I am starting this post on the way down the mountain after visiting my favorite tea factory in China high in the Huangshan mountains. This is the first moment I have in the last two days to fire up my iPad. Our tea tour left Zhejiang yesterday to come to Huangshan in Anhui. Although the Zhejiang economy is the richest in China, neighboring Anhui is much poorer, but is as rich in culture, and Huangshan mountains are the most favored by artists for it’s spectacular beauty. If you have ever seen a Chinese painting of craggy peaks, swirling clouds and fog, with ancient wind blown pines, chances are it was painted here.It is also rich in relationship to tea, three of the ten “Famous” teas of China come from this area, Huangshan Maofeng, Tai Ping Hou Qui, and Qimen Hong Cha (Keemun), the only black tea of the ten.
The first day we were in Huangshan a good portion of the afternoon was spent at a dedication and ribbon cutting ceremony for Wang Fangsheng. The local government sponsored a museum for his display teas, and I was honored to be asked to give the opening speech at the ceremony. Master Wang is the 74 year old inventor of display tea, inventing the technique 25 years ago, and has invented 600 different kinds since then. His tea was presented to Vladimir Putin by Hu Jintao in 2007, and we have been buying tea from him since 2004. He makes Huangshan Maofeng which we have imported since then, but we have never imported his display teas until last year, because we didn’t they would be successful in the American market because didn’t Americans seem interested in the tea that goes into the making, but rather the look only. We brought 4 kinds in 2010′ which sold well, so we will bring more this year. They are the only display teas that are certified organic.
These teas are the only display teas can stand to a standard for taste and fragrance that would qualify them as premium teas, where as the other teas on the market are more from show than tea quality. The typical display teas on the market are also made from templates by underpaid, unskilled labor, where as Master Wang uses the best tea and herbs to make his teas. It’s like the difference between an Armani suit and a suit that has been made in some sweat shop. All of his creations require very skilled and well paid workers, good quality organic materials. After the ceremony we walked around the old Song Dynasty period neighborhood, shopped and visited other museums.
The next day we visited his factory high up in the Huangshan mountains. We drove into the mountains until we arrived at a village where the road was so narrow that our little bus could not squeeze through. We walked the rest of the way, perhaps a mile, to the last village us the small road. From the we hiked up the mountain, about an hour and a half climb, and then traversed about an other mile to the along a well worn path through small tea farms, whose graves were still decorated from Qing Ming. It is hard to imagine a more beautiful place on earth than the tea gardens high in these mountains. Wild flowers bloomed everywhere, and bird song filled the air.
We had a simple country lunch accompanied by great tea in paper cups. There were not enough cups for such a large visiting group of foreigners. As always in China we were treated to extremely cordial hospitality. It is impossible not to be extremely moved by the way we are treated by the tea communities that we visit, and their willingness to teach the members of our group about tea. The natural settings are spectacular, but it is really impossible to imagine the experience without coming to China, and getting out of the cities. We even drank some sweet, cold mountain spring water before beginning out trek back down the mountain.
To end our day we were invited to a large banquet at the World Tea Conference being held in Huangshan during our visit. We had been invited for the opening ceremonies in the morning, which we attending before heading up into the mountains. There were no Europeans or Americans attending besides us, nor was India there. There was a representative from Sri Lanka, and she gave one of the opening speeches. Japan and Korea were also attending. It is almost surreal the difference between Chinese tea culture and the tea culture that exists outside of China. It is as if the rest of the international tea community is viewing China and Chinese tea culture through through a tiny peep hole at a great distance, accompanied by arrogance that comes from being one of the peepers. How this can be so, considering that China is the world’s second largest economy, and has a history with tea for at lease 5000 years, boggles the mind. The our travelers from Brazil were warned that the food would be awful, and there are so many professionals in the international tea community that believe that the Chinese lost the ability to make good tea many back in the Qing Dynasty. China can make the best tea, in the greatest variety, and still be so marginalized in the international tea community,when there is such a demand for better quality tea, in a global market with China as a major force, is a question that I would love to see studied by economists.