Tasters

Jasmin Desharnais

China 2016

China 2015

China 2014

Shooting of Semaine Vert 2013

China 2013

China Spring 2012

China Fall 2011

China 2011

China 2010

China 2009

China 2016

A 2016 through Shanghai, Jiangsu, Zhejiang and Fujian

 

My favourites :

Mei Zhan Zhen

Du Yun Mao Jian

Jingning Bai Hong Cha

China 2015

A great trip through Yunnan, Guizhou, Jiangsu, Zhejiang, Fujian and Hong Kong

 

My favourite :

Pu Er 2015 Phong Sali 

Bai Hao Jingmai organic 

Long Jing Jingning Bai 

China 2014

A 2014 spring in Eastern China in the provinces of Jiangsu, Zhejiang, Fujian, Guangdong and Hong Kong. Here's a few pictures.

Shooting of Semaine Vert 2013

Since 2003, my travels in China have been mainly in the spring during the tea harvest. Over the years, the scenes of China in the spring have become familiar to me. There are fields of brilliant yellow canola flowers, the magnolia flowers on bare branches, and naturally, all the new tea shoots giving a beautiful tender green to the tea gardens. In the latter, a horde of pluckers are busy harvesting while in the factories tea transformation is in progress. I have also visited China later in the year for the fall harvest, but I had never set foot there in the heart of summer.

So it was with a fresh excitement that I flew to Shanghai on July 24 at the request of a film crew from Radio-Canada’s ‘La Semaine Verte’. My mandate for this trip was not buying but to introduce to this dynamic film team (and soon you!) the China and tea scene of my many years working there. We visited the province of Zhejiang and Yunnan to meet several tea producers, scientists, a potter, in addition to visiting tea houses and Chinese tea markets. It was for me and the producers a very different context of meeting to our spring meetings. In the spring, we run through comparative tastings, discuss climate and transformation, negotiate purchases and arrange transport, while in summer, with no harvest in the gardens and nothing to buy, we had only to talk and drink tea together!

We were made completely welcome by the Tang family, producer of our Long Jing Shi Feng in their beautiful home, by scientists from the Tea Research Institute, by Mr. He who  produces Huiming who treated us to the superb food in Jingning, by Mr. Yen and the great art of his celadon, by Ms. Wang, with her wonderful humour and great Pu Er and by Mr. Chan, specialist in the ageing of Pu Er, with his infectious laugh.

China 2013

Preparation for the spring 2013 trip was exciting since a year had passed since I last set foot in China or Asia. Sometimes allowing more time between trips a good way to intensify the desire to go and that is what I felt in 2013. The preparation was equally exciting for Sebastian, a friend and colleague who came with me to meet our producers in China.

Our 34 day journey started in the West of China where the harvest season always begins earlier than in the East. The adventure began in Chengdu, Sichuan. After a day off to explore this beautiful city, we got to work  meeting with our producer of Chuan Hong, the renowned black tea from this province. To our great surprise, the tasting began with a variety of flavoured teas!

Though here in China tea is mainly drunk without additives or flavouring, Mr. Li was very happy to introduce to us his new black teas scented with different flowers and fruits. So we tasted, in amazement, teas with jasmine, gardenia, lemon, osmanthus, etc.. Gardenia Sichuan surprised us with its finesse and balance, which is why we have  selected it. It was also the only flavoured tea we chose. Following this we were able to enjoy their great speciality, Chuan Hong black tea, which exceeded all expectations this year with great aromas of peony. Of course, this tea can be found once again on our catalogue this year.

Second stop in Sichuan, the Meng Ding Mountains, origin of the the yellow tea Meng Ding Huang Ya and the green tea Meng Ding Gan Lu. It was a quick stop to visit our producer who, unfortunately this season, had not had a great season. We still happy with the teas that we have selected because of the value for money factor. We continued our journey towards Ya'an (yes, the same Ya'an where two weeks later, an earthquake of magnitude 7 hit!) to visit, for the first time, its Tibetan tea factories. After visiting two factories and tasting several teas, we found a tea that we liked well enough: 2009 Baboo (Tibetan brick tea).

The evening of Qingming (Day of the Dead), we flew to Xishuangbanna, Yunnan, where we spent four days walking in the mountainous forests of tea trees. The roads were so bad that I had blisters on my hand from the grip needed to hold onto the handle of the truck! Welcome to Yunnan! Our most fortunate find  in Xishuangbanna was unquestionably Bada Shan mountain which we visited for the first time and where we found a double: a sheng Pu Er, Bada Shan 2013, made from wild tea trees 800 years old, and a shou Pu Er, Bada Shan 2008. And then, nine hours of bus travel later, we arrived at Lincang, another area full of old tea trees. We explored several local villages with Olivier who was our guide for a week. This time, the crowning touch went to the valley of Nanhua where the minority Lahu are everywhere with their great colourful clothes and pipe smoking women. This is where we got the Pu Er, Nanhua 2013 made from old tea trees and the white tea made from wild tea trees, Nan Mei. Our encounter with the world's oldest tea tree was also an important event in our experience in Yunnan. Imagine a gigantic tea tree which has already given tea leaves for 3200 years! A totally mystical experience!

 After a short stop in Guizhou to consolidate our relationship with our producer of Du Yun Mao Jian (always a good tea!) we arrived in Nanjing in order to make our selection of Yixing terra cotta teapots for the year. In addition to our selection to make on site I had already made custom orders before we left to produce teapots and cups to our specifications, here you can see the results:

 http://camellia-sinensis.com/en/teapot/yixing/theiere-de-m-shao-so-34

 http://camellia-sinensis.com/fr/teaware/tasse-noire-et-blanche-de-m-shao

In fact it has become more and more fun to collaborating with our artisans to design our own styles of teapots and cups.

Moving on we arrived next in the region of Zhejiang, where we visited the city of Anji in a far from ordinary state. In fact at the time we visited, the harvest season had finished and we found the Yang factory without the usual hustle and bustle of activity! At Long Jing, we enjoyed the superb quality of the Long Jing Shi Feng but at Meijiawu, we passed on its tea (this year) due to its lower quality and higher price. 

We then took the bus from Hangzhou to Lishui where we waited for Mr. He take us to Jingning and, surprise, since the opening of the 6 km tunnel under the mountain, there is now a shortcut! Being with Mr. He is always fantastic because both the man and his teas are exceptional. And, what a surprise, the implementation of our special order, the 1st Flush Huiming (read the blog on this subject) a black tea produced to our specifications fusing the Darjeeling style with the Chinese terroir! And what can be said about the Bai Ye Long Jing and its complete delicacy! Ah China ... Our last stop in Zhejiang was made at Longquan, the birthplace of celadon. Amongst others, while there, we visited the factory with whom we are working on the molded pieces and met with Mr. Yan, our artisan potter who again amazed us with his superb handcrafted works.

Finally, the last part of the trip was spent in Fujian and Hong Kong. We stopped in Fuding for white tea and we found that the harvest was particularly poor this year due to the difficult weather conditions during budding of the tea plants. We hopped over to Fuzhou to organize the international shipping . Then off to Hong Kong, the last stop of our journey. 

There we met up with François to visit a large trade fair of  packaging and to drink more old Pu Er with our suppliers. And, for a grand finale, we once again had the pleasure to share an exceptional moment with Vesper Chan, a leading Pu Er specialist who delighted our taste buds!


China Spring 2012

Text in English available soon

China Fall 2011

Text in english available soon

China 2011

China tea production had a difficult year in 2010, I held high hopes that this year's spring would be more generous. Starting back in January, I regularly checked the meteorological forecasts, to see what Mother Nature had in store for the Year of the Rabbit. Aside from a scare in the beginning of April, when mercury levels almost dropped to freezing , the general spring weather in most Chinese provinces was ideal for tea cultivation. The cold winter and a relatively late spring caused the tea leaves to mature slowly, allowing their flavours to fully develop. Consequently, the atmosphere during our visits with the producers was a lot easier than that of 2010. They were all content at that point with how well the spring production, their most important season, had gone. However towards the end of our trip, a 10-day heat wave of 35˚C across China had the season ending on a bitter note. Many producers lost leaf to scorching where for others the high temperatures caused the leaves to grow faster than they were able to harvest them.

An exciting aspect of this year's trip was the large amount of exploratory projects I worked on. In addition to the traditional round of visits with producers, a substantial part of my program included a third visit to Yixing in search of artisanal terracotta teapots to import. On the tea side, I was hoping to track down some new green teas to embellish our catalogue and some new stories for our upcoming book on green tea. Most of this green tea exploration took place in the provinces of Zhejiang and Sichuan. Three weeks of the trip were dedicated to white, green and black teas. This year I had not planned visits with any of our Chinese wulong producers. This October I will dedicate an entire trip to China to buying Pu ers.

Throughout the visit I was very happy with my selections, but hyperinflation has begun to darken the picture. Again I was forced to refine my art of negotiation! The problem is most significant with teas such as the Long Jing and Bi Luo Chun, where demand for teas of authentic origin is exploding. The physical restrictions on field expansion and limited yields do not allow production to feasibly keep up with increasing demand. Showing the producers a list of the prices since 2003 that I keep in my pocket, I shared my concern. I am beginning to wonder if I will have the market, or the means, to visit them and buy their teas 10 years from now. Such reflection sparked interesting discussions about the Chinese market, where a new wealthy class is buying up anything expensive simply for its prestige.

China 2010

It was with great pleasure and excitement that I planned my 2010 trip to China. This year was my eighth spring buying trip and each year the preparation becomes easier. It was to be a "lighter" trip than 2009 with just 24 days on the tea road. Alexis R. was to accompany me and as we left the reports of bad weather and crop shortage had us worried about the availability of some teas and, of course, the prices. Unseasonal snow, low temperatures and heavy rains were creating the worst season I had seen in my career. The biggest problem was to be the quantities of production; some producers had manufactured 20% to 40% of their 2009 count. It was sure to be an expensive year with the producers putting up prices to make up for this loss. In this difficult year I noticed more than ever the importance of the bonds of friendship that I have developed over the years.

On the objectives agenda this year: the demystification of cultivars used for black wulong as much in Wuyishan as Feng Huang. I visited the Tea Research Institute in each of these important wulong-roasting regions. More work on my personal interest in the Bai Ye cultivar had me travelling to Anji Bai Cha meeting some interesting new producers focussing on young Bai Ye plants. Another cultivar the Bai Ji Guan, a yellow-white leaf similar to the Bai Ye, lead me to the Wuyi Shan and Huang Jin Ye. Another highlight on my list this year was a visit to the gardens of Jingning Bai Cha. There were two producers that I wanted to spend more time with. We ended up staying there a few extra days. As usual the typical visit begins with a day of sightseeing and feasting before the tasting and buying can begin. The rest of my journey we spent with François after meeting up with him in Anhui and travelling on to Jiangxi and Hunan. I finally had the chance to visit the mysterious and beautiful Tai Ping Hou Kui

China 2009

Two thousand eight was a very diverse year for Jasmin. For his seventh tea trip to China, he covered Jiangsu, Zhejiang, Fujian, Guangdong, Hong Kong, and Taiwan - all in a month. He visited artisans and producers of white, green, Wulong, and black teas, as well as Pu Er collectors with whom he participated in tastings and made his yearly purchases for the Tea House.

After landing in Shanghai, Jasmin visited Mr. Liu, producer of the celebrated Bi Luo Chun, in Jiangsu for the sixth consecutive year where negotiations were successful in an unprecedented way. The Bi Luo Chun B1 is at a low price never seen before and is superior in quality to previous years' batches. In Hangzhou, capital city of Zhejiang, Jasmin took part in tastings with the resident tasters at the two tea research centres he visited. He also paid a visit to the Organic Tea Research and Development Centre (OTRDC), in order to strengthen the Tea House's organic cultivation projects in China. He then had tea with two professors of Mr. He, who is a Huiming producer and Hangzhou University alumni. One of the professors was 72 years old and has been teaching tea for 45 years! Unlike the afternoon affair where tea was in the foreground, plenty of rice wine and several legends of the tea world enlivened the evening. The next day, Jasmin paid a visit to his two Long Jing producers, first in Meijiawu that morning and then in Long Jing that afternoon. The morning tasting, amidst the smell of frying, was quite gruelling as he tried more than 20 teas in the hopes of choosing only one. Another day was spent visiting Tian Mu Qing Ding producer Mr. Shao, in the magnificent Tianmu Mountains. Jasmin was dismayed upon realizing that a section of these gardens at an altitude of 800 metres was ravaged by freezing temperatures last spring. Later, Jasmin visited the superb Anji region, where Anji Bai Cha, his favourite tea, comes from. Then, another yearly visit with Mr. Yang and his family, where he procured more tea of amazing quality at a very reasonable price.

His stay in Fujian started in the Wuyi Mountains where the famous Wulong rock teas are produced. However, Jasmin was a little early considering that the harvest had started only two days previous. There were few tastings of new teas but plenty of opportunity to learn about transformation techniques and to visit some of the original Da Hong Pao tea bushes. At Wuyi, Jasmin hurt his back while on a treacherous road to his first-time visit of a remote village known for its white and black teas. He had a great meeting with one of the local producers. The Zhenghe Hong Gong Fu and Zhenghe Bai Hao Yin Zhen were the pleasant result of this meeting where the town mayor insisted on holding a superb Chinese banquet in Jasmin's honour. Another long night!

The road out of Zhenghe was as bad as the road in, but Jasmin was very pleased to be headed toward Fuding, where his friend Mr. Zhang, a white tea producer was waiting for him. Despite having a cold, Mr. Zhang greeted him with his legendary hospitality. Tea tastings and selection were held simply and efficiently, without anyone smoking in the room! A ten-hour bus ride to Xiamen later, Jasmin met up with Wang, a translator friend, to explore Guangdong's Feng Huang Mountains for the first time. After a visit with three producers of Feng Huang Dancong, the three-day exploration was deemed a success. Jasmin purchased five types of tea, in small quantities, keeping in line with the small batch sizes made available by the best artisan producers. Afterwards, it was back to Fujian, Anxi, where Mr. Wei, the lively producer of Tie Guan Yin was waiting with a surprise: a brand new transformation factory.

After visiting a tea caddy supplier, Jasmin flew off to Hong Kong for three wonderful days of Pu Er tastings and workshops. While his 2007 trip to Yunnan focused on young Pu Er and their eventual aging, the 2008 trip was more about exploring actual antique Pu Er collections and learning more about the various aging techniques. Several tastings were planned, the most important being in the company of Mr. Vesper Chan. Jasmin got to spend six hours with this expert, first in his shop and then at his home office, surrounded by his collection of compressed tea bricks. They tasted many aged Pu Ers, of particular interest was the Liu Bao from the 1900s! Afterwards, they tasted the superb freshly picked Maocha 2008, which Mr. Chan will use to make his next batch of tea bricks.

After three days of Pu Er information sessions and tastings, it was time to meet up with Hugo and Daniel in Taiwan so they could all take part in another training session on Pu Er teas. For two days, the three colleagues learned about the origin, transformation, and aging methods, as well as tasting and analysing several teas in Mr. Lin's collection. Tasting the Tong Xin 1934 and the Lu An 1950 proved to be a memorable experience, a unique and precious moment. Jasmin ended his trip by following Hugo to Taiwan for a visit to a Ping Lin Bao Zhong producer and for the yearly purchase of Taiwanese teapots.

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