From a tea journey to a quest

From a tea journey to a quest

immobile wandering


Jing Tea Shop - Long Juan tea fields
Long Juan, Octobre 2010

I remember my first trip to Anxi with Seb during the autumn of 2004. We went with our supplier friend, Liu Bin Nan, to his hometown, drawn by the promise of experiencing the picking and processing of autumn Tieguanyin tea. While Bin Nan’s store sits in Guangzhou’s Fangcun Southern Tea Market, the grandest in China and his brother’s in Haikou, on Hainan island, they both return home to harvest and process tea in spring and autumn every year. This ritual allowed me to dive into the entire process, from planting and picking to processing and selling year after year.


After departing from the bustling Fangcun Southern Tea Market in Guangzhou at nightfall, we found ourselves in Anxi County, Fujian, the next morning where we met Bin Nan’s cousin, ready to drive us to the heart of our journey—Longjuan Village where Seb was the first foreigner ever to set a foot in and quickly became the local kids attraction.


Jing Tea Shop - Tea times with JingDuring the days spent in Long Juan, 98% of the Tieguanyin was lightly fermented. This was due to a trend set by Taiwanese that started in the late 1990s and was still going on in early 2000s. China's domestic Oolong tea industry had adopted the lightly fermented and lightly roasted process to showcase a high fragrance and a refreshing taste. There was also a technique called "prolonged fermentation in a low-temperature environment," which resulted in Tieguanyin having a faint milky or buttery aroma. This style was highly popular at the time and was the most profitable. This trend was so popular that he had even extended its reach from the Wu Yi area in the north of Fujian province to the secluded Feng Huang mountain in Guangdong province where tea makers had created a semi-finished oolong tea known as “ice tea” with a floral aroma pushed to the extreme. However, this method of production has a significant drawback: the teas must be consumed while fresh to fully appreciate their vibrant flavors, whereas traditional teas can be stored and aged for decades.

Before going to Anxi, Seb and I had already experienced a wide variety of traditional Oolong teas from different regions, tea tree varieties, processing methods, roasting levels, and both new and aged teas, thanks to my dad who was an avid tea collector but also, and especially to our old-school tea master. I had also been exposed to a myriad of new-style Oolong teas through supplier friends and so I was well-acquainted with both traditional and modern styles. However, upon arriving in Longjuan and seeing that almost all the tea farmers were gradually abandoning traditional techniques to focus on developing new methods for quick profit, I was deeply shocked. It felt like the backbone of tradition was slowly falling apart.

Seb and I asked our hosts if they would help us make a batch of traditional Tieguanyin tea. Perhaps it was the novelty of our first visit, the boldness of an unfamiliar foreigner with tea processing, or the stirring of their traditional spirit, but they quickly agreed to guide us. Bin Nan's parents shared their expertise in processing the leaves but during the roasting stage, Bin Nan’s 80-year-old grandfather took over. He brought out his cherished old iron roasting pot, ashes, charcoal, and personally lit the fire, carefully explaining every hows and whys. As the news was spreading that a French guy and a city girl were making traditional charcoal-roasted Tieguanyin, tea farmers rode their bikes kilometers on their motorcycles to watch. Some came for the spectacle, probably hoping we would make a fool of ourselves, but some came to offer encouragement.

Jing Tea Shop - tea time with Jing

As the saying goes, "a newborn calf is not afraid of the tiger." Whether it was due to our genuine love for tea, a desire to cling to an increasingly distant tradition, or perhaps because we truly had a knack for it, we soon noticed strangers joining our friends. Their attitudes shifted from mocking or dissuading to understanding, recognizing, praising, and even participating. This transformation was already a significant achievement in our tea-making endeavor.

After hours of roasting, a tedious process that would need its own post to be described, our final product wasn’t an exceptionally stunning tea, but during a tasting session with other teas, it was valued at 150 yuan per jin based on its quality. This was a milestone in our tea journey and the start of a yearly tea-making seasonal trip to Long Juan. A place where we had learnt so much and most importantly made friends. It was with a heavy heart that we had to say goodbye but all the “see you next year!” always lifted up our spirits before the long journey in the bus ahead.

I am writing extensively about our first experience in Anxi because the traditionally processed 2014 Tieguanyin in my cup resonates deeply with me emotionally. It also symbolizes continuity, as while we didn't personally make this tea, our friend did. Perhaps it was our persistent questioning of our friends each year about why they wouldn’t process traditional tea, or a market saturated with newly processed Tie Guan Yin. However, starting 2014, Bin Nan’s brother—whom we affectionately call the mayor due to his role as Long Juan acting mayor for many years—decided to embark on the arduous journey of reviving traditional Tieguanyin craftsmanship in his area. This brew represents the very first charcoal-roasted traditional Tieguanyin he processed and I must admit, I was overly excited when I received the package and he told me what was inside.

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