Enough: It’s a concept I came across several times on my recent journey to Taiwan, in meeting small-scale tea farmers and their families: the desire to have just enough, not more.
Some small-scale farmers lived right next to other tea farmers with much larger aspirations, who paraded garish posters advertising their teas—‘the best’, ‘the rarest’— outside their homes in otherwise unobtrusive, bucolic villages. Those posters bespoke a desire to redo their homes, add another car to the newly constructed garage, perhaps get an alarm system to go with the solid electric gates they had recently installed to protect their assets. Nothing wrong, perhaps, with wanting to improve one’s lot, but this striving comes with consequences: when we reorganize our priorities, the structure of our lives changes accordingly. If you’re a tea farmer, you might start to make compromises in how you make and produce your tea – you will want more, not necessarily better, but more. And to get more, you need to harm the soil and the tea plants (and ultimately yourself) by using fertilizers and pesticides.
When one is instead guided by the principle of ‘enough’, there are also consequences. You live in more harmony and cooperation with your surroundings and are not tempted to make compromises. Gao Ding Shi produces approximately 40kg of tea per year, a little more if the weather cooperates, sometimes much less if it doesn’t. This is a laughably miniscule amount in the tea market, where tons is the usual unit of measurement. The tea he makes, however, he makes with great pride, with great care, and with love. This transfers so evidently into the leaf, and the cup, that his customers gladly pay the 50euro per 50grams he charges for it.
This high price ensures that this tea, when purchased for individual consumption, will be cherished, enjoyed fully, with confidence that it is an unblemished gift of Nature delivered via caring human hands. It’s as close as the tea lover can get to the ancient tradition of Man-Nature interaction.
If a tea merchant buys this tea, he can almost certainly never resell it for a profit, and so thoughts of gain dissipate. Instead, the tea will likely be shared, and so often for free with good friends and/or valued customers. The focus here is on the Leaf, not the coin—as it should be!
In any case, when one buys tea from someone like Mr. Gao, one is focused on supporting the principles embodied before you—not only to acquire superlative tea. It’s a vote of confidence for a lifestyle and approach to Nature all too rare in this age of ‘more’.
Mr. Gao wishes only to have enough—to keep his children in school, to live comfortably, to continue this lifestyle for his family and himself. Selling all of his tea allows this, and even to accumulate small savings. He could easily think, ‘Hmmm, if 40kg brings me this much, if I were to just double it to 80kg, still not much, I could get a better car and more satellite channels and take extra trips…’ However, to achieve this, he’d have to do many other things: change the way he works; hire new people; make structural changes to his very simple processing space; start using some form of pest control; think more of how to market his teas, maybe develop a website and hire someone to run that for him . . . These would be lifestyle and philosophical changes he is not ready to make. He knows that the seed of desire sprouts double-edged swords as buds. It’s not possible to have one thing (lots more money, say) without a lot of other things, and he knows with great certainty that he does not want those other things.
“To truly live the simple life,” he tells me while steeping one of his teas for us to taste, a Baozhong he calls “Wan Xiu”, “you must be ready to put down many things: money money money, name name name. In the end, ‘I’ am nothing—that’s important to remember.”
Every small-scale organic tea farmer I encountered who worked in collaboration with the Earth (versus forcing it to provide what he wanted from it) espoused the same philosophy—of living as simply as possible while remaining comfortable and desiring only that which is needed. On top of that, none want to endanger their own health living near chemicals.
Part three of this post, “Running in the Family” will publish next Wednesday, December 10, 2014. Part one can be accessed here. This post was written for Global Tea Hut by Steve Kokker, published in November of 2012. It is re-posted here with permission. Images courtesy of Global Tea Hut.
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