When I was in China in 2008 I went through a period of some serious Tie Guan Yin drinking. Everywhere I went people were drinking Tie Guan Yin. Even while waiting at the carwash they brewed us Tie Guan Yin. And then, the fever hit me: I wanted to find the best, Organic Tie Guan Yin possible.
Tie Guan Yin, which literally means Iron Guan Yin, is a variety of Chinese Oolong tea that originated in the 19th century in Anxi which is located in Fujian Province. Guan Yin is a Buddha known as the Goddess of Mercy. The Taiwanese are mostly from Fujian, so when they left the mainland they brought their Tie Guan Yin with them and grew it in Taiwan. Many varieties of Taiwanese Oolong tea originate from Tie Guan Yin in Anxi.
After several months of this non-stop Tie Guan Yin drinking I noticed that after I ate breakfast and had my first cups of Tie Guan Yin my digestion did not feel right. I felt I was not digesting my food properly. I felt acid feelings rising from my stomach and into my throat. I noticed this happened right after I ate breakfast and then had the Tie Guan Yin. I had to stop having it right after breakfast so I did and the problem went away for a bit.
After sometime I started noticing this feeling happening whenever I drank Tie Guan Yin. The next year many people in China were talking about how so many people were getting stomach and digestive problems after drinking Tie Guan Yin. I had found out that there is no truly organic Tie Guan Yin in Anxi. To make matters worse I came to find many tea traders would take lower quality Tie Guan Yin and spray it with chemicals to add a better fragrance and flavor to it.
I realized it must have been the pesticides. Now I really had to find an organic Tie Guan Yin and fast! Once again I went on the hunt for Tie Guan Yin, but this time it was for truly organic Tie Guan Yin. After speaking to many people they confirmed to me that you simply could not find truly organic Tie Guan Yin inside of Anxi. I heard there was one small factory producing top grade Tie Guan Yins several hundred miles from Anxi. They had EU Organic certification, which has some of the strictest standards of any Organic certs.
I first met Yang, the owner of the organic Tie Guan Yin company in Beijing when he was there on business. He was very polite and had an array of wealthy businessmen sitting around him drinking his Tie Guan Yin. When I first sipped it I loved it. It had a cleaner and pure taste than any other Tie Guan Yin I had ever had and yet it was organic. It may have not had the flavors of the award winning Tie Guan Yin, but it fit my principles of organic teas. I asked him if I could see his tea farm. He said he was very busy and I could watch a video he made. I didn’t want to become a serious customer of his unless I was able to see his farm. I gave him my contact info and asked him to call me when he had time.
A year went by and I still had not heard a peep from this guy. This time I found him in Shenzhen when I called him and I happened to be there too. He agreed to meet where we sat together and had tea. I asked him again to see his farm and he gave me the same answer.
It was frustrating and I guess he had enough customers that he was not interested.
Another several months went by and I had more and more customers begging me for organic Tie Guan Yin. I was personally drinking his tea, but without seeing the actual plantation I was not ready to vouch for it with my customers.
One day I was leaving Wuyi Mountain in Fujian from the spring harvest and decided I would give it one more shot to ask him to see the plantation.
He said he was not there, but his wife could meet me. In fact she sent a driver to drive 8 hours to pick us up and bring us all the way there. I finally felt they realized I could be a real customer for them. The drive there was stunning. There were endless mountain roads with waterfalls, rivers and lush green forests everywhere. Zhou, Yang’s wife met us at the tea factory, which was settled at the bottom of a mountain. When we got to her factory everyone in the car was tired from driving, but after a few cups of her Tie Guan Yin we perked right up. She had several grades and even had one that was laced with wildflower honey by her farm, which was the perfect combination.
That night we drove to the top of the mountain to sleep. No electricity in the house. Everything was lit by candlelight and food was cooked over a fire. It was rustic and felt good. Early the next morning the roosters crowing woke us up. I did my morning Qigong routine with the fresh mountain air overlooking a gorgeous view. Her staff cooked us a delicious breakfast cooked over the fire and some nice tea to go with it.
After breakfast we hiked down a little to the tea gardens. I noticed there were solar panels all over. I asked Zhou what they were for and she began to explain their philosophy and it hit home with me. She was a doctor, so she took health seriously and had grown tired of her job. Her husband and her had always dreamed of the farm life and loved tea. They decided to put their dreams together and create a tea plantation. They loved Tie Guan Yin as it was their favorite tea, but realized they simply could not get truly organic Tie Guan Yin anywhere.
They found the mountain that their current plantation is on almost 7 years ago and began planting. They believed in a sustainable approach to farming and thus had solar panels installed so there is no electricity used it is all done with solar energy. They believed in creating a family like atmosphere with the tea pickers and those who were processing the tea. You could tell their relationship was very close. The tea farmers lived a great life at the top of the mountain. Even though it had no electricity, everyone seemed happy.
The housing was clean and the space was large. In addition they had their own organic farm just for the staff at the top of the mountain with free-range chickens running everywhere. I actually wouldn’t mind living there myself, it was quite peaceful and nice.
After this I knew I had found the right Tie Guan Yin grown with the right principles for my customers.
Until next time,
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