It was serendipity that brought me to Kai Wei. I was in Yunnan Dali, which is a beautiful lake town at the foot of a gorgeous mountain range. I had just been to some puer plantations about two hours away, and was in town for a little fun and relaxation. In the afternoon, a really good friend of mine from the Dali tribe brought me to a teahouse reputed to serve really good teas.
When we arrived, I spotted a young, beautiful woman sitting at a table with a young man in his early thirties. The young woman had unusually dark skin for a Chinese woman, but her warm skin tones and dark hair made her look like a beautiful, young Native American Indian. She smiled at me and I could not help but smile back at her.
The owner of the shop was brewing tea. I introduced myself to everyone in Chinese and got very friendly responses. It turned out that the young man’s name was Kai Wei and he was of the Bai tribe in Yunnan. The young woman was his sister.
Kai Wei was there to sell his family’s green tea to the owner of the teahouse. I figured that out from their conversation. The green tea we were sipping was absolutely delicious! It had a real unique roasted flavor and the leaves were hand-rolled into perfect little pearls, they call it Ancient Artisan Bi Luo Chun Green Tea. I became really excited and was very keen to meet the farmer directly. However, I didn’t want to “step on the toes” of the teahouse owner. After a little while, the teahouse owner went into a backroom with Kai Wei, to presumably close the sale. At that point, Kai Wei’s sister threw me a glance with her beautiful eyes. I told her I would be in town for a while and to call me. Yes, I thought this girl was gorgeous, and I wanted a date with her, but more importantly, I wanted to get in touch with Kai Wei to see his tea trees and maybe do some tea business with him. She looked delighted, flashed me a wide smile while giggling softly in the shy way that Chinese girls do when they are happy and don’t quite know what to say.
The very next day, I got a call from her. We met and had a wonderful time. She was very open to me about her brother’s business. I had to say I grew pretty fond of this girl. I told her I wanted to buy tea from her brother. She gave me his phone number and told me not to tell him I got it from her. I think she was a little embarrassed. When I called Kai Wei, he remembered who I was but was surprised I had his phone number. I told him a little lie and said I had copied his phone number from the business card he had left behind at the teahouse. Kai Wei and I met later that night. He sold me a small amount of the Ancient Artisan Baked Heart Green Tea and Ancient Artisan Bi Luo Chun Green Tea that he made. I was immediately in love with the unique taste of these hearty green teas. You could brew them many more times than a typical green tea.
When I asked Kai Wei about his experience in the tea business, he told me this story.
Over 200 years ago, Kai Wei’s family’s ancestors planted very special tea trees on Wu Liang Mountain in Yunnan. Wu Liang Mountain is famous for being home to the best tea trees, producing some of the finest teas to be found in China. Growing at elevations between 1,828–2,195 meters (6,000–7,200+ feet) high, the trees in the family plantation soak up the rays from the sun year round. Kai Wei’s family secrets of making artisanal green tea have been passed down for generations. Since they focus on a single type of tea rather than several different kinds, they have been able to sharpen their skills and achieve a level of quality that few teas can hope to attain. It is a family farm that is small enough to manage by themselves.
Kai Wei and his family live in a small mountain village outside of Dali, in Wu Liang Mountain located in Yunnan Southern China. He is the fourth generation of his ancestors to live and farm here and while tea is their main source of income, tea artistry and appreciation is part of their heritage.
The way tea farming has been handled and sold by not only Kai Wei and his family, but by the other 15 families that make up this community has evolved over the years. In more recent times and that of his fathers generation, government owned tea factories were being built in many of the growing regions creating opportunities for employment as well as somewhere to sell fresh tea leaves for processing. Kai Wei’s father managed one such factory and saw it through the years that it went from government owned to privately owned. The inevitable problem was how little these factories paid, that they provided no health insurance and that they promoted wide spread use of chemicals to help maximise yield without consideration for quality or negative side effects on the community or environment. It didn’t take long for a small poor village who was virtually self-sustaining to be caught up in a vicious cycle of false promises and diminishing returns.
As a young boy Kai Wei saw first hand how negatively this affected his father who tried and failed to get health cover and better wages for his community and ultimately lost his job. These difficult years became the motivation behind the gentle and caring way that Kai Wei treats sustainability and the wild landscapes that surround him as well as the strong determination he shows to be self-sustaining not only for himself but for all the families in his community.
Now, they take pride in the fact that their farm is considered an 'ecological' tea farm, growing only real organic teas in a sustainable way that preserves the environment. Their tea trees that they cultivate are the same ones that have been producing teas for the past 200 years. As a result of this longevity, Kai Wei's pure handmade green teas are especially unique and have become my personal favorites as well as the most popular green teas in my store. The aromas and flavor profiles are so complex that every other green tea I have had has paled in comparison.
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