Jasmin Desharnais - China 2011

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.