Jasmine, Puer, and memory: Remembering the life and friendship of Luo Shaojun.

Newsletter Archive Sep. 3, 2021

Two people standing in front of an entrance and sign, smiling.
Austin and Luo Shaojun at the China National Center for Quality Supervision and Inspection of Tea.

This week brings two popular teas back into stock. That includes the small-batch-ripened Sweet Dragon Ball Shu Puer 2016 and the very fresh and fancy 2021 Silver Dragon Jasmine Pearls.

With every new tea coming in, memories come too. As this season of jasmine tea arrives, we’re reminded of a late friend, a tea maker and agricultural engineer who not only had a special expertise in Jasmine tea, she had a powerful influence on Seven Cups and the Chinese tea industry as a whole. Her name was Luo Shaojun.

Luo Shaojun was born into the family of a prominent Shanghai physician. As a young woman, she suddenly found herself making Jasmine green tea in the countryside of Fujian as a sent-down youth. There she lived through the hardships of farm life and bitterness of the Mao era. As someone from an urban middle class background, the young Luo Shaojun was often singled-out for hard labor and intimidation. Luo, however, was not intimidated. Although she carried scars from the hard labor until the end of her life, she never carried a grudge. To the contrary, she saw the ugliness of this era coming from poverty and thus she became deeply concerned with the economic condition of tea makers. Even after leaving the farm, she stayed in tea, devoting the rest of her career to the improvement of the tea industry.

Taking degrees in Agricultural Engineering in Hangzhou and then later in Japan, Luo Shaojun published research on improvements to tea processing, particularly for Jasmine and scented teas. From there she ascended into leadership of China’s prominent tea research organizations, eventually becoming the director of the Hangzhou Tea Research Academy and the director of the National Center for Tea Quality Inspection. Her work in each post quietly developed China’s tea industry and tea culture in a challenging time.

Two people standing in front of a large piece of framed calligraphic art, smiling.
Zhuping and Luo Shaojun in front of an antique calligraphic rendition of Lu Tong’s “seven bowls of tea” poem that Seven Cups is named after, scribed by the brother of the last Chinese emperor.

As we mentioned last week, the state of China’s premium tea market and tea culture in the late 1990s and early 2000s was fragmented, niche, and facing challenges to its future. Part of the change between that precarious time and the golden-age of today was the establishment of national standards for tea quality and grading — standards for premium tea that Ms. Luo advocated for and developed at her official post. These standards were guideposts for tea makers who were willing to take the risk that quality tea would prove profitable. 20 years on, they’ve been successful in supporting the development of China’s high-end teas.

Ms. Luo’s influence was personal, too. She introduced Austin and Zhuping to small producers who were making traditional, regional styles and made suggestions on where to travel in search of more. She and Austin co-founded the Chinese-American tea council initiative in the early 2000s, encouraging suppliers and buyers to make premium teas available in the international market.

Sadly, Ms. Luo passed away in 2016. When we met her for the last time in 2015, she was in poor health, but was animated, cheerful, and kind as ever. Just before the end of the visit, Ms. Luo wrote us a personal note: “When you face envy and strife in this world, brush it off as common dust. Tea is good company for a full and happy life — one full of friendships and made light with laughter. Respect the earth, value life, be assured in your reasoning, know gratitude and your heart will be at ease wherever the journey takes you.”

A glass of brewing Silver Dragon Jasmine Pearls held up to the sky as the leaves within unfurl.
Silver Dragon Jasmine Pearls’ hand-rolled leaves unfurling against the sky.