This is the favorite part of my job: buying tea. Guzhu Zisun (Purple Bamboo Shoot) is a very special tea; it was the first tea to be distinguished as a tribute tea during the Tang Dynasty, and was produced under the watchful eye of Lu Yu, China’s tea saint, as he wrote the first book on tea. The Guzhu Valley is just south of Tai Lake, the largest fresh water lake in China, where cultural artifacts have been found dating back more than 10,000 years. This is also the area where silk was developed, and the start of the Great Silk Road.
The harvest began here three days ago, more evidence that pre-Qing Ming tea is a thing of the past thanks to the way global climate change is altering the weather in China’s tea-producing areas, especially in the green tea areas farther north. The winters are longer, pushing the harvest until later (after Qing Ming here), and the colder part of spring, when a lot of great tea is produced, is becoming warmer faster. It is a typical spring day here today: there is fog hanging in the valley and the light mistiness brings a comfortable coolness in the slight breeze. The tea grows quickly when it is hit by direct sunlight, so the smallest buds and leaf are found growing before the afternoon sunlight. Also, for the tea pickers, the tea in the morning will be heaver with moisture and weigh more than in the afternoon. If they are not making the tea themselves, they are selling it to producers that are paying more for these small yet heavy leaves.
Besides this past winter being cold, there was a lot more wind which resulted in a general loss of moisture that effected the quality of tea in the valley. According to a local family, this caused the buds to not be as plump as the years before. Many of farmers in this valley have set up country inns that host weekend tourists that come from Shanghai for a weekend of fresh air and country cooking. We are here on Friday so the tiny road in the lower valley is clogged with buses. The inn business is paying better than the tea business these days, and a lot of tea is going unpicked in the higher areas. The cost for hiring pickers is high and the market is full of fake tea- whenever there is a tea that is as rare as the small crop of Guzhu Zisun, fakes are always present.
What we are looking for is deeper in the mountains, where the ‘wild’ Zisun is grown. When the word ‘wild’ is used in connection to tea, what it really means is that the tea has become untended in the forest. Except in Yunnan, there is no truly wild tea, as in tea that has never before been cultivated, but there is plenty of tea that has gone untended thoughout China. ‘Wild’ tea has become the newest marketing ploy, because it has more ‘qi’. You will never hear tea people in China talking about the ‘qi’ in the tea, but certainly good tea is alive in a way that can be tasted.
It is easy to see the purple on the leaf of this tea on many of the leaves here, so this is where we want to buy ours. We are also going to have some great country cooking out here in these deep woods high in the mountains in a village that has not yet succumbed to the Shanghai tourists, but surely will in the future.
Editors Note: I have had some technical issues that have been resolved. I am a few days behind getting my posts published. I will try to get then posted over the next couple of days, and will hopefully get caught up.