The government has been investing heavily in the Guizhou tea industry in recent years and bold propaganda banners can be seen throughout Shiqian warning farmers against the use of agricultural chemicals. Rui’s friend Xiang runs a very modern, organic-certified tea factory that applies refined green and red tea processing techniques to Shiqian’s Tai Cha making teas in the style of Long Jing and Jin Jun Mei.
Our last stop in Guizhou was Duyun, a short distance south of Guiyang. Duyun is unbelievably picturesque: The tea farm we visited was on the shore of a high elevation lake nestled in the mountains. The government exhortations to grow tea organically were present here as well, and we got to see some of the local farmers’ ingenuity in the form of a pair of cows peacefully grazing their way along the rows of tea plants, eating weeds. Apparently, they never eat the tea itself – an elegant and charming alternative to herbicides.
Duyun maojian 都匀毛尖–a Western vernacular green tea–has been leading the charge in making a name for Guizhou teas on the national stage. It is a sweet, fresh, and vibrant tea; but my favorite tea from Duyun was a fascinating white tea called Hong Dao 弘道 “Unfolding Path”. Made from a local varietal with no name, Hong Dao is lightly massaged before being cured for 1-2 days in one of the region’s many limestone caves. This may be my favorite tea from this trip because of how unusual it is: Combining aspects of white tea (in that it is uncooked), red tea (because of the massaging and oxidation), and hei cha (aging in a cave). We nicknamed it “Champagne Tea” because of the golden color of its soup and exquisite sweetness. We were able to obtain a small amount from 2015, which had developed a distinctive hazelnut taste with age.
One of the things I love most about sourcing tea is that I’m constantly being surprised and learning about new things. Guizhou’s ancient purple tea trees, half-oxidized oolong-like greens and yellows, jar-aged hei cha, and cave-aged white teas were astounding not only in their uniqueness and novelty but in their quality and complexity. Rui hosts an annual tea tour of the region through Grass People Tree called “On the Way to Guizhou” that I will be joining her on this spring, and I’m sure that this enigmatic province has many more remarkable surprises in store.
So-Han Fan was born in New Orleans to a Chinese father and a Jewish mother. After moving to Houston as a baby, his interaction with his Chinese heritage focused mainly around food, including weekend dim sum brunches fueled by pot after pot of hot pu er tea.
However, he discovered his passion for gong fu cha and Chinese tea culture while studying in Santa Cruz, California. For the next seven years he dabbled in the burgeoning West Coast gong fu cha community, taught free classes on the topic, and worked for a year in the now-defunct Jade Leaves Teahouse in Austin, Texas.
From 2010-2012 he lived in Chengdu, Sichuan, interning with CURA, an environmental NGO focused on water sustainability. In his leisure time he explored the famous tea mountains of Sichuan, Yunnan, and Guangxi, and upon his return founded West China Tea Company in Austin to share his farm-direct teas and Chinese tea culture. Since then he has made return trips specifically to source teas, and now has farm-direct artisan teas from Sichuan, Yunnan, Guangxi, Fujian, Taiwan, and Guangdong. He travels back to China annually to expand his repertoire and to deepen his knowledge and relationships with his farmers.