Just got back from China yesterday. Every time I travel to China, I’m amazed at all the changes taking place. Development and new construction continues at a dizzying pace. A view in any direction from virtually any major city reveals a landscape of giant cranes working non-stop 24 hours/day. New buildings that went up twenty years ago to replace China’s ancient history are now being torn down to make room for massive new skyscrapers, shopping centers, factories, and parking lots. Private vehicles sales are up 40% from last year. And the increase in traffic is apparent everywhere.
In one town I used to routinely visit was a dirt road that was used by the tea farmers during harvest season. Shoulder to shoulder they lined the street and in front of them laid their open sacks of freshly harvested tea. This year the dirt road is covered in asphalt. Shiny new cars parked and in motion, now occupy this space. There was not a farmer in site. Like it or not, we’re are living in a changing world. The great pendulum that swung for so long to the west, leaving wealth and prosperity in its wake, is now swinging to the east. This does not entirely bode very well for western tea drinkers. The wealthy class in China cannot only afford to buy the best teas; but they are so culturally conditioned in the importance of the art of gift giving, they are not only willing to pay absurdly high prices, they are eager to do so. Government officials are often the recipients and the donors of some of the best teas in China. It is not unusual for someone to spend thousands of dollars for a small amount of a showcased tea that might land them a little favor somewhere down the road. (*see the Mayor’s Tea below). All this drives up prices from the chain below. Normally this would be good news for the tea farmers, but unfortunately climate and market change is creating havoc with tea production. Yunnan and the western provinces are experiencing the worst drought on record. Conditions were quite opposite on the eastern side of China. Besides unseasonal freezing temperatures damaging many of the young spring buds in some of the best high mountain tea areas, in some cases the cold actually killed off many of their tea plants. (The King Tree, a 700 year old, Song Dynasty tree that I’ve been taking photographs of for fifteen years is now almost dead. Very sad.) The whole eastern side of China was drenched with persistent rain that lasted for nearly two solid months. The windows of opportunity for the best picking and production were few and far between this year. If you talk with the larger big tea suppliers, they’ll all bemoan these facts and in the same breath cite justification for raising their prices. Considering the dollar has dropped 21% against the Chinese Yuan in these past four years, we should all expect to be paying higher prices this year, right?
I say nonsense! Yes its true one can find more expensive teas, yet I can still boast I am still able to find great teas at reasonable prices. This year’s harvest was no exception. Please check these teas over. One nice thing about being a very small company is we can afford to offer up very small lots of teas that are commercially non viable for the larger companies. We can’t promise these teas will be available throughout the year; but they are on hand right now if you’re ready to replenish your tea stash. These teas are as fresh as they come, just flown in.
The first tea I can recommend is a high-mountain first flush Green Mist (Wu Lu ) green tea from Zhejiang Province. Catalog No. G-GMT-10. Price is $20 for a quarter-pound bag. Its similar to the one I sold years ago from my previous tea business but this is a much finer grade. The color of the leaf is deep green and full of those phytochemicals long thought to be an aid in the prevention of disease. The vegetative taste is a sweet and rich. This tea works well with short, multiple infusions. Limited quantity available.
Oolong drinkers will be pleased with a new Tieguanyin I found that was just harvested. Actually, they’re calling this tea by another name of Jinguanyin as it’s made from a slightly different varietal (translates as “Golden Goddess” rather than “Iron Goddess”). The taste, aroma, and appearance are very good. So is the price at just $25/ .25 lb bag. Catalog No. O-TKY-J. Our top grade Tieguanyin is O-TKY-10 is $40. / .25 lb
My favorite area for tea on the whole planet is still the Phoenix Mountain in Guangdong province. My new business, The Phoenix Collection, gets its name from this place. The mountain is so much more accessible now that they put it a new road that cut the travel time from Shantou to the high mountain tea gardens to just a few hours. Les Blank, the highly acclaimed documentary filmmaker (have you seen his film “All In This Tea”? You can google that to watch the trailer and we have a few copies of his DVDs available for $25 apiece, A-AITT-07) accompanied me in 1997 to this mountain. Les is a rough & tumble ex-football star and a well-seasoned world traveler. But so difficult was the steep, muddy, slippery, and rutted road up Phoenix Mountain, (we negotiated it on backs of motorcycles) that this is the one place in China Les refuses to return to. But in his mind of bad recurring China memories, it is not of Phoenix Mountain but of the ride we took from Shantou to Xiping with Mr Wei Yue De, who had just been selected as the new “Tea King” for his award winning Tieguanyin, that he still likes to complain about. Mr Wei’s wealth hadn’t yet been translated into a modern comfortable truck and Les found himself locked up for an all night ride in total darkness in the back packed with migrant tea pickers. The ride bouncing over rough roads with the loose human cargo was bad enough, but it wasn’t the physical pain that he found so tortuous, but the mental thought of me riding up front in total luxury that was most disturbing. It was of no consolation when I later reported that my “comfort” zone consisted of five of us packed in a cab designed to carry three. The heater didn’t function so the windows were kept shut in a vain attempt to keep out the cold, while our lungs had to work overtime searching for any trace of left over oxygen from the lungs of my chain smoking companions.
Today Phoenix Mountain with its newly paved roads has become a deservedly famous place on the map. Tea buyers arriving in big black Mercedes and BMW’s are not an uncommon sight. Our Phoenix Bird Oolong, O-PBO-10 @ $20./ .25 lb is a reasonably priced tea which shows the basic character of this famous tea. A low mountain version of this tea will be back in stock next month priced at just $10. / .25 lb, OPBO – 8. For those that want to try what I consider the finest teas in the world, I have three different lots of the Wudong Dancong from three different farmers, all whom I’ve had relationships for many years. The entire harvests of these teas is less than ten pounds, two of them are pricey, but are well worth it, especially if you do the math. You can count on at least ten steepings for each pot. If you use 5 grams of leaf in a small pot or a gaiwan, you can make eleven pots of tea. That comes to 110 cups of world class tea for $40. That’s just $.36 per cup! What else can you buy these days for that price? Maybe water? And this is the most expensive tea we sell! The third lot we are offering is half the price at @20 / .125 lb.The taste and aroma on these three teas are about as good as it gets (unless one is willing to spend thousands of dollars for a pound of a slightly better tea picked from an original Song Dynasty age tree). We are making these teas available in two-ounce bags (about 56 grams) to make them more affordable. Phoenix Bird Oolong, Private Reserve, Catalog No. O-PBO-PR @ $40. / .125 lb. #1 Wu Dong Guan’s “Huang Zhi Xiang” or #2 Wu Dong Xue’s “Wu Yue”. #3 Da Wu Ye Dancong “Tong Tian Xiang” is $20. /.125 lb. If you want to try all three of the O-PBO-PR, we will include a small container of the “Mayor’s Tea” until we run out*.
*The Mayor of Shantou wanted to purchase some of the best of the Phoenix Bird Oolong tea from my friend of fifteen years, Mr. Lin of Phoenix Mountain. Unfortunately, it was during my visit when the mayor wanted to come. Mr. Lin informed him he was busy at that time. Greatly surprised, the mayor replied “no one will be busy but only you Mr Lin!” One does not normally turn down the invitation of the mayor. When Mr. Lin he told me that story, he burst out laughing and said “he is only a customer, but you are my friend. Friendship is more important than business”. Then proceeded to give me a portion of the tea he had set aside for the mayor.
I don’t usually get excited about black tea, as I’ve been so spoiled by what I’ve been finding in Yunnan. But I was going to tell you about a new black tea I found in Fujian that was probably one of the best black teas I ever tasted. But after I tried this tea a few more times, I was wrong. It is the best black tea I’ve ever tasted!
It’s a strictly a handcrafted product produced with the greatest care. Only the youngest and most tender leaf and buds were picked to make this tea. This is not a tea for milk tea drinkers. Anything added would only mask the light sweet delicate taste that lingers on the palate. Enjoy this tea like a fine wine. I bought all that was available of this tea, which was less than eleven pounds so obviously this tea will not be around for long. If you want to try this tea, please ask for David’s Black Private Reserve, Cat No. B-DBPR-1.
Like all my private reserve teas, when these small lots are gone, they’re gone. But I did strike “black gold” with a newly discovered and quite rare black tea called Hunan Black “Honey Orchid”. I bought the entire harvest and I’m excited to make this tea a regular stock item at a very reasonable price. We’ll be releasing this tea next month.
If you are a milk tea drinker, like making spiced “chai”, or simply enjoy black teas that are very full bodied with a big belly and a malty finish, I suggest you stick our Yunnan Gold B-YG-10 @ $20. / .25 lb or the Golden Bi Lo B-GBL-10 @ $30. / .25 lb
White tea drinkers, please be patient a little longer. I’ve got some wonderful selections arriving next month. We can keep you posted as new shipments come in and hopefully by the end of June we can print a new complete tea list.
Yunnan was a big part of my recent tea trip to China. Yunnan is still my favorite province for tea. New greens, new blacks, and new pu-erhs, will all be covered in my next mailing. Many of you have requested samples of teas, especially the pressed pu-erhs that are sold by the piece. Short of personally coming to our teahouse in Lagunitas and sampling these teas, up till now we have had no easy method of allowing you to taste before purchase. All this will change shortly as we develop a program that will allow us to sample you, evenwith the rare and limited quantity teas.
Presently, we can offer a small sampling of various teas for $5.00 along with your regular order. The quantity of the sample size will vary somewhat depending on its value, but minimally you’ll be able to make a particular tea at least several times to give you a sense of its character. Please let us know if there is some tea you want to sample. And here is something new as well. I’m calling it Tea with David Sampling. These are teas that if you were visiting me and I wanted to serve you what I consider to be a special tea, this would be it.
For this mailing, the Tea with David, will be an oolong. The price is $5.00 and the Catalog No. S-OTWD-1.
Looking forward to hearing from you. Please call if you have any questions or comments,