Reflections on Tea Culture
Amazingly enough, I am sitting here on New Year’s Eve with all of my work done. It feels great. Everyone else has gone, their work is done as well. I am drinking some remarkable puer, Da Xue Shan Sheng, a green puer that was transported for one week by mules from a garden, between 1900 to 2600 meters in elevation, in the Daxueshan National Reserve (Big Snow Mountain), in Yongde Country, at the beginning of the Himalaya Mountain Range in Yunnan. This garden was rediscovered when a thick forest of bamboo flowered, then died, completing the life cycle of Cizhu bamboo, and a garden of 3 to 4 hundred year old tea trees that had been neglected and were growing wild, amongst a stand of sweet flowering azalea trees. For me things don’t get much better than the moment I am having now, knowing that I will be spending the evening welcoming the new year with my family, and tomorrow having dinner with old friends, whose children I have watched grow up.
One of the new tea business gurus said to me recently, “Well is is only just tea after all.” That statement typifies what is wrong with the international tea market, and the American market in particular. Well it is not just tea, any more that it is just wine, or it is just caviar, or it is just truffles, or just poetry. Being part of a culture that took one of the greatest gifts the Emperor of China could receive, and turned it into a cheap and meaningless commodity, adulterated by blending and the addition of every flavor imaginable, I feel especially blessed to be having this very moving moment, because it is not just tea.
If this sounds to be an elitist sentiment to some of you, I make no apologies. Tea is the genius of the Chinese peasant, and this particular tea was brought to me on the back of a mule, by one of the 7 ethnic minorities that live in the reserve, high in the misty foothills of the greatest mountain range on earth. It is where tea has it’s origins, and the people that discovered it in those ancient forests more than five thousand years ago, are the same people that rediscovered this tea with the flowering death of the Cizhu bamboo, and here am I, drinking in our small warehouse in Tucson Arizona. If there is not poetry in that, where is it?
These moments, and being able to share them with you, are the reason that we are in this business. Happy New Year everyone, and may you and your families have a very healthy and prosperous 2011!