Hongcun, Anhui - Tea Culture

A View of Old China Tea Culture

This is the fourth post in a series of posts about the importance of organic tea. In the last post we spoke more about conditions for tea producers and organic certification. If you also haven’t read the first post yet, you can go back and read that now.

In Anhui, Tunxi a similar internal government negotiations took a political charge with a strong baring influence in the handing out of organic certification. At the time I was there sourcing tea for our company I remember speaking to one particular farmer producing the very labour intensive Tai Ping Hou Kui – a long leafed, hand pressed green tea. The idea of USDA certification for one tea farmer in Putian, Fujian Province that I spoke to was absurd. “Do you know how much they want to charge me to have an agronomist come out and look at my soil?” he asked me. He told me instead that the local government refused to allow the sale of certain harmful insecticides, pesticides and fungicides for sale in the local markets. Another farmer I went to told me after trekking 3 hours up a steep track from the road side, as we sat on a small erected stone wall panting, “Do you really think we could be bothered carrying any chemicals up here with us?”

On the same trip I remember going through a beautiful village in Anhui, called Hongcun, which was actually a UNESCO preserved village. A tea merchant in Beijing, whom I had known for years, had a family connection to a tea farmer who invited me up into the hills. I remember the first thing that struck me was all these kids knee high to a grasshopper picking leaves in the fields with their parents.

Tea harvests are part of the cultural tapestry in towns like this, they are interwoven into the behaviours of all members of the community. One family helps another, one child helps his parents bring in the new season fresh leaf harvest. He said to me, “this many hands makes for light work” made me think that phrase makes most sense coming from China.

I couldn’t help but to really see his point, we need to learn to trust growers and companies that sell tea. Allow them to tell their stories, how they source and the origins of their selected teas. Only this way can we really understand and appreciate the inherent value of tea and know that this concept of “organic” for it to have any sway needs to be really brought down to a more local on the ground view.

We need to better understand the producers position before we judge based on a very western understanding of organic. Not only is this damaging long term to local growers and the local eco system. It is also very western centric view of sourcing and commodity trading.

In the next (and final) post in this series, we’ll be sharing some field study findings with you. Read the next post in the series →

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A Field Study – Students visit tea farms by bicycle
How Growers and Consumers see “Organic”
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