As I am writing this, Chinese New Year (CNY) is almost upon us. For us ethnic Chinese, CNY is the most important date on our calendar. It is a time for family reunions, gatherings, festivities, rest, and relaxation. In Chinese, CNY is also known as the Spring Festival (春节), marking the start of the spring season in China. Having lived my entire life in the tropics, the seasons meant little to me (after all, every day is a summer day here in Singapore) until I went into the tea business. It was then that I started paying attention to the seasons.
Spring is often seen as the harbinger of life and activity. This is very true for the tea plant. The tea plant hibernates at temperatures below 10° C, which for most of China means the period from October to January. But with the start of spring, the tea plants begin growing again. In fact, even as you read this, tea plants in Zhejiang, Anhui, Jiangsu, Sichuan, and the northern parts of China are active once more and as early as the end of March, we can expect the harvest to start. What an exciting thought. What will the new spring season bring? Will the harvest this year be more bountiful or will it be limited due to climatic conditions? Will this year’s yields be of higher quality?
Of equal importance, but one fraught with more trepidation than enthusiasm, is the cost of tea. For the past few seasons, one common sentiment out of China, especially in the pre-Qing Ming harvest is “I can’t believe how much the price of tea has gone up.” Of course, the obscene and unattainable prices are usually for the truly limited teas, the Shifeng Longjing from specific bushes and other traditional favorites with snob appeal. These are usually snapped up by rich officials and businessmen in China who wish to show favor to their associates and / or show off their wealth. For the rest of us lesser mortals with a budget this side of the Rockefeller family, the “second-best” teas still offer tremendous value and gastronomic delight.
Personally, I’m looking forward to my spring sourcing trips. Savoring freshly produced green tea and trying out new flavors to determine what to bring back are aspects of this business I always relish. The best part is enjoying the private stash of our vendors or other teas that might have been prohibitive to import. I wonder if my Wuyishan friend will bring out his aged Dahongpao and share again. Or I will be offered that Song Zhong Dancong that I hear has an annual production of no more than five kilograms.
Before and above that, though, I look forward to the Chinese New Year when I can spend a longer period with my parents, siblings, nephews, and nieces. I can hardly wait to just sit back and make tea for my family, not for customers or for photography, but for my loved ones.
On behalf of all of us at Peony Tea S., here’s wishing you a happy and prosperous Chinese New Year!