When I opened this blog I could not even dream that it will develop into a community of tea lovers. The most beautiful above all is the fact that it connects enthusiasts with the same interest and passion.This is a letter from Felix Giron (USA) who has been living in China for many years.She is currently visiting tea factories and plantations. Felix allowed us to publish some of her letters and photos from a visit to Jin Li Xiang factory owned by Wang Jinshi. I hope you will enjoy her letter from a tea plantation in Guangdong.

Wandering Art Tea Academy Danchong adventures in Raoping

Wang in front of his factory

Mr. Wang and Ms. Felix in front of Jin Li Xiang factory (Source: Felix Giron)

On Sunday, April 17 we went to the Raoping side of Two Pigtail Girl Mountain (Shuangji Niang Shan) with our friend and mechanic Xiao Liu and his daughter to meet another danchong producer and retailer, Mr. Wang Jin Shi and his family.  Mr. Wang’s operation is known as the Jin Li Xiang Factory and his tea fields are known as the PhD Tea Garden (Boshi Chayuan); the enterprise starts at 700 meters and goes up to about 1200 meters.  The family also has a retail outlet in Shantou which is run largely by Mr. Wang’s daughter, Wang Xiao Zhao and her husband, Mr. Xie.  They return to the tea garden and the factory on weekends to pick up more tea, roast tea, check for tea quality and take home organic vegetables from the family garden.

Once you get off the highway near Chaozhao, it takes a good bit of very careful driving to make it to Mr. Wang’s

Wang's lower tea field

Mr. Wang’s lower altitude tea fields (Source: Felix Giron)

factory located at the lowest point of his operation; I was happy that Xiao Liu was both a professional driver and a mechanic.  Apparently many people have gotten lost along the way so the tea garden WeChat app managed by Xiao Zhao includes an incredibly detailed set of directions along with photographs of every turn that you make.  In addition to the ever present fog, the journey is accompanied by some amazing mountain views and shrieks of fear from Xiao Liu’s 7 year old daughter so there is not chance of boredom along the way.  Before reaching the mountainous road, my new 7 year old friend and I had an entertaining conversation about water, clouds, fog and the color of water during which she asked whether the water in her thermos was going to start flying around in the sky along with the clouds.  I am not sure she was reassured by my answer.

Mi Lan dan cong tea bush

Mi Lan dan cong tea bush (Source: Felix Giron)

Mr. Wang, our host and the owner of Jin Li Xiang, is a charismatic man of strong opinions about tea and a great amount of pride in his operation.  He is very familiar with the role of host and mentions along the way the many international visitors as well as important government officials in the tea industry that he has hosted.  The family and the workers are clearly used to having people drop in all the time and various people (friends, family, workers, Mr. Wang) take turns pouring at the tea table in the center of the roasting room.  Mr. Wang and his family keep going about their work investigating the day’s roasting for quality even as he shows us around the factory.  The factory has produced a pamphlet which highlights the expertise of Mr. Wang, the factory premises, the skill of the tea workers and the quality of the leaf.  Mr. Wang also keeps a copy of a professor’s paper that investigated the chemical makeup of this variety of danchong declaring that his tea has two beneficial compounds not found in any other types of tea. He is very proud of his product, “Once you start drinking this tea, you won’t be able to drink any other.”  Nevertheless, he also insists that danchong takes a while to get used to and suggests that I start out my Balkan friends and customers on a middle grade tea first and then, once they get accustomed (addicted?), pull out all the stops and hit them with the finest stuff.

Mt. Raoping in mist

Mt. Raoping in mist (Source: Felix Giron)

Mr. Wang’s factory is quite extensive and the tea fields cover more than 4000 mu of land; his is the largest operation I have seen so far.  Wang is proud of the scale, engineering and thought that went into the design of the factory and its fields and the quality of the tea that comes out of it.  He ensured that the factory was right next to the fields; he can immediately start processing the leaf as soon as it is plucked. As he later mentioned at length Mr. Wang chose the location of the factory based on both microgeographic and microclimatic concerns as well as fengshui.  The factory and courtyard are protected by the mountain at their back and the shape and angle of factory building and courtyard train the fog, rain and wind to go around the complex on the sides and decrease the effects of typhoons and storms on the tea fields.  The courtyard is large enough and placed against the mountain in such as way that it can receive sunlight until almost 6 in the evening which, as Mr. Wang explains, is necessary for the multiple times that the tea needs to be dried in the sun during oolong processing.  The dryness and the hygiene of the place are impressive; even in the fog and rain of April, the floor inside the factory is dry and clean enough to store tea in thin bags; Mr. Wang built the foundation with levels of anti-damp materials going down several meters. He also made sure that the wood intake and the tea intake doors for the ovens are on opposite sides of a wall.  Mr. Wang insists that only with economies of scale and the best technology can he deliver the amount, consistency and level of hygiene necessary to make the international export of tea profitable.  He takes us through each of the various machines and steps of processing the tea showing us how the tea leaves themselves never actually touch the ground.


Mr. Wang next to the 300 years old tea tree

Mr. Wang next to the 300 years old tea tree (Source: Felix Giron)


“Tradition,” Mr. Wang says, “is also about change,” and innovation.  He shows us some of the machines that he has already replaced with new inventions and says that many competitors have not done so.
Mr. Wang's terrace

Mr. Wang’s terrace (Source: Felix Giron)

Mr. Wang is a returned overseas Chinese born in Thailand who came back with his parents at the start of the People’s Republic.  He comes from a family of agriculture industrialists who used to have fields of longyan trees before their land was nationalized.  Mr. Wang also worked as the manager of a large factory and he emphasizes that this combined background helped him when he started enterprises after the reform and opening.  His first venture was in Shantou traditional handwork embroidery that involves pulling out and replacing white threads for colors.  The unpredictable and intensive nature of the work was too tiring for both the workers (one of whom was his daughter) and for him so the family decided to switch industries to tea.

The PhD Tea Garden/Boshi Chayuan tea plants spring from tea trees cultivated by an intellectual who left a legacy of older tea trees in the area.  Currently the gardens have mostly Shuixian (水仙)variety plants (leaves without fur – as opposed to sezhong 色种 which as a bit of fur); the fields surround the two trees which are more than 300 years old.  As one walks up the hills the bushes get less and less abundant.  Mr. Xie, Mr. Wang’s son-in-law, points out a few 10 year old bushes that are just now starting to produce tea; at lower altitudes it takes only two or three years to reach the same state of growth.  The slower speed of growth intensifies the flavors in the tea and results in higher quality tea.

At one point, Xiao Zhao explains to me that all of the various steps of processing require human judgement rather than set times.  The varying altitude of the tea gardens make processing the tea quite complex since the leaves produced are chemically different.  The temperature and weather in any given day as well as the vagaries of the soil and the altitude mean that each batch must be overseen individually. Hence, Xiao Zhao and the others in the roasting area are constantly pulling leaves from various batches to feel, smell and occasionally taste in tea to determine whether they are done, what qualities the tea will have and whether something needs to be changed.
Inside Jin Li Xiang tea factory

Inside Jin Li Xiang tea factory (Source: Felix Giron)

We end up drinking so much tea that I almost get tea drunk at one point.  Luckily we are hosted for lunch by Mr. Wang and his enterprise which includes not only freshly picked bamboo shoots and chives but also sticky rice wine that he made himself.  Mr. Wang insists that his wine has the highest sugar and wine content of any such wine and that, due to its high quality, will nevertheless not go to your head.  Regardless, we focus on the food instead.

Today’s teas included:
Large Dark Leaf Dawuye (大乌叶 ) This refers to a larger category of tree and leaf varietal rather than the variety/taste of danchong.
  1.  New (spring 2016) Honey Orchid Perfume Milanxiang (蜜兰香) this was the middle grade tea that we tasted.  Pretty smooth, short but nicely sweet aftertaste. Nice consistency even over many pours. This type of tea is known for its strong perfume both dry and wet and was one of the varietals given to high status guests during the Mao years. The tea we tasted was a spring (new) tea that was grown in the lower ranges of the tea farm.
  2. New (spring 2016) Almond Perfume Xingrenxiang(杏仁香) (regionally also known as Jagged Leaf/Juduozai or 锯朵仔)a stronger tea, more body, hints of olive, longer tail.  As a new tea, the tea still has a bit of brashness that should mellow out nicely and, while more robust than the Honey Orchid Perfume of this same year, will probably be even fuller with storage time.  My hosts suggest storing it a month to get an even better flavor
  3. Year-old Almond Perfume Xingrenxiang 杏仁香 /Jagged Leaf Juduozai 锯朵仔: An older tea, this had a lot of fullness and mellowness, very robust, hint of roasted rice, fabulous tail.
This weekend we head to Suzhou for the opening of a shared exhibition in which Lam has 4 pieces.  We will probably visit a few tea houses but no tea gardens. Ah well. We did, however, just hear from Jiao Shu’s family longjing operation in Meijiawu near Hangzhou.  They have just finished producing their red tea version of the spring longjing crop.  We bought a kilo and had it sent to us here in Guangdong for tasting.  I will let you know how it turns out.