It was 2010 and I was on a search for ancient tree tea green tea. I had been searching for a long time for ancient tree green tea, but I could not find it anywhere. I can find premium green tea anywhere, just go to Hangzhou and you can find, premium Longjing green tea. I went to Sichuan and found really delicious artisan green tea right from the farmers. What eluded me was finding ancient tree tea green tea. Then I met Kai Wei. I was in a beautiful town on a lake called Dali, in Yunnan Province in China. Dali is at the foot of a beautiful mountain range whose peaks reach up to 14,000 feet high!
I was sitting inside a small, cooped up, smoky teashop sipping tea with the owner and a tea connoisseur from France who I brought with me. You might ask why was I sitting in this old, beat up, the little tea shop with this old man sipping tea when I had traveled across China seeking the best teas one could find? The answer was simple. This old man was known by the locals to have some very exotic teas that most people could not find. It was a far cry from the posh Teavana shops or even the fancy teahouses one might find in Beijing or other parts of the world. If you did not know about this old man, you would think he was some deadbeat trying to hustle teas, but quite to the contrary. I had told my local friends who were of the Bai people of Yunnan that I was on the hunt for an ancient tree tea green tea. My friend led me to this man. I sat and sipped one exotic tea after another. These teas were not anything like I had had before. They were extremely complex and very robust. After an hour or so I was about to purchase one of his special Puer teas and leave. Right then a young man with a golden smile and sun-baked face walked in the door. He was so calm and peaceful, his peacefulness came over me. I looked down at his hands. They looked rugged, like a farmers hands or someone who worked with their hands in the field. He had a backpack with him and a beautiful young woman who he called his “sister” walked in behind him. She was dressed casually but had a natural, yet rugged beauty about her. He sat down and opened his backpack. He took out a large plastic bag that had beautiful, little hand-rolled balls of green tea. It looked like Bi Luo Chun, but I knew Bi Luo Chun was not from the Yunnan region originally. I asked him what it was and he said it was Bi Luo Chun green tea that he made himself. The owner promptly threw brewed some up. The fragrance and experience of this green tea was nothing like I had ever had before!
The fragrance was nutty, with hints of pine and autumn leaves. The taste was just like the fragrance. There was nothing shy about this tea, it was bold and robust. A hearty green tea, unlike anything I had had until that point. Most green teas I have had are delicate and soft, but not this one. This was a green tea you could taste and with each cup it became almost addictively good. It brewed cup after cup. This tea did not stop. Most green teas I had had, you could brew maybe 2-3 times at the most. This tea was endless.
After about the 7th brew, the owner told this young man he wanted 10 kilos of green tea right away. He nodded to his sister who went to the truck parked outside and she came back with 2 large sacks containing 5 kilograms each of this artisanal green tea he had made himself.
As we spoke he told me how he and his family had been making green tea by hand for generations. “How long exactly,” I asked?
“Over 200 years.” He replied.
I was stunned, there I was searching all over China for ancient tree green tea and this man just came to me while I was sitting down in that smoky, old little teashop. It was as the Chinese call it, “yuan fen” which has no direct translation but the closest thing I can say is it was too coincidental to be an accident.
Right after the owner of the teashop agreed to buy these 10 kilograms, this young farmer, Kai Wei said he also had some other special green teas he had made and just finished processing.
Kai Wei pulled out of his sack a tea, he called Ancient Baked Heart Green Tea. This tea was grown by him as well on the same mountain. This was even more robust than the Bi Luo Chun green tea Kai Wei had just shown us. It was less refined, but there was something I liked about a less refined tea. In a world where we are constantly refining teas, to have something so different, so mouthwatering and thirst quenching, this tea had a flavor that hit the spot of a craving I never even knew I had. The flavors were so complex, as most green teas I have had do not have complex flavor profiles, this was truly unique.
All of Kai Wei’s teas were grown at high altitudes, he explained, what the Chinese call high mountain tea. His teas were grown at over 7000 feet high! These teas are grown in one of the sunniest parts of China. The sun is strong and it creates a powerful tea with tons and tons of energy.
When the shop owner went to his back room to get money to pay Kai Wei, Kai Wei asked me what I was doing and I told him I own a tea company and I was looking for an ancient tree green tea. He offered me his phone number. I took it reluctantly as I did not want to step on the teashop owners toes. Later Kai Wei left and I asked the owner how much he would sell me this beautiful ancient tree tea green tea for. His price was more than 4 times the price Kai Wei sold it for. I smiled and said I would consider it and maybe get back to him.
I contacted Kai Wei later who came right over and until now I have been buying and supporting Kai Wei and his family’s green teas for almost 10 years.
I asked Kai Wei how he got into tea production. His story was sad but inspirational of a man with a big heart.
His father was known as the premier tea artisan in the area. He was hired by a large local company to personally produce their teas. After some years of hard working for this company, he developed cancer. The company refused to pay his medical bills or provide insurance so unfortunately, he died.
Fortunately, when Kai Wei was a teenager, his father had taught him his secrets to producing amazing artisan green tea. Kai Wei worked on his family tea plantation producing small amounts and honing his craft into adulthood. After his father's death, he needed to support his family. The whole family contributed to working together on this farm the way it has for generations.
Other local tea artisan producers noticed this young tea farmer's tea was exquisite and becoming quite popular. They did not want to go to work for these large tea factories, so Kai Wei began to teach some of his traditional green tea production techniques. Unlike many tea producers, he let some local neighbors know his family secrets, but not all. He kept a few and focuses on 2 exquisite artisan green teas: Ancient Artisan Bi Luo Chun and Ancient Artisan Baked Heart unlike any out there.
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