Jasmin Desharnais - 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:
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!