Guangxi is a (relatively) sparsely populated province in China’s southwest. After a three-hour flight and six hours in a car—both in the driving rain—we find ourselves standing in our green tea field. It’s still raining but no one seems to mind. The rain is good for the tea plants, the farmers figure, so it’s good for us.
Tea cultivation can be classified three ways—well-managed, half-wild, and wild. The green tea farm where we stand now is half wild, meaning there aren’t rows of symmetrical tea bushes. Instead, the farmers allow other native plants to grow around the farm. This style of cultivation increases the biodiversity of the farm allowing for balance and ultimately, organic farming practices.
After strolling among the tea bushes for an hour, we head up the path to the factory. Tea farms are often anchored by the “factory”, a poorly translated word that isn’t as smokestack-y as it sounds. The factory is where the freshly plucked leaves are turned into tea (green, black, oolong, white, etc.). Typically, it’s small, perhaps 5000 square feet, with only a handful of machines used to heat and shape the raw tea leaves. Our green tea factory is a throwback to an older time. The machines are made of wrought iron; some are powered with firewood. Like most things, the real art comes from the famers themselves, not any fancy piece of equipment. It’s why we like our green tea farm—it’s simple. It doesn’t even look like a tea farm because of the wild growth vegetation. There’s no window dressing here.
The excitement is building. We’ve been traveling now for 8 hours. It’s time for some tea on the farm. But we wouldn’t dare jump into a proper cupping. That’s too business-y.
In fact, of all the tea we’ll drink in Asia only about 1% of it will be in the form of a cupping, for the purposes of evaluation. Let’s be honest: we could always ship lots for evaluation to our shop in Kansas City and cup them there. No, we’re here for the experience, the scenery, and—most importantly—the friendship.
The manager of the farm, Mr. Lei (雷), takes his seat at the head of the table and tea flows. After a single sip, all the tension from non-stop travel and bad weather melts away.
--Liuzhou, April 18th 2016