The first step of the journey takes us to Anhui province in Central-East China, specifically Huangshan. Huangshan (literally “Yellow Mountain”) is a clean, green tourist escape from the grey weariness of China’s mega-cities approximately.
The region is only served by a secondary airport, so it’s optimal to take a long train ride to the mountains directly from the central rail station in Shanghai.
Central Huangshan City, Anhui, China
Here I met with my friend and colleague Yang who is always insistent that we see the tourist sites in addition to the tea farms. And so it was that I placated her by offering a few hours of window shopping. We thumbed through a never-ending array of junky trinkets along with hoards of Chinese tourists until I suggested we move on to the tea. She agreed and called her friend and local tea farmer named Zha (查)
Zha was happy to pick us up for a trip to his organic farm. Hugo Tea does not currently source tea from his farm, but Zha was delighted to show us his operation in consideration of future partnerships. It is truly a family affair. While touring tea terraces and examining the various tea cultivars in differing stages of growth, we ran into his wife who was leading a group of workers as they plucked and chatted their way across the hillside. It’s hard work, yes, but it was abundantly obvious that they were all enjoying themselves.
This is why Hugo Tea sources only organic products. To hell with the naysayers. Organic certification certainly has its pitfalls—but organic certification, in concert with direct-from-origin sourcing, is the proper way to buy, sell, and drink tea. Mr. Zha said it best (roughly translated):
“How could I bring chemicals to my land? Why? There is little purpose if I have confidence in my ability as a farmer to grow and tend to good tea. My wife picks these leaves. Our friends pick these leaves with us. We drink this tea every day. I would rather drink no tea at all than drink tea that is grown with chemicals *chuckles* and that is saying something.”
Zha's Tea Garden, Huangshan, China
Mr. Zha specializes in growing and crafting ultra-premium green tea of various types. After touring the production areas (where fresh tea leaves are dried and turned into the final product), we had a moment to sit, sip tea, and chat.
The discussion turned to tea cultivars, the always-confusing topic in the tea world. You see, all tea comes from one species of plant (Camellia Sinensis). However there are a virtually endless number of “cultivars” or “varietals” of tea plant. It is similar to dogs. All dogs are the same species (Canis lupus familiaris), but there is an obvious difference between a German Shepard and a Corgi. The same goes for tea. To my knowledge, there’s no formally recognized list of tea cultivars—though you should consider this an open invite to find one. In the future, Hugo Tea will try to draw upon the concept of cultivars by publishing more direct information about each of our teas, including the cultivar.
Unfortunately, we were not able to extensively taste Mr. Zha’s crop—but many, many lot samples are underway to Kansas City at the moment for proper testing once I return.
Hefei China, April 19, 2014