With the Chinese Lunar New Year having just launched on February 1, I thought this would be a good time to talk about China, the motherland of tea, and a place that my family and I love to visit and source the most excellent teas! I mean, somebody has to do it!
Before I dive into my Chinese thoughts, if you haven’t tried our Lunar New Year 2022 tea, I hope you will. We’ve been making a blend honoring each Lunar New Year for a few years now, and our son Emeric was the originator of this year’s blend. He felt that an oolong tea, like Ti Quan Yin from Fujian Province made sense, then he added the ginger to spice things up and the red cornflowers – the Chinese love red this time of the year. A bit of natural lemon flavor helped finish off this light and lovely blend.
Okay, back to China. We’ll start with my first trip, which was in 1996. My friend and fellow tea professional Marcus Wulf and I took a whirlwind trip to many of the tea areas, not just China. At that time, China was just coming into the modern world, and I remember we were taking a road to the Fenghuang mountains, except the road was not finished. We had to wait for an hour or two while they carved a flat space out of the hillside.
Hangzhou was very different than it is now; no street lights which meant it was very dark at night. It was many long trips from one area to the next while we bounced around in the back of a van. Meeting all those people and seeing the Chinese villages and tea gardens for the first time – what a marvelous experience!
I went to China every year until 2020 when COVID hit. While I’ve loved all my trips and have memories from each, that first one was so special. Everything was new to us, while at the same time all was a bit old and broken over there. Western tea guys were a new phenomenon, so everyone was charming.
When it comes to sourcing our Chinese teas, we try to get them from the best and most original spots. Zhejiang makes most of the best green teas, Fujian for white teas, oolongs, and specialty blacks, and Hunan for many teas, but mostly black. We want the best-tasting teas we can find for you, our Harney customers.
One of the benefits of so many trips and focusing on finding the best tea growers is that we end up becoming friends with many of them. There is Lu in Hangzou and his son Lu 2. Lu is about my age, so we’re close. We met Wang in Fuzhuo on the first trip, and he is always fun to be around. We have watched Steve He’s family grow up. We all share years of commitment to fine teas. And now we have gotten to know some women who operate small tea businesses, and we count on them to find the extra special teas from different provinces.
Other than how and where Chinese teas are grown, their processing methods also set their teas apart. The Chinese have been doing tea the longest, so they have many of the best methods of making tea. For oolongs and black teas, they understand how important time is to the process. They slow down the process of going from green to black. This allows chemicals to form that taste great. This makes for teas that do not need milk or sugar. The teas are a bit mellow, so there’s no need for the fat in milk to smooth out the tea flavor. Nor is there a need for sweetness from sugar, the tea leaves are picked when there is a lot of natural sweetness formed in the leaves.
One of my favorite China-related stories is watching the women hand roll our Dragon Pearl Jasmine tea. Outside of Fuding and Fuan in northern Fujian Province, you can find tea factories that take the big tea buds plucked earlier in the day. They are softened up for a bit, and then women put one between their fingers and quickly roll it into a “pearl.” These are dried out and then shipped south to Guangxi Province, where in a few months they are scented with jasmine flowers. This happens for a few nights until the tea has absorbed all the flavors. It’s a very special tea.
That said, it’s really hard for me to pick a favorite Chinese tea – I love just about all of them. I favor the special black teas like Golden Monkey, and oolongs like Spring Floral Ti Quan Yin. For folks who haven’t had a traditional Chinese tea but are curious about where to start, I’d suggest a great green tea like our Lung Ching, which is a traditional green. A Da Hong Pao is a favorite darker oolong, and Hao Ya B Keemun is a good start for a black tea. If you’ve had a favorite Chinese tea that you had trouble getting in the last couple years, the pandemic-related shipping issues seem much better in the last year than they were in 2020.
I’m looking forward to getting back to China, visiting the beautiful tea gardens, seeing old friends, and sipping some delicious Chinese teas. Meanwhile, Happy Lunar New Year – here’s to the Year of the Tiger!