It was a cool, rainy day deep in the mountains of Yunnan Province at an eco Puer tea factory the day I met Zhang Qiu. He had just flown in from Sichuan to meet me in anticipation of meeting his first foreign customer for his famous green tea. Zhang and stout with a raspy voice, and a peculiar long mustache that looked like feline’s whiskers hung from his face. Everyone who first met him stared at him like he was a strange creature because of his cat like features that I really have never seen anywhere else. He hobbled as one of his legs was blown off in the Vietnam war. He was of course, not representing American but it was the war of China vs. Vietnam. His voice was always towering over everyone else’s and he definitely stole the show wherever he was. This man held the keys to one of the finest green tea gardens in China. Over 3,000 feet high deep in the majestic mountains of Sichuan lay a former Emperors tea garden that was cut off during the cultural revolution. During the cultural revolution, many tea farms were banned from being used or destroyed as they were a link to the Chinese culture which was against Mao Zedong’s philosophy of eliminating that culture. I had been hunting for some really amazing green teas which no one else had in the US. I had seen so many common green teas and was really unsatisfied with what I was finding on my tea hunts across China. At the time I still only had several green teas I felt put me apart from the rest which were Yang Kai’s green teas growing at phenomenal heights in the mountains of Yunnan from ancient tea trees. The problem is just a few green teas on your menu for an international tea company simply is not enough. In addition, the Yunnan green teas are more rustic and hearty. I had some clients who really wanted a more soft and gentle green tea. I knew Sichuan was one of the best places in China to obtain these kinds of teas. In addition, my friend who owned the Puer tea factory was from Sichuan originally. In China everything works based off of relationship. I have seen many westerners come to China thinking they are gonna score so many great connections direct with tea farmers without even the basic understanding of how relationships work in China. They end up getting ripped off 8 times out of 10 because of this ignorance. Most of my solid connections in the tea business in China came from my relationships with others in the tea business who were willing to make the introductions that I needed. Then from there I would work on developing my relationship with my new connection. This was all a time consuming but necessary process to make a longterm, trustable connection. Wang, the owner of the Puer factory had a friend who owned a very famous tea mountain in Sichuan Province whose green teas had won multiple gold medals in various tea competitions in China. Knowing my need for these kinds of teas he gladly made the introduction which also gave him face too, because he was bringing a good customer to his friend. In China, favors are always called upon to be paid back. When I first met Zhang, he actually put me off. He bragged a lot about his tea garden and made me watch an extremely long, drawn out video commercial of it, all in Chinese. In addition, he spoke no English and had such a strong local accent even many of my Chinese friends couldn’t understand some of what he said. All of this really put me off, but what did catch me was that he was raised a poor farmer and ended up a war veteran literally living literally off the land for survival. He had a tiny savings left from being an injured war veteran. Many years after the cultural revolution the tea business in China started making a huge comeback. He spotted the opportunity. He lived near the abandoned tea garden where the last dynasty’s Emperor had his green tea harvested from. By now, it was overgrown with weeds and other plants, but still had many of the original tea trees growing that were not burned or cut by the Communist soldiers. Zhang is a forward thinker and could see the potential of this garden if he were able to restore it. With his little money he had from his savings he made an offer on the land and it was accepted. He now had this beautiful tea mountain, but it needed a ton of work and how could he do that when he just spent almost all of his money just to buy it? Being raised a poor farmer, he had many friends who were also farmers. It was his dream to support the farmers to have enough money for a decent house and education for their children. He made some of them an offer to share in the business if they helped him grow and harvest the tea along with cleaning an maintaining the tea mountain. Many of them had come from experience in tea gardening and seeing the prospect of this agreed. Years of hard work paid off. Now they have a thriving tea business that is selling throughout China. Zhang being a farmer realized the importance of organic as much of the tea in China has pesticides, so he now has a certified organic tea garden. Their teas Organic Green Jade green tea which is pure buds, won multiple gold medals in multiple competitions. Organic Eastern Beauty green tea which is Eric’s favorite won many awards too. Organic Green Pine Needle green tea which is a rare treat. They also grow a real nice Organic Mao Feng green tea, and my favorite, Organic Orchid Sprout green tea. Cia Yuan and his wife Mei, the tea farmers live a peaceful, life at the top of the mountain managing these magnificent tea gardens I am honored to be the first one to bring this tea to the west so that others can try these very special green teas that were once drank by the Emperor.
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