As we packed up the last of our teas a few days ago and brought them to be pressed, I took a few moments to look back on the progress we’ve made in the tea mountains over the past years. This spring was our 9th consecutive spring in the tea mountains of Yunnan & in some ways it feels like we’ve just started properly. I look back with fondness at the wonderful naivety that we had in the first couple of years going to the tea mountains. Taking buses and hiring minivans to bring us to the mountain villages and, clueless of all but a few famous and easy to reach places, we really felt like we were on an adventure. We met lovely people and were treated so nicely…. and got cheated of course!
Being cheated one way or another is part and parcel of being in the tea business. I’m not sure if I know anyone who’s spent any significant time sourcing tea in China that hasn’t been cheated somewhere along the road. Minimising your losses and being able to spot when you’ve been cheated is crucial though. In our storage, we’ve still got batches of tea that we don’t feel comfortable to sell.
With time though, relationships get stronger & the honest and reliable farmers are the ones you stick with. This doesn’t give as much yearly diversity that customers sometimes want, but it gives us greater confidence in our teas and allows us to encourage the farmers in their protection of the gardens in the long term.
We’ve also been very fortunate with the other people we’ve met in Yunnan who are also sourcing tea in the mountains. We’ve learned a lot from them and I can say almost all of our strongest and most important relationships with tea farmers have come through introductions by friends.
I think the biggest change we’ve made and the one that has had the most liberating effect, is getting my Chinese driving license and our own transport… a beat-up pickup truck that has seen its fair share of mountain tracks already. Before that we’d been borrowing 4×4’s or pickup trucks or hitching with friends into the mountains, but always felt limited in the freedom we had to explore or stay for as long as we’d like.
This Spring we’ve been mostly visiting old contacts – spending most of our time in Wuliang, Ai Lao and Yiwu and visiting Yibang and Menghai briefly. We found some really special tea from the state forest in Yiwu, concentrated on ancient tree wild tea from some areas in Wuliang and found some a couple of new ancient tree gardens too. For our wrappers, we wanted to complement the handmade aspect of our tea, and decided to use Yunnan hand-died fabric to decorate the locally handmade paper. Our cakes are being pressed at the moment & hopefully we’ll have them available for sale in a couple of weeks time.