackers, all companies’ opening also delayed for about half a month, according to the report by Carbon Brief, the emissions of CO2 reduced by one-fourth, I am sure the air is much better than before.

Also the weather is good till now. There was some raining between February 1-5, that’s quite good for the tea. Last year the Spring tea was delayed because of the lack of water.

So the quality of 2020 Spring tea is very likely to be better. Although this Spring Festival we stay longer time in home than before and consume more tea, the price is very possibly to be stable or a little bit higher (see the updates).

ABOUT CORONAVIRUS
When will the Coronavirus be over?

The most important time of containing this Coronavirus is this week and next week, more specialized hospitals are built in short time, I will be likely to see the game over within this month, that’s the end of February.

Sadly so many lives lost, so many people suffered, but we will be strong together and it does give us a break to re think of our life and our relationship with the nature, just like our philosophy stated, do respect the nature and follow the nature.


UPDATES:

  • 2-11-2020, WHO officially names this virus as COVID-19.
  • 2-22-2020, Virus is kindly contained but because of the cautious treatments and policy, a lot of factories and companies can not back to office now especially the logistics company, the cost is a 40-60% increasement for sure. And the buds only tea’s picking will be a big challenge as no workers available.
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Tea producing diary 2019

[toc]

October 18 – Dry and Sunny.

4 Days ago there was a raining happened in the night, we have been waiting for it for over 2 months, that got me excited even more than The NBA Finals, I can imagine how happy of the land the plant as well as the grass there in the garden.

Location:Caixi, Juxi village, Long Juan town, Anxi county, Fujian province China
Elevation:750m
Temperature:30°C
Humidity:60%
Varietal:Tieguanyin Iron Goddess
Plucking time:13:00
Night tumbling – Photograph by D.C.

Withering

Fresh leaves arrived on 14:00 after 3 pluckers’ hard work, it’s not delivered to the factory actually to a 100+ years old house surrounded by mountains and big trees. This old house has been abandoned for many many years, even no family live nearby, just him sits here with clean air and bird singing. This house belongs to a friend’s relatives, quite complex aha but this relationship not just works but very helpful especially in the countryside. We regret to drive our car to be here, this is a very primitive road, the roadside grass gently touch our car just as a lover when we drove slowly, it’s better to use motorcycle.

A cloth was unfolded on the ground just in front of the old house, 28 kgs fresh raw tea leaves laid on the cloth for sun withering, it’s in the deep mountain and altitude is high, the temperature decreased quite quickly, only about 28°C, after 30 minutes, it even decreased to 25°C, at this time the first leaf was a bit soft but not others, them temperature can not hold deeper withering so we got them into the house.

Tumbling

As the sun withering is not enough so we made a light first tumbling, put the leaves into a rolling round basket for 5 minutes so the leaves can collide with each other as well as the basket wall, the surface of leaves will be broken and gets some chemical reaction with the air. We call it Yao Qing or Shaking or Dancing, that’s the unique craft differ Oolong from green/black tea.

We didn’t use air conditioner to control the temperature, I believe the clean air in high mountain has a spirit that can refresh the tea inside. Besides it’s an old house, not many equipments available, we need to follow the most traditional way by in use of the nature. The reason we came here instead of a modern factory it’s quite simple, I have a friend who want to learn tea making all by hands. There is a rumor in programming:

Lazy one can make better programming.

Also there is a found the “boring can evoke children’s imagination” while all commands kill creativity. Here in this old house we can be ourself, ask questions, resolve the problem.

The first tumbling is in order to make the moisture of leaf even, as the sun withering will let the leaf lose more moisture than the stem, right now they are fair again.

14:40 House withering begins

After several minutes even was broken as the air permeability of leaf and stem is different, leaves are put onto the bamboo tray with 5cm high, the leaves need to breath so do not stack too thick. The moisture in stems will flow to the leaf so make it hardish again.

Sit still for about 1.5 hours until the green color of leaf become darker while the edge turn lighter green, grassy decreased and a bit of flavor available, then it’s ok to continue for the second tumbling.

15:10 Tumbling goes to 2nd time

Based on the 1st tumbling, the preparation for moisture migration is ready. This time the real exercise begins, so the tumbling would be heavier than previous one, it’s about 27 RPM, this tumbler is over 30 yrs old that can not adjust the rate however it works pretty well. So we decided to make a longer time as 10 minutes.

We just watched its play, like a slow movie, every round it makes a noise, something like old wood going to break down but it makes it every time. I was happy to have this music with us. We did not have time to appreciate the insect’s song outside, even they were trying to please us with different rhythm.

Ten minutes was so short, finally the gate of tumbler was opened, we dig our heads into these hero leaves, they relived with full of blood, a little grassy, leaf tip cocks up, you can see it’s in a state of excitement. Now better to put them back to the bamboo tray for a rest.

15:30 House withering again for 2.5h

Time is miracle that can get you a lot of shows. Slowly the leaf gets soft again, the moisture in the leaf ran away to have a tryst with someone we do not know. There was a bird outside, he seems quite like the rearview mirror of car, jumps up and down, maybe he hasn’t seen mirror, maybe he is just a kid, he was kind of shy that tried to hide when I looked at him. Let him play, I think. After about 5 minutes you finally fly away, I didn’t know he made some white shit on the mirror 🙂

Adopt the pace of nature, her secret is patience.

Ralph Waldo Emerson

The leaves start to have a little flowery aroma, we were so excited to find this. After a long voyage, finally to saw a bit light of lighthouse from the afar. The leaf became soft again and back curved, the green color turned lighter and you can see the edge got a bit of red. When the grassy smell stepped down, that’s the show time again.

18:10 Tumbling goes for red

This is the most important time for aromatics conversion, red edge formation happens massive here. The round bamboo cage shaking was kind of wild at this time, so as the grassy smell, it needs to be as heavy as possible, step into the climax of Symphony. Moisture in the stems flows to leaf and make it stiff until the whisper appear.

We were strange people, bend over and attach our nose/ears as close as possible to the tumbler, at that moment I am sure I meditated like a great monk with a blank yet clear mind. It’s in the deep mountain and it’s October, I didn’t realize the sun back home so soon, the cold air seems has more power with the help of darkness, it’s a bit chilly but I know the leaves are on hot dancing, present every possible posture they can, their happiness eventually will become the sweetness and aromatic, I dare not to move a finger in case of interrupting them.

But we have to stop them, checking their edge how red it is. After 40 minutes shaking, unfortunately we didn’t get what we were looking for. The sun withering wasn’t heavy enough, we did not luck to have enough sunshine. “Well begun is half done”, now we can not agree more. The options we have is to make greenish common tea or continue for longer tumbling for great traditional legacy tea. We chose the difficult one.

Another 10 minutes? Ok, how is it, still not enough? let’s make another 5, all right 5 minutes again, finally we got the aroma, although the red edge area not ideal yet we gotta to make call it off, I know they have done their best and exhausted quite lot. Anyway we can make it a bit right by piling longer time in the end.

19:20 Heroes rest as house withering

Leaves were put back onto bamboo tray, as high as 10cm, the thicker the better but not the center part in order to prevent temperature of leaves flying too high. Right this time we were kind of free, we stepped out of the house, darkness suddenly hit us totally, barely see anything but cold clean night air, slowly naughty stars emerge more and more, they are shinning bling bling and they are so many there, they look so pure that totally different from the city sky, we were lucky to be touched.

A small episode at 5:10am

The leaves stay on the tray for long time house withering, finally we can have a rest but I woke up at 5:10am, it’s blindly dark here, I decided to check them out. When I went out my room, I hear a song nearby, a very quiet song, I 100% confirmed no song in day time and no one live around, might that be ghost singing?

Next morning our host came from the village at the foot of mountain, he invited me to see his chickens, his motorcycle driving skill is excellent, when we got there I found that song again, he said it’s for his chickens.

06:30 Tumbling goes to the final time

The fourth time tumbling is for aroma, no need to be too strong, we made it 4 minutes and pile it up to increase the oxidization, when the aroma hits the peak and has about 20% red area, that’s the time for stopping oxidization.

Killing green for stopping oxidization

There is a big oven in the old house, the oven is old too, over 30 years old but still looks shining. We used bamboo for firing. In Chinese culture, bamboo has very unique character, clean and integrity. Using bamboo can help tea get its nice aroma too. Although in the beginning there was too much smoke but when you see that smoke float in the sky with big trees, everybody’s mind is free at that time. We knew we had made something special.

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Tea tour is a drug

Puer tea producer Mr. Zhao Tian

All life is an experiment, the more experiments you make the better.

Ralph Waldo Emerson

Believe it or not, you will love it more than you thought after that travel, as you will jump into tea and have really true feelings about tea, the tea world will open to you instantly.

A friend ever complained that she still doesn’t GET Puer although had steeped so many Puer teas for so many years, I said “maybe all you need is a Yunnan tea travel, leave the city you are living everyday and lay down the love and hate there. In the wild Yunnan, with new people, new air, you will get more than tea after speaking to the local farmer and that ‘more’ might be the key to a new world.”

We people are human beings not robot, we can try to understand the world by reading but not everything is built on papers or numbers especially when talking about tea, we need to touch it, feel it then get it into our body.

I still can remember how humble of our host in Nan Nuo Mountain, you will not think of hospitable or welcoming that normally we encounter, he was just there with you naturally without any extra polish, like the tree stand with the tree, I feel calm and very comfortable. He belongs to Ani People, a branch of Hani People. In my idea, he is not a very good tea producer but absolutely a good cooker, his mom was plucking tea in their forest, like any mom she has a very sweet big smile when talking about his son, “he is kind of lazy.” without any blame, we can feel the proudness and love. We met a simple yet beautiful soul.

A cat walk in the old tea forest.
Cat walking in old tea forest

Food is a gift for tea man

Speaking of cooking, not just book, house or language can represent a culture, food also can be a very nice ambassador or even a better one. “Do not eat too much.” that’s my warning words when out for a tea travel.

If there is good tea, there must have good food.

Daniel XX H

The nature is very generous if we treat her well, all kinds of mushrooms, wild vegetables etc, all so charming, the processing can be very simple, actually it is, most of the meals I had on the tea travel are not complexly cooked, it’s just tasted so good. It’s very difficult to have such kind of food in the city.

Cook egg with fresh tea leaves
Cook eggs with fresh Puer tea leaves

Pick some tea leaves, an iron pan, several eggs and a little salt, fire it up with dried branches, drinking tea alongside while wait for the tea egg, what I can assure you is this is really a different egg.

Know tea by eating

Have you ever seen somebody use hot water wash apples? This might be odd, yes this was very odd to me when the first time I saw a foreigner do this, now I get it even suggest foreign tea friends don’t eat not-cooked food or drink local raw water, like the old Chinese saying indicates, “The unique features of a local environment always give special characteristics to its inhabitants.”

Let’s take chilli as an example, in Wuyi Mountain people prefer to spicy food as this can help them survive through cold winter. Also regarding meal, you will always get large, this is connected to its enthusiastic and simple folkways. Thus you will not surprised they chose the traditional charcoal roasting for rock tea to get much stronger, more complex tasting while in the south of Fujian, Anxi county evolved into a lighter greener version of iRON Goddess of Mercy.

Actually in a lot of tea production areas, people do not say “drink tea” instead they say “eat tea”, another reason to this tradition is to local people tea is a must for human body just as important as food.

Pay more for tea

This might sound stupid but it’s really really true, a friend ever took a tea travel with me to Wuyi Mountain, actually we went to an unknown area that just neighbor to Tong Mu Guan that belongs to another city, almost no tourist there, undeveloped forest and lake, old wooden houses and wild tea plants, they all just sit there, some tea plants have serious damage by insects but don’t worry, it will go away when the summer leave, no human intervention at all.

The view there is gorgeous, people are nice but their tea processing skill is not as good as it should be, still we bought the tea with a tremendous sense of accomplishment. I asked my friend why he made that order, he said:”It’s just all damn beautiful!”

Besides it’s a huge fun to cup all teas that got from the travel with friends, agree? 🙂

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Can’t complete purchase because cart empty

Drive in Yunnan

Maybe you encountered an error while tried to make an order here, that just can not complete the buying while checkout and shows “Your cart is empty”, this problem happened between July 5 – 11 and fixed on July 12.

Sorry for this inconvenience as at that time I was in Yunnan for a tea travel, you know sometimes in the deep mountains of Yunnan that over 2000m high just can not get access to internet.

I figured out the problem, it’s about the Cache System, we use Opcache to accelerate PHP and Memcached to store SQL queries, the Cart page might be cached accidentally so always tell you it’s empty, so I purged all cache and switch the WordPress cache plugin from WP Super Cache to W3 Total Cache to have a better control of exception cached page. As we build this online shop all by ourselves, the manual is open sourced and freely available on Github repository.

Actually it’s someone submitted our contact form to report this issue or we will not get it until our business fall down, no words can express our appreciation, thank you Thomas and Brandon, you saved my ass.

I know you guys love tea as much as we do, thank you is not enough, offering good tea is not enough too, I will try to post the background and stories as frequently as possible and YouTube maybe, all can help to understand the tea a bit better and more possibilities to enjoy it. “No secrets hidden.” you got our promise, using mystery to fool you is out of our line.

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Why we opened this shop…

Spring Sprout

It’s quite simple: we were not happy with the teas available on the market. It is so difficult to buy a first-rate tea, even when you’re willing to pay a top price. In China the problem is even worse, since so many people know about tea or have connections to a tea farmer, and it is consequently more expensive to buy teas online. Continue reading Why we opened this shop…