The first tea artisan I met was in Guangdong Province, China on Phoenix Mountain. This man and his family had been on the same mountain for over 800 years producing a special Oolong tea using the same traditional methods that had been passed down for generations. The skill it takes to create teas like these only a highly skilled artisan with many years of training can produce. They have to have skills in all these areas:
The skill of picking. The have to know the right time of day, right day of the month that is best for picking that tea. I even met a Taoist monk who waits until his tea tree is aligned with the star constellation of Pleiades before he picks it as he believes it is pulling special energy from that constellation. The tea artisan does not pick every tree’s leaves at once. They judge which trees are ready and which are not. The large scale farms don’t have time to go tree by tree to judge if it is the right time to pick. They simply pick the best day they think is right for the harvest and pluck all of them at once.
The Skill of processing. The skilled tea artisan usually has tricks up her/his sleeve to produce the finest tea that is totally unique to them. Their processing skill is almost always kept a secret so no one else can copy the unique flavor they are pulling out of the tea leaves. Some use special roasting methods of using a fire and wok as they believe the natural fire produces a better tasting tea. Some also use charcoal. Some dry their teas in the sun meanwhile the large factories are using hot air blowers. Look at Shana Zhang, the second generation tea artisan, whose special way of producing her teas are to use a real fired wok, with her tea artisan brother Tian Zhi, they wrapping the tea into special pagodas that was used as a prayer for hundreds of years by his family. The result is a Black Tea called Ancient Artisan Yunnan Black that is unlike any black tea you have ever drunk. What about Tian Zhi whose family has been producing the finest puer teas, white teas and black teas for over 300 years, and have a special ceremony for the ancient tea trees every year.
Compare these skills to a large factory where they are employing any local help they can get that work as if on an assembly line for low pay and often times never they never knew anything about tea. They had a simple training by the factory to do it the way the factory needs it done on time.
Let’s save our tea artisans, let them know we value their skills that bring so many happy moments to people around the world. Let’s say no to large scale factory produced teas and protect these invaluable tea artisans for the next generation to enjoy.
In Good Tea,