TUCSON, AZ – Travel + Leisure’s tea fanatic Bruce Schoenfeld and wine editor for Travel and Leisure magazine first tasted da hong pao, a rare Chinese oolong tea, at Seven Cups Teahouse in Tucson, where Austin Hodge serves teas he sources in remote regions of China.
That was the start of Schoenfeld’s long journey to meet the man who grows this tea at a single source – the stony slopes of Wu Yi Mountains in Fujian, China.
He writes of this journey in the May 2012 edition of Travel + Leisure where he names Seven Cups among six Best Places to Drink Tea in America. He recommends Liu Guo Ying’s da hong pao and notes “Hodge, the only American with a license to export tea from China, sources the best of the best from Wuyishan, Yunnan, Qimen, Anxi and beyond.”
When Schoenfeld tasted this tea at Seven Cups Teahouse it “altered my tea-drinking life,” he wrote. This tea is “rare, expensive, and frequently counterfeited, but this one was authentic. And it kept getting better – richer and rounder with every cup.”
Schoenfeld admits he is tea obsessive. After he tasted da hong pao in Tucson he flew around the world, guided by Austin Hodge who introduced him to Master Liu who consented to lead them to his mountain-top tea garden that few outsiders have ever seen. “Liu is a rock star in the Chinese tea world, the only grower to be awarded a citation by the government for innovation in a traditional art,” Schoenfeld wrote.
“I was there in search of the terroir of my favorite teas – just as I’ve flown around the world to see the vineyards and meet the winemakers so I can better understand my favorite wines.”
The character of tea is largely determined by where and how it is grown. However, the taste of tea also has as much to do with the skill of who’s brewing it, Schoenfeld noted.
At Seven Cups Teahouse the exotic da hong pao could well be prepared by Zhuping Hodge, a certified Chinese Tea Master and native of China. She’s Austin’s wife and currently is leading a tour in China. She often demonstrates a traditional tea ceremony and on most Friday afternoons offers complimentary tea tastings at a rare and intricate wooden tea table carved from a single root. The Tucson teahouse is located at 2516 E. 6th St. in the historic Village of Sam Hughes.
Many of the teas available through Seven Cups have only been available to the Western world in the last 10 years. During that time, Hodge, founder and president of Seven Cups, traveled throughout China and cultivated relationships with tea farmers who use traditional methods passed down through the centuries. Seven Cups currently source teas from 30 producers in 10 different regions of China, homeland of the world’s first and finest teas, Hodge said.
Seven Cups has solid relationships in China with tea producers, tea masters and government officials. This is the only American tea company to obtain a license to export tea directly from China with no middleman.
“From our beginnings, Seven Cups has been dedicated to open sourcing and establishing a direct connection between the artists who make the tea and the people who drink it. I hope that Bruce’s article will spur the tea industry to be more open about who makes their tea,” Hodge said.
Tea aficionados don’t have to travel to Tucson to discover da hong pao. Seven Cups sells Chinese tea online to connoisseurs in more than 90 countries. The company also supplies tea to other exclusive tea business in Denmark, Brazil, Canada and the United States. They also host two tea tours every year for tea professionals and enthusiasts.
Seven Cups was founded in 2002 to sell Chinese teas to aficionados worldwide and opened its first teahouse in Tucson in 2004. Last year the company launched an international brokerage service offering small tea companies access to its extensive network of connoisseur-quality teas direct from farmers in China at an affordable price and in manageable quantities.
Hodge writes a widely read blog and has been extensively published within China. In 2011 Hodge became the only foreigner given “The Top Ten Outstanding Persons of China” award. presented by the Chinese tea community for his contributions in promoting Fine Chinese Teas.