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Producer of the Month: Mr Zeng

6 February 2019

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Zeng Xiao Long, Dancong tea producer in Guangdong, China

Each month, the Camellia Sinensis team presents one of its favorite producers, shares the story of their first encounter, and the producer’s story.

This month, we have Mr. Zeng Xiao Long, Dancong tea producer in Guangdong, China. Jasmin, our importer for Guangdong, met Mr. Zeng through Mr. Zheng, a tea-scientist friend and Dancong tea consultant in Chaozhou. In 2017, during Jasmin’s visit to Chaozhou, Mr. Zheng invited him to accompany him on a consulting job at Mr. Zeng’s tea factory. On arrival Jasmin happily discovered a magnificent terroir of high quality tea plants, growing in wild, natural surroundings. Joined by their common interest in good teas, Jasmin and Mr. Zeng quickly became friends. His wulong teas have been sold in our catalogue ever since.

When and how did you first step into the world of tea?

As long as I can remember, I have always drunk tea. Even as a young child, tea was part of our daily life. It is only in 2011 though, after I sold my first factory, that a friend asked me to start producing Dancong tea. Naturally I accepted. Our initial idea was to invest in agriculture by acquiring a mountain and creating a pesticide free garden. I also became the official marketing director of the enterprise. You must also know that in Chaozhou-Shantou region, we have been drinking Gong Fu style tea for centuries. The Chaoshan people are the largest tea consuming group in China. It is customary for us to start drinking tea in early childhood. Everyone learned how to make tea during their adolescence. For us, passion and understanding of tea is almost second nature.

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Tell us a bit more about your gardens.

The garden is owned by the company of which I am one of the managers. As such, it extends over an area of nearly 5000 mu (333 hectares) but in reality, the planted portion covers only about 1000 mu. The rest is left as natural forest to create a protective perimeter around the garden and isolate it from the outside world.

How many workers do you hire and how much tea do you produce a year? 

Thirty workers are employed all year to insure production and management of the garden. During plucking season, we generally hire another 100 temporary workers to help. In 2018, our production exceeded 10 000kg.

Which aspects of your work do you prefer? 

I prefer to drink tea and not to work. (Laugh). Having you coming all the way here to drink tea with me is my favourite part.

Who’s buying your teas? Local or international clients? 

Right now our tea is mostly sold in continental China. We have distributors in most big Chinese cities. Our international market is centered in Hong Kong and covers South-East Asia then there is our one foreign customer, that’s Camellia Sinensis.

Have you seen any changes since your beginnings in the industry?

I believe the tea industry pays more and more attention to experienced consumption, especially in regards to high-end teas. Before, people where buying teas on site or through and intermediary and drank it at home. That was it. Now, guests come here to taste the teas, see the garden and visit the mountain. Gardens, studios and tea houses that have good interaction with clients are likely to become the main channels for high-end tea sales in the future.

What is your favourite tea?

Although I sometimes drink PuEr, my favorite tea is Yuan Wei Dancong.

Entrepreneurship: Our Founder’s Journey

5 February 2019

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According to Hugo, the key to entrepreneurial success is combination of careful planning, focused objectives and a decent dose of…luck!

Here is an interview with the founder of Camellia Sinensis tea house on the original launch of the company.

Tell us how it all started? Was founding a company your dream?

H : From planning my paper route when I was 10 to begging manager of the corner store to give me more responsibilities when I was 16, I always felt I was born to be an entrepreneur. I had been dreaming of launching a café-bar with a difference, so I travelled to Europe at 23 to do my market research. Whilst in Prague, I picked up the taste for tea as there were many places serving it with a blend of Asian tradition and an extra touch of “cool” . As I worked on my business plan I realized that we had nothing remotely like this in Montreal. That’s when I realized: it was going to be a tea house and not a coffee shop!

You must have have ran into quite a few challenges when you started out?

H : Yes. I actually underestimated the budget to launch this endeavour, so I had to worked 112h a week for the first year to compensate. It wasn’t easy for my friends, family and more importantly the bank to visualize the concept I had in mind.

Do you have any tips for the young entrepreneurs out there?

H : Firstly, is that you can’t do it alone. Find people around you that you trust and that can help you with certain tasks. Trust them and delegate. There are plenty of people and business services that will help if you ask.

Secondly, I would suggest to focus on one thing as launching a new business is very time consuming. Make sure that the other aspects of your life allow you to dedicate so much energy to this adventure.

Last November marked the 20th anniversary of Camellia Sinensis. How would you explain the continued success of this company?

H : Personal experience has lead me to believe that it is a mixture of three things:

1. A realistic plan. It’s important to plan but we also need to be flexible in order to see other opportunities that can help us improve our idea. I have never found it realistic to plan 3 or 5 years ahead. I plan the year and adapt with the flow to guide my next plan. Depending on your vision, you may want to observe your company’s evolution. Treat it as if it were a person with its own goals and aspirations.

2. Keep focused. Choose and define a mission, objectives and a target market. Remember, you won’t be able to please everyone and aim concentrate on what you do best.

3. Be on the lookout for Lady Luck ! After all, the whole idea of Camellia Sinensis came to me after working up the nerve to ask a girl out in Prague. She fortunately said yes and brought me to a hidden Tea house and that’s when everything became clear. Who knows what would’ve happened had I not met her. Being open and spontaneous to the benefits of chance can lead to wonderful things.

Camellia Sinensis isn’t only Hugo, you also have 3 partners. What is your secret ?

H : Quite simply: we get along really well. Having the same overall vision and our belief in the balance between personal and professional life is what has kept us together so long. Partnering up was very organic and seamless but having the same values is the glue that keeps it together. Starting out we all worked together in the store and teahouse as things developed we were advised to take on specific roles and to structure the company as it grew. It worked out for the best because we each had our own strengths and interests. Francois took marketing, Jasmin took operations and eventually Kevin joined in 2004, adding a wealth of experience after years in the tea market.

Any wishes for the next 20 years of Camellia Sinensis?

H: Definitely not a massive worldwide expansion. I’d rather focus on helping like-minded entrepreneurs to change the way we do business and spread the wealth. Running a healthy business can mean many things and measured in different ways. For us it’s measured in the quality of how we balance our personal lives.

Actually, I’ll take this opportunity to sincerely thank all our clients. Without their loyalty and support, Camellia Sinensis would not be what it is today. Thank you everybody!

China: definitely not the Evil Empire of Tea

4 February 2019

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For the last twenty years we have been talking to clients about China the Motherland of Tea, their questions and concerns. China’s development has been impressive over the last 15 years. We’d like to take a few moments to share our views on some of the issues.

As you know, our expert tasters visit The Middle Kingdom each and every spring to meet producers and to ensure the quality of the gardens and their product. It puts us in the fortunate position of having a clear yearly picture of the Chinese tea industry and their evolution over the last couple of decades.

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China tea did have a little trouble with its priorities back in the 1990s. There are still tea drinkers out there with strong opinions about Chinese teas based on those now distant years. But it is safe to say that since then, the mentality has shifted and evolved in China. This has become even increasingly evident into the 2000′s. So perhaps we all need to revise our perception of the Chinese tea industry as it is constantly and rapidly changing.

Back then, their tea industry heavily focussed on”image” rather than “taste” or “flavour quality”, image of the product itself or of the garden behind it. Priorities and mindset began to shift from “what looked good” or grew in a prestigious field to “what tasted good”. That change has visibly impacted many aspects of the industry, including their production methods. The art of tea in China is rising once again and catering to a new discerning domestic market. Everything is evolving so fast in China including their general mindset and social conscience.

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So though some of their practices in the not too distant past have been questionable, China is far from being the Evil Empire. Many producers and tea institutions have taken a keen interest in improving transformation and production methods and have creating complex export regulations to ensure quality of their product. Chinese tea looking better than ever.

As far as Camellia Sinensis is concerned, we control our imports by doing a few key things. We visit our producers each year to validate the quality of leaves, gardens and production methods. We also send the teas to a lab for a complex inspection process in order to fully ensure the quality of the leaves that we offer to you, our customers.

We hope this helps you to understand our perspective on the issue as well as why we so often say about Camellia Sinensis, “we would never sell something we wouldn’t drink ourselves” and trust me, we are pretty fussy!

 
 

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