Exporting a Chinese Tradition

I’ve recently returned from China and I’m driving down Claiborne Ave. in New Orleans, LA when all of a sudden I see it. I am completely mind blown because I can’t believe someone else has already done my idea. At the same time, I’m fascinated and excited because it means I am not the only one thinking about it. So here it goes.

While in China I visited a city known as Hangzhou, it’s actually quite a beautiful city with a population of 9 million – one of the smaller cities in China. We visited temples and saw hundreds of Buddha’s, all shapes and sizes. I was traveling with my mom, a little mother-daughter Asia adventure, and we really did a great job of covering a lot ground in a little amount of time – if I do say so myself.

It was April 4th, a very important day I later would learn, when this idea came to me. My mom and I woke up early, had a lovely Westernized breakfast accompanied by tea and then we were on our way. We drove through the rolling farm hills of Hangzhou to a family’s home, actually quite a wealthy family’s home, one of the wealthier individuals in this city. The land was beautiful, imagine hills with rows and rows of beautiful green bushes all perfectly aligned. I kept thinking to myself, I really wouldn’t mind being surrounded by this scenery every day.

 

Anyways, we arrive at the family’s home and are welcomed in with open arms by the mother of the family. She’s a farmer. Not just any farmer, a green tea farmer. That day I learned more about green tea than I thought I ever would and I was completely entranced by all of it.

She told us how there are three harvest in a year, the most prestigious being the first harvest which takes place during the first 4 days of April – yes this is why April 4th is a very important day. Not only were we experiencing this magical tradition but we were experiencing it on one of the most important days of the year. Out of the 365 days of the year we happened to land ourselves on the farm at just the right time. You see the leaves are just starting to bloom and as a result have the best taste. I also learned that it takes 36,000 green tea leafs to make 1 lb of tea. I just couldn’t believe it and this entire process is done by hand. Just so you can have a visual of this – this is a picture of me holding 1 freshly picked green tea leaf (I actually got to pick and help the farmers that day).

Mind boggling right?! As if I wasn’t already impressed she brought us to see her husband who was hand roasting the leaves. So once the leaves are picked, he smashes them over and over again in a hot iron bowl to roast the leaves. He doesn’t wear gloves because the flavor is more natural if he uses his bare hands.

His poor hands, I can’t even imagine the pain – that iron bowl has a fire pit beneath it! After seeing the whole process first hand she offers a glass of tea. I learned you can’t pour boiling water over the tea leaves because that will ruin the steeping process and the flavor won’t turn out right. I also learned that as the tea leaves steep they will gradually fall to the bottom of the glass. This is a great way to tell the difference between processed tea leaves and naturally hand-picked tea leaves. The processed tea leaves will fall to the bottom of the glass all at once – keep an eye out for this next time you have tea.

I will admit I think the tea has an acquired taste but at the same time was delicious and you can use the same leaves about three times (I like anything that’s re-useable). And these particular leaves are incredibly good for the body – they are detoxifying and nutrient rich. I was sold. I am a bit of a health guru so I love learning about new (natural) sources of nutrients for my body. Not to mention a great source of caffeine. So this whole time I’m thinking to myself, wow this is such an intense process and this tea is so cherished by the local people and really people all over China, I just don’t understand how these farmers can afford the hard labor. And then I realized. She brought out a giant bag of fresh roasted green tea leaves that were for sale. Do you want to know how much one tin about 24 oz cost? $80 now if that’s not the most expensive tea you’ve ever heard of then I am shocked. Now I do have to mention – each year the city holds a competition amongst all the farmers to see who has the best tea and this particular farm had won – so the prices may have been a little above average. But still!! This giant sack held $90,000 of green tea leaves. I was ready to get in on the green tea business.

I’ve been thinking about this green tea ever since I returned to the States, just so impressed and fascinated by the whole process. So I’m thinking about this green tea (wishing I had some) and I’m driving down Claiborne Ave in New Orleans, 7,700 miles away from China, and what do I see? “Coming soon,” a Green tea shop and my jaw drops. It’s called “Green Tea” and I just can’t wait to see what it’s all about.

The only big player in the tea world (in the States) is Teavana, now I’m talking like tea leaves that you can buy in a tea store. China has tons of tea to be made, not just Green Tea (Green Tea originated in Hangzhou) but other teas that also originated in different parts of China. I’m not sure if this is the case for the other types of tea (Yellow, Black, Oolong, White) but in Hangzhou, the farmers only harvest the tea bushes three times a year and this is enough for them to live off for the year… I’m thinking this is a pretty good business. Work hard three times a year and relax all the other months. So why don’t we bring this tea to the States. The health trends are sky rocketing right now. There aren’t many players in the Tea world. We can ship the tea straight over. It seems like a no brainer : )

This is a picture of me with the mother farmer holding a glass of fresh brewed green tea, my smile says it all.