Mr. Duan’s “No Spray” Contract System

In our last post “Mengku Huang Shan Wild Arbor Trees!” we talked about how Mr. Duan keeps the teas that he sources free of pesticides and chemical fertilizers.  He works with several different growers in Mengku area who in exchange for a payment of ¥600 CNY (about $93 USD) four times yearly sign a contract and use their inked fingerprint as a seal to guarantee their complicity with the terms of the contract.  It’s not a huge sum of money, but it’s enough to make up for any decrease in the yield they experience and also creates a sense of mutual cooperation between grower and buyer.  It also guarantees that Mr. Duan will buy their mao cha or fresh leaves during harvest times.  Of course there is no obligation on the part of the grower to sell their tea to Mr. Duan, and as such he must still offer a good market price to get their leaves.

Yunnan countryside people are (for the most part) very honest people and see accepting money as a payment.  As such, it creates a feeling of obligation to uphold the no pesticides terms of the contract, as accepting money from others (outside their family structure) is not taken lightly.   It also fosters a sense of belonging to an elite group of growers which works well in everyones favor.  Mr. Duan also uses his quarterly contract signing time to meet with growers and educate them about his expectations.

So far, the proof is in the pudding… We are in our 4th year of testing Mr. Duan’s teas and all have come back with perfect scores (LESS THAN REPORT LIMIT – see page 2 of the lab report).

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Mengku Huang Shan Wild Arbor Trees!

My wife visited Mengku County Huang Shan Mountain and our friend Mr. Duan who we met in Kunming in 2007.  He used to oversee the pressing of teas at Kunming area tea factory but moved back home to Mengku in 2010 to help his family with their gardens.  In late 2010 when he was headed back home he asked me whether I would buy his tea or not and I told if the quality was good and no pesticides were used, then I most definitely would.  I loaned him about $12,000 USD to get started and by Spring 2011 we had our first teas from Mr. Duan.

This visit was our second visit to his tea gardens and it was great to see him and be re-assured that the environment where these tea trees grow is clean and shows no signs of pesticides (roundup, or other herbicides).  Since we started testing teas in 2013 Mr. Duan’s teas have always come back with no detectable pesticides residues.  Since 2011 he has expanded beyond just his family’s tea garden to areas in Da Xue Shan, Nuo Wu and Ba Wai working with growers there to source tea and ensure that the teas are clean.  He even pays them several times each year to agree to not spray (click here to read our blog article about Mr. Duan’s “No Spray” Contract System).  The results have been perfect and we’ve been giving him feedback on every laboratory test that we do so that he knows if there is a weak link in the chain.

Mr.  Duan is a delightful person.  He’s a true gentleman and he’s smart and honest without exception.  These are the kind of people we work with year after year and we are happy to support him, his family and the growers he works with!

 

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Laoshan Village (Shandong) – Liang Family Tea Plantation Pictures

 

Laoshan village is near Qingdao in the province of Shandong at an altitude of just 300 meters.  Laoshan village is also near a sacred mountain, and not far from the ocean.  Tea has been grown in Laoshan area for many generations. 

 Our Laoshan teas are grown by the Liang family, who have a small family operation growing Laoshan tea and doing all the processing of the tea themselves as well.  You will notice that the tea is grown undercover of greenhouse which are fully covered in the winter to protect from frost and also in the earliest part of spring as well just as the leaves are starting to sprout.  In the middle and later part of the first flush growth stage the coverings are removed and the tea bushes grow in full view of the sun until plucking in the first week of April.

Laoshan green tea is small leaf, tippy (but without silver hairs) and tightly rolled, but not compressed like a Tie Guan Yin.  The varietal grown is Long Jing #43 and as such the tea from Laoshan shares it character.  The brewed tea is vegetal, sweet, savory with an umami-like green chestnut (bipolarity of astringency/savory and sweet).

Laoshan black tea is small and tippy, it lacks white pekoe style hairs that give black teas their gold color.  Instead Lao Shan black is grown from Long Jing #43 and the dry leaf is small, spindly and has a brown-black shiny look to it.  The brewed leaf gradually unfolds and reveals it’s brown color.  The brewed leaves have a vertical (parallel to the stem) striations as a result of the rolling they undergo.  The tea soup is tending more towards gold in color with much less red than a typical black tea.  The taste of Laoshan black tea is amazingly sweet with very obvious chocolate notes and the slightest hint of osmanthus.  People often question whether sugar was added to the tea somehow, but it’s just naturally sweet and thick.

Laoshan Black is harvested from 1st (pre Ming) and 2nd flush material during the first week of May, and again in Autumn.  The tea is picked, wilted briefly, fried (kill green), rolled and then allowed to wilt under the sun in cloth bags for 2 to 3 days (depending on ambient temperatures).  After sun wilting is complete the tea is roasted in a kind of hot air tumbler (滚桶 ).

We feel confident you will enjoy family-sourced Laoshan teas and invite you to try them all!

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Year of the Monkey Design Contest Winners


My apologies to everyone waiting for me to decide the winners this year.  It’s never easy to choose among so many great designs, and this year was no exception.

I am awarding five prizes… 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and two 4th place entries.

1st place – Ronald Visser (Netherlands)

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2nd Place – Marichka Turanska (Ukraine)

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3rd Place – Marina Hrush (Ukraine)
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4th Place – Vladimir Seredin (Ukraine)

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4th Place – Thuy-Anh Le

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Honorable Mentions:

Ronald Visser
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Meghan Albers (United States)

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Mitchell ThompsonYunnan Sourcing Year of the Monkey 2016 Logo Contest - Mitchell Thompson

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Yuliy Lobarev

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Year of the Monkey Design Contest!

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Welcome everyone to 2016, the Year of the Monkey! Last year was a great success with many excellent contributions!

To sweeten the pot a bit we will be offering a 1st, 2nd and 3rd and 4th price for the best designs!

1st prize: $250.00 USD credit voucher for use on Yunnan Sourcing dot com (or dot us) website!
2nd prize: $150.00 USD credit voucher for use on Yunnan Sourcing dot com (or dot us) website!
3rd prize: $100.00 USD credit voucher for use on Yunnan Sourcing dot com (or dot us) website!
4th prize: $75.00 USD credit voucher for use on Yunnan Sourcing dot com (or dot us) website!

Please submit all designs no later than February 10th. We will announce winners on this blog, and via twitter, vk and facebook (of course we will email winners directly) no later than February 15th.

1. Designs should be done in either Photoshop or Illustrator 300 DPI. Other formats may be OK, but would prefer these two formats. Also provide us with a JPEG or PDF format version of the design so we can easily compare and preview.
2. Any fonts used should be included with your submission.
3. Design must prominently feature these characters “云之源”
4. Bonus for hand drawn lettering or illustrations.
5. Bonus for inclusion of a Monkey (character 猴 and/or image of Monkey) in the design
6. Keep design to five colors or less (or grayscale). No mixing / gradient of colors as this won’t print well on the hand-made white paper we plan to use.

We reserve the right to:

1. Change the fonts or design features of your design before we print the wrapper.
2. Add additional information, such as our logo, hand stamp seal, net weight of the tea cake, QS information (back) and QR code (back) to the wrapper, or anything else
3. Retain right to use as we see fit, now and into the future!
4. If you like we can feature your name and “Designed by” on the back of wrapper when we print it.

Thanks and good luck, if you have any questions email me at scott at yunnansourcing d0t com!

– Scott

Производство Цзяньшуйской керамики

Во ведении данной статьи мы рассмотрим особенности производства Цзяньшуйской керамики. Это 13 основных стадий производства, которые складывались и оттачивались на протяжении нескольких веков, при производстве изделий из Цзяньшуйской глины.

История фиолетовой Цзяньшуйской керамики, которую также называют красной яшмой из Южной Юннани, уходит глубоко в древние времена, на сотни лет назад. Во времена династии Сун производили селадоновый фарфор (цвета морской волны), династии Юань – керамику из голубой и белой глины, династии Минь – грубую керамику, с неоднородной и зернистой структурой. Расцвет керамики из фиолетовой Цзяньшуйской глины приходится на время правления династии Цин. Сегодня Цзяньшуйская керамика входит в четверку самых известных видов керамики Китая. Это неотъемлемая часть народного искусства города Цзяньшуй провинции Юннань.

И действительно данная керамика похожа на яшму:

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В Цзяньшуй расположены богатые месторождения уникальных видов глины. Здесь добывают глину разных цветов: красную, желтую, фиолетовую, голубую, белую – пять основных цветов (прочие цвета получают путем смешивания разных глин).

Для обработки поверхностей изделий из цзяньшуйской глины применяется множество разных техник обработки, все делается исключительно вручную. Основные техники: заполнение гравировки, используемая для нанесения рисунка (рисунок вырезается как гравюра на глине, а после заполняется цветными или однотонными растворами) имитация трещин на всей поверхности изделия, и полировка поверхности изделия до состояния зеркала, для получения гладкой и блестящей поверхности изделия никакие глазури не применяются. Полировка осуществляется с помощью местных речных камней, которые немного тверже, чем запеченная глина изделия, благодаря не большой разнице в твердости и мелкой зернистости полировочных камней (глина стачивается медленно с небольшой потерей массы), удается получить изделия с идеально гладкой глянцевой поверхностью.

Слева полированное до зеркала изделие, справа пример заполненной гравировки.

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Цзяньшуйская глина очень напоминает металл. Действительно она имеет медные оттенки цвета, а ее поверхность блестит как отполированный металл. Также, характерной особенностью для Цзяньшуйской керамики является ее звонкое звучание (например, при закрывании и открытии крышки чайника). Данные характерные особенности, присущие именно Цзяньшуйской керамике, отделяют ее от прочих видов изделий, подчеркивая ее древний характер и эксклюзивность.

Технология полировки глины до зеркально гладкой и блестящей поверхности делает изделия из Цзянь Шуй устойчивыми к воздействиям: кислот, щелочей, сохраняя при этом способность «дышать». Также, полированная поверхность устойчива к загрязнению. Еще одним преимуществом Цзяньшуйской керамики является использования чистейших несмешанных глин округа Хон Хэ (Hong He – «Красная Река»-местность рядом с данной рекой) Которые при обжиге в разы плотнее и тверже, чем Исинские глины.

Глины из Хон Хэ, также очень чистые (имеется ввиду без химических примесей) и очень устойчивые к различным видам загрязнений.

Теперь подробнее поговори о стадиях производства:

Первая стадия добыча и выбор глины.

В Цзянь Шуй существует известное место, которое получило название «Пяти цветная гора» или «Гора пяти цветов», в этом месте добывают глину для всех видов изделий, всего пять основных цветов (красного, желтого, голубого, фиолетового, белого)

Фото глины сразу после добычи.

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Во второй стадии глину дробят с помощью вот таких молотков до состояния порошка, потом отбирают глины разных цветов для дальнейшего смешивания и получения желаемых цветов и оттенков.

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После дробления до мелкого порошка глины смешивают, согласно выверенных рецептов. Почти вся Цзяньшуйская керамика делается из смеси нескольких сортов глин. Есть также несколько классических рецептов , которые соответствуют всем стандартам, предъявляемым к местным изделиям – это высокие эстетические качества, звонкость глины и способность исправно служить долгие годы.

Ниже на фото приведен пример уже смешанной по классическому рецепту глины.

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Мастерские Цзянь Шуй делают не только чайники и вазы, среди продукции данного региона нередко встречаются кастрюли горшки для приготовления еды и отваров, используемых в китайской медицине. При варке еды или лекарственных отваров, глиняное изделия контактируют с открытым огнем и легко выдерживают такое воздействие. Это важное потребительское свойство, которое отличает Цзяньшуйскую посуду, от прочей посуды из глины.

На фото курица, сваренная в травах в горшке из Цзяньшуйской керамики.

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Третья стадия – это ферментация глины.

После того как глину разбили, смешали ее замачивают в специальном чане. Со временем глина густеет и застывает, набирая нужную консистенцию. Мастер постоянно помешивает глину, и более крупные не смолотые кусочки глины поднимаются наверх и удаляются из смеси – этот процесс делает глину более однородной. В таком состоянии глину оставляют на ночь, потом еще в течении дня повторяют процедуру помешивания и отделения крупных фракций (примерно 3-4 раза) до тех пор, пока глина не станет похожей по консистенции на зубную пасту. После того как процесс перемешивания и отделения крупных фракций закончен, глину оставляют в чане еще на несколько дней, пока большая часть воды не выпарится и глина не будет готова к следующей стадии.

На фото ферментация глины в больших чанах

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Четвертая стадия «замес глины»

После завершения ферментации глины, мастер отбирает ее для дальнейшего замешивания. Процесс ручного замешивания очень важен, так как во время этого действа мастер выгоняет из массы глины пузырьки воздуха, уходит лишняя вода, и глина приобретает нужную консистенцию, плотность и вязкость. Мастер останавливает процесс замеса, когда глина перестает прилипать к рукам. Правильно выполненный замес, дает мастеру уверенность в том, что его изделия будут идеально соответствовать высоким стандартам качества.

На фото процесс замеса глины.

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Пятая стадия – это процесс формовки тела изделия.

После того как глину замесили, ее кладут на гончарный круг и предают форму будущего изделия. Создания формы изделий на гончарном круге в Цзянь Шуй почти не отличается от прочих производств по всему Миру и, как везде, требует особого мастерства, для производства симметричных изделий нужной формы.

На фото формовка изделия.

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Шестая стадия – это нанесение рисунков и каллиграфии.

После гончарного станка готовый горшок или ваза, или любое другое изделие, сушат в течении нескольких дней. Когда изделие высохнет, на его поверхность можно будет наносить рисунки и каллиграфию. Обычно на этом этапе вступают в работу известные художники или каллиграфы. На каждое изделие наносится имя мастера каллиграфа или художника, а часто и гончара сделавшего форму изделия. При продаже коллекционерам имена мастеров очень важны, это как картины от именитых художников, которые тоже подписывают, подчеркивая их уникальность и принадлежность определенной руке.

Роспись по необожжённой Цзяньшуйской глине достаточно трудоемкий процесс, требующий больших знаний и опыта. Краски для росписи нужно наносить строго дозируя их количества, так как сырая глина очень хорошо впитывает! Если нанести слишком много краски, то она пропитает глину до внутренней поверхности будущего изделия и такое изделие будет непригодно к использованию.

Также, очень сложно рисовать картины и писать иероглифы на неровной поверхности имеющей изгибы, и мастер должен учитывать особенности формы изделия, и то, как будет выглядеть написанная им картина или каллиграфия на таком многоуровневом и неровном «холсте». Людей, кто может сделать роспись на Цзяньшуйской глине очень немного, а высококлассных мастеров и того меньше.

На фото мастер расписывает горшок.

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Седьмая стадия-это резьба по поверхности глины.

После росписи, для дополнительного украшения изделий, на поверхность глины наносят рисунок, вырезая его специальными инструментами. На этом этапе мастер не имеет права на ошибку, поэтому его рука должна быть также крепка и точна как у высококвалифицированного хирурга. Работа резчика – это филигранный труд, требующий сверхъестественного внимания и концентрации. Мастера каллиграфии и художники, наносящие рисунок на глину, могут пить алкоголь во время работы, а резчики нет, так как неправильный рисунок можно стереть с поверхности, а вот резьбу нельзя. Очень редко встречается художник каллиграфии и резчик в одном лице.

На фото процесс резьбы и инструмент для резки глины.

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Восьмая стадия – это украшение изделия-роспись шликером.

Шликер – это мягкая фарфоровая масса, которую подкрашивают в нужные цвета, для росписи изделий из керамики. После того как основной рисунок вырезан на глине, начинается процесс заполнения разноцветным шликером, вырезанных рисунков, иероглифов. Это очень трудоемкий процесс, так как мастер должен заполнять вырезы очень осторожно, и остановить заполнение, в момент, когда шликер станет заподлицо с поверхностью изделия, не выходил за границы резки, не меняя контуры вырезанных рисунков. Визуально шликер и глина изделия должны выглядеть как одно целое, без шва. Для этого мастер многократно наносит шликер на поверхность чайника или вазы, и аккуратно вытирает изделие после каждого нанесения. Существует пять основных цветов шликера, которые смешиваются для получения нужных оттенков. Для производства фарфора для росписи используют не ферментированные глины, так как они лучше реагируют с телом производимого изделия. Раньше в Цзянь Шуй делали в основном керамику из фиолетовой и красной глины, с заполнением резьбы белым шликером, такое цветовое решение выглядит очень контрастно и эффектно, именно такое сочетание цветов давно стало классическим на всех производствах Цзянь Шуй.

На фото классическое цветовое решение – белый шликер на красной глине.

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В настоящее время доступно очень много разных цветных глин, которые позволяют создавать самые необычные и фантастические по своей красоте изделия, с многочисленными деталями и нюансами. Мастер каллиграф и художник, создающие мотивы картин, которые наносят на изделия, придумывают свои рисунки так, чтобы дальнейшее их воплощение было невозможным без использования всех техник: росписи, резьбы и украшения шликером.

На фото заполнение резьбы шликером.

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Девятая стадия – это работа над ошибками (доведение изделия до идеала)

На этом этапе мастер смотрит, какие есть огрехи у изделия и устраняет их. Очень часто шликер идет не вровень с черепом (череп-техническое название тела изделия из глины) данная проблема решается двумя основными способами: мастер может поставить изделие на гончарный круг и нанести на изделие слой шликера повторно (если уровень шликера ниже уровня черепа), Также, гончар может выровнять шликер с внешней стороны изделия руками или специальным инструментом, снимая лишний шликер (например, если уровень шликера выше уровня черепа). При этом мастер следит, чтобы шликер плотно прилегал к глине, а на границе между черепом и шликером не образовывалось пустот, чтобы при дальнейшем обжиге, эти пустоты не превратились в трещины, что может привести к выпадению шликера из тела изделия при обжиге. Далее изделие проходит предварительную полировку, которую делают на гончарном станке, при помощи рук или мокрой тряпки. На этом этапе шликер часто размазывается по телу изделия, но этот недочет устраняют уже после обжига, в стадии финальной шлифовки.

На фото мастер фиксирует шликер и глину с помощью специального инструмента.

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Десятая стадия – это сушка изделия перед обжигом в печи.

Эта стадия требует от гончара внимания. Изделия проходят сушку в естественных условиях. Поэтому мастер должен следить, за тем, как идет процесс. Глина не должна высохнуть слишком сильно, иначе в печи, при обжиге, она попросту треснет. В зависимости от температуры воздуха и относительной влажности, эта стадия длится от 7 до 12 дней.

На фото показан процесс естественной сушки изделий.

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Одиннадцатая стадия – это обжиг в печи.

В Китае есть поговорка «Хороший горшок не боится печи». Цзяньшуйская глина обычно обжигается при температуре от 1000 до 1200 градусов по Цельсию. В зависимости от печи и технологии конкретной мастерской изделия проводят в печи от 8 до 12 часов. Цзяньшуйская глина считается очень качественной, и она сильно уплотняется при обжиге, сжимаясь и уменьшаясь примерно на 20% от исходного размера. Именно этот высокий процент сжатия и потери в размерах, может привести к порче изделия, изменению его формы, потери симметрии, разрушению тела изделия, появления трещин и разломов. Нежелательных последствий можно избежать, правильно смешивая и ферментируя глину, именно от этих двух стадий напрямую зависит то количество брака, которое будет выходить из печи. Вместе с тем, изделия больших размеров, которые соответствуют желаемому качеству, на выходе составляют всего 40 % от общего числа изделий, помещенных в печь.

На фото печь с обжигаемыми изделиями.

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Двенадцатый этап-шлифовка наждачной бумагой и шлифовальными инструментами.

После обжига глина приобретает вид металла, а ее поверхность и внутренняя сторона становится шероховатыми, поэтому мастера наждачной бумагой или прочими шлифовальными инструментами убирают все неровности и сглаживают поверхность, при этом очень большое внимание уделяется качеству нанесенных рисунков и плавным цветовым переходам между разноокрашенными участками изделий (убирается часть черных участков глины, оставшихся после обжига, открывая медный цвет тела изделия, оба цвета должны сочетаться друг с другом) Также смотрят, чтобы после обжига рисунки и каллиграфия выглядели именно так, как задумывал художник, создавая мотив для декорирования.

На фото этап шлифовки перед финальной полировкой речными камнями.

(Слева мастера убирают неровности и шероховатости, справа показано изделие, после шлифовки, на котором есть черные участки глины, оставшиеся после обжига)

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Тринадцатая финальная стадия – это полировка.

Есть древнее изречение, которое дословно на русский можно перевести «Меч создается заточкой», по аналогии можно сказать, что изделия из Цзянь Шуй создаются полировкой. Есть два основных стиля полировки. Первый – это матовая полировка, вторая – полировка до зеркальной блестящей поверхности. Для данного этапа обработки используют камни из «Красной Реки». Гладкие изделия типа ваз или горшков без ручек и прочих неровностей полируют на гончарном круге, мастер раскручивает на круге изделие, прижимая полировочные камни к поверхности глины. Чайники, кастрюли с ручками и изделия более сложных форм с неровностями, мастер полирует вручную. Ручная полировка намного более сложный процесс и требует большего уровня мастерства, огромных затрат времени и сил, так как поверхность должна блестеть одинаково в любой части изделия. Если мастер будет невнимателен и излишне сильно нажмет на полировочный камень, то это может привести к порче изделия, появления скола на носике, ручке или крышке чайника, и прочих частях.

На фото слева полировочные камни после длительного использования, справа мастер полирует на гончарном круге вазу.

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На фото пример двух видов полировки: слева – матовая, справа-зеркальная, глянцевая.

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После завершения полировки изделия моют и сушат. На этом процесс производства изделия из цзяньшуйской глины завершен. Как мы видим керамическое производство в Цзянь Шуй – это сочетания многих видов искусства и ремесел, от разных мастеров, которые работают как единое целое.

Перевод Гаврилов Кирилл, владелец “Puershop” http://vk.com/club48790769

Jian Shui Pottery Production

Jian Shui Pottery Introduction and Background:

In this article we go through the 13-step process that has been used for centuries to produce Jian Shui Pottery. But before we get into that here’s some background information about Jian Shui pottery.

The history of Jian Shui purple pottery, which is also known as Southern Yunnan red jade, goes back hundreds of years. During the Song dynasty it was celadon; during the Yuan it was blue and white ceramics; during the Ming it was coarse ceramics; during the Qing it was Jian Shui purple pottery. Today, it is considered to be among the four famous types of Chinese pottery and represents the traditional folk art of Yunnan’s Jian Shui county.

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Jian Shui purple pottery takes advantage of rich and unique local deposits of red, yellow, purple, cyan, and white 5-color clay.

It applies multiple hand techniques including filled engraving, broken tablet style, and glazeless polish. No external or internal glaze is applied.  Instead, meticulous polishing with local river rocks which are just a bit harder than the pottery gives the pottery its unique character and lovely finish.  The pieces are described as having “body like iron, color like copper, reflection like a mirror, and sound like a chime.”  They possess their own antique character that sets them apart from other types of pottery and places them in the class of exceptional pottery.

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The unique glazeless polish ensures the all types of Jianshui purple pottery are acid resistant, alkali corrosion resistant, breathable, moisture resistant, and insulated.

Another advantage of Jian Shui pottery is the use of Hong He county’s relatively un-tapped clays which when fired are more than twice as dense (and heavy) as Yixing clays.  These clays are also extremely pure and unadulterated by pollutants.

1. Clay Selections

In the region of Jian Shui there is a place known as “five colors mountain”, this place produces five colors of clay (red, yellow, cyan, purple, and white).

(below:  the raw unadulterated ore just after mining)

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2. Breaking and Blending the Clay

After the clay maker collects all the ore and crushes them into powder it will be blended with different proportions to get the desired colors.

(below:  The ore is crushed into a powder for mixing)

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Once the clay has been been crushed into a relatively fine powder it is ready to be blended into various recipes.  In reality most Jian Shui pottery is a blend of several types of clay.  There are several classic recipes that have been developed over the last century that are not only aesthetically pleasing but which also result in structurally sound pottery that can withstand years of use.

(below: a blend fine ore dust after being mixed together according to a classic recipe)

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Jian Shui Pottery is represented not only by teapots and vases but also by clay pots used for cooking and decocting Chinese medicinal remedies (“Qi Guo” 汽锅).  These mundane uses for Jian Shui Pottery required clay types that could withstand direct contact with fire and flame day in an day out without cracking or breaking.

(below:  chicken in herbs, a Jian Shui classic cuisine in a “Qi Guo” 汽锅)

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3. Fermenting the Mud

After the ore is broken down and mixed together, it must be soaked in a vat.  The wet clay ferments and congeals into the proper consistency over time.  The clay maker has to continuously stir the clay inside the vat and skims out the coarse mud that comes to the top after stirring for awhile.  The clay sits in the vat overnight and the next day the process of stirring and skimming is repeated.   After skimming the mud three to four times it should be as refined as toothpaste, then it’s allowed to ferment for several more days to develop an even and consistent texture.

(below:  mixed clays fermenting in vats)

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4. Kneading the Material

When the material is selected for production, the mud will be taken from the vat and kneaded until (the artisan’s) “back is stiff, and the hand is cramped”.  This kneading process is important to create a uniform density in the clay by pushing the out all the air bubbles.  Once the clay has been properly kneaded to the right consistency the potter can start crafting the pottery with confidence that a good result will be obtained.

(below:  kneading process done by hand)

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5. Molding (or Throwing) 

After kneading the material is ready for molding.   The clay is put on a potter’s wheel and “thrown”.  This process is not much different than the technique used by potters around the world.  However, “molding” requires great skill to achieve the desired shape and symmetry.

(below:  the pot is molded into the desired shape on the potter’s wheel)

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6. Painting on the Pottery

After molding is complete the pot is allowed to dry for a few days to prepare it for painting and calligraphy.   This stage is often accomplished by famous calligraphers and painters.  Typically when a vase or teapot is being sold to collectors both the name of the artist who molded or shaped the piece is mentioned and most definitely the name of the calligrapher or artist who embellished the piece with their unique calligraphy or motif.   It is extremely hard to paint on Jian Shui clay,  because the raw clay is very smooth so the ink needs to be applied in just the right amount because it is easily absorbed.  If too much ink is applied the clay will absorb the ink and become stained, rendering the piece unusable.  Secondly, doing calligraphy or painting on a curved and multi-faceted piece is very difficult.  A great master takes into account the curvature of the piece when the design and arrangement is rendered. To make a truly refined piece, a master has to combine the calligraphy (or painting) and the shape of the ware perfectly.  There are very few who can do this, and even fewer who can do it well.

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7. Carving With Precision

After the pottery has been painted it’s time to carve out the painted areas. The carving can only be done once, so the master in charge of this process must have a steady, and resolute hand to achieve good results.

The master carver’s task is exceedingly difficult. Carving out complex images and characters is not like writing on a piece of paper which one could do under the influence of alcohol and eating tofu (eating with one hand, and writing with the other)!  jk

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The master carver is scrupulous and bold, their carving knife moves with fluidity as if supported by the eight immortals themselves!

If you aren’t patient and meticulous you can’t do this carving work. Those who paint and do calligraphy on the Jian Shui pottery can drink and be merry, it won’t impact their abilities and if they make a mistake it can be erased. Those who do the carving must be sober and have a steady hand and it’s rare that the painter/calligrapher also takes on the task of carving.

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8. Decorating with Multi-Color Clay Slip Inlay

Now that the design has been carved out, the process of inlaying the multi-colored clay slip into the carved openings begins. This is a laborious process since it must be put in, pressed in, rubbed and then repeated until the slip inlay density is similar the density of pot or vase. The clay must also be flush with the edges achieving a seamless look and feel to it.  The clay used for the slip inlay has five different base colors that are mixed into the desired colors. The clay used is the raw not yet fermented (sheng pi) Jian Shui clay. Using this clay allows the more refined “fermented” clay to bond with it. Traditionally Jian Shui pottery clay was purple or red style with the slip inlay being white Jian Shui clay.  This white on red look was thought to be the perfect contrast of colors.

(below: traditional white inlay on red clay)

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Nowadays, multicolored clays are both natural and readily available, so many-hued motifs are possible (with alot of painstaking detail)!  In many cases the painter has created a motif that was meant to be done in stages, painting, carving, slip inlay, and then back to the painter for the next stage of the motif’s creation.

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9. Refining the Slip Inlay and Final Adjustments

After the slip inlay has been completed, the outer part of the pot or vase needs to be worked over to make the inlay colors flush with main body.  This is achieved in two ways, one or both are typically utilized. The first method is to put the pot back on the wheel and turn it again bring the shape back to it and affix the inlaid slip clays.  The artisan applies pressure to the outer surface of the pot pushing the slip (sometimes by hand, sometimes with a tool) inlay into the main body and fusing them together further so that during the firing process there won’t be any separation. Additionally the pot is polished with a damp cloth or even the hand. Typically the multi-colored slip inlay will streak out during this process, but this will be addressed during the sanding stage.

(below: pushing and pulling to affix the slip inlay)

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10. Natural Shade Drying

This stage requires no work from the potter.  All that’s needed is to let the pottery sit and dry before it’s loaded into the kiln. Not allowing enough time to dry naturally before firing can increase the possibility of breakage during firing.  Depending on the weather and relative humidity, this stage requires 7 to 12 days.

(below:  pots shade drying before kiln firing)

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11. Kiln Firing

There is a saying “a good pot doesn’t fear the kiln”!  Jian Shui kiln firing temperatures are typically 1000 C and above (as high as 1200 C depending on which kiln and what style of pottery will be fired) for 8 to 12 hours.  Jian Shui clay is very fine and during the kiln firing will typically contract about 20%.  This high contraction rate can cause a deformed shape or breakage during firing. This undesired result can be largely avoided by correctly fermenting and blending the clays from the start.  For especially large pieces the success rate (acceptable result with no deformities or breakage) is only about 40%. Imagine working for weeks or months on a piece only to have it break during firing.  Jian Shui potters are notoriously even-keeled people who can withstand incredible disappoint without even a hiccup in their work output.

(below:  Jian Shui’s famous Dragon Kiln)

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12. Cleaning and Sanding Layers

After firing, the pottery has taken on a rough almost metallic color and feel. This is the stage where sandpaper or other sanding tools are used to remove the “outer skin” of the pot to reveal its inner “refined” look. During this stage, a skilled artisan will make sure the most beautiful layer is revealed and that any slip inlaid picture or characters is revealed perfectly as the artist intended.

(below left: sanding by hand to expose the inner beauty)

(below right: some black from the firing is left and sanded to achieve a gradient between the copper clay and black)

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13. Polishing

The Ancients said: “A sword is made by sharpening”, just as Jian Shui pottery is made by polishing. There are two polishing styles; the first is matte polishing, which is a polished but not shiny finish. The second style is shiny and bright. Polishing is done with local Honghe River (Red River) stones. For polishing a vase or other round pottery, the piece is put on the potter’s wheel and fixed there using a soft clay base. The wheel is turned and the artisan will hold the polishing stones in their hands to polish the piece. This requires a huge amount of skill, needing the right application of pressure and even distribution of polishing. For teapots the process of polishing can’t be done on a wheel and is particularly laborious with alot of room for mistakes. If the polishing stone is mishandled it could chip or crack the hand, spout or edge of the teapot.

(below: polishing stones after long usage.  right: polishing on the wheel)

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When the polishing stage is complete the piece is washed and dried. This marks the final stage in long process of creating piece of Jian Shui Pottery. As you can see the process is a refined art form that incorporates the specialized skills of many artisans all working in unison.

Polished Finish Style  (Liang Guang 亮光)

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Matte Finish Style  (Ya Guang 亚光)

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Year of Sheep/Goat Design Contest Winners!

Next year I promise to be on time with announcing the winners.  Apologies for my tardiness!

As with previous years the designs we received were excellent.  Our decision is based on several factors and deal directly with the ability to adapt the design to the different cakes we will produce this year.  There were tons of excellent designs that we didn’t use!

Thanks Everyone!

 

First Place – Igor Kozhanov (Russia)

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Second Place – Marichka Turanska (Ukraine)

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Third Place – Ronald Visser (Netherlands)

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Third Place – Sebastien M (France)

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Fourth Place – Michaël Jourdan (France)

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Year of the Sheep / Goat Design Contest!

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Welcome everyone to 2015, the Year of the Sheep/Goat! Last year was a great success with many excellent contributions!

To sweeten the pot a bit we will be offering a 1st, 2nd and 3rd and 4th price for the best designs!

1st prize: $250.00 USD credit voucher for use on Yunnan Sourcing dot com (or dot us) website!
2nd prize: $150.00 USD credit voucher for use on Yunnan Sourcing dot com (or dot us) website!
3rd prize: $100.00 USD credit voucher for use on Yunnan Sourcing dot com (or dot us) website!
4th prize: $50.00 USD credit voucher for use on Yunnan Sourcing dot com (or dot us) website!

Please submit all designs no later than February 10th. We will announce winners on this blog, and via twitter, vk and facebook (of course we will email winners directly) no later than February 15th.

1. Designs should be done in either Photoshop or Illustrator 300 DPI. Other formats may be OK, but would prefer these two formats. Also provide us with a JPEG or PDF format version of the design so we can easily compare and preview.
2. Any fonts used should be included with your submission.
3. Design must prominently feature these characters “云之源”
4. Bonus for hand drawn lettering or illustrations.
5. Bonus for inclusion of a sheep/goat (character 羊 and/or image) in the design
6. Keep design to five colors or less (or grayscale). No mixing / gradient of colors as this won’t print well on the hand-made white paper we plan to use.

We reserve the right to:

1. Change the fonts or design features of your design before we print the wrapper.
2. Add additional information, such as our logo, hand stamp seal, net weight of the tea cake, QS information (back) and QR code (back) to the wrapper, or anything else
3. Retain right to use as we see fit, now and into the future!
4. If you like we can feature your name and “Designed by” on the back of wrapper when we print it.

Thanks and good luck, if you have any questions email me at scott at yunnansourcing d0t com!

– Scott

Interview with an Anxi Oolong Expert

I recently sat down for an interview with Mr. Zeng Shui Yong (曾水勇) who is an expert in the field of oolong tea. He comes from a long line of Anxi oolong tea cultivators in Fujian Province. Mr. Zeng manages a tea shop in Kunming, which has been open since 2004.

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Interviewer: Why did you choose to come to Kunming to open a tea shop?

Mr. Zeng: My family has been in the tea business for generations. I grew up on a farm located in the tea mountains of Anxi and during my childhood I participated in every step of the process for making oolong tea. Though I love the tea mountains of Anxi very much, I wanted to have a change of scenery and so I chose to come to Kunming after I graduated from high school. I was attracted to its beautiful weather and climate – Kunming is known in China as the ‘Spring City’. It’s a very relaxing and suitable climate for drinking tea. When I first came to Kunming, there weren’t many other people dealing in oolong tea, so there wasn’t a lot of competition. Now, ten years later there is much more competition, but Kunming is a wonderful place and I’m very happy that I decided to come here.

Interviewer: What are the special characteristics of Anxi oolongs and how do they differ from other types of tea in China?

Mr. Zeng: Anxi has four famous teas. These are: Tie Guan Yin (铁观音), Huang Jin Gui (黄金桂), Ben Shan (本山), and Mao Xie (毛蟹).

Tie Guan Yin is probably the most well-known of these teas. It has the natural fragrance of flowers and is not too bitter or too astringent. The lingering aftertaste left by Tie Guan Yin is very distinct and is its most special characteristic.

Huang Jin Gui is named after its natural fragrance of osmanthus. The taste is cool and refreshing. The difference between Tie Guan Yin and Huang Jin Gui is mainly found in the variety of tea tree that is used and also some minor differences in the way the tea is processed, especially during the wilting stage.

For both Ben Shan and Mao Xie, the amount of tea produced is much higher than Tie Guan Yin and Huang Jin Gui. This is because they are easier to grow and to cultivate. Ben Shan has a special light and fresh taste, and the leaves are a piercing green color. Ben Shan can look a lot like Tie Guan Yin, but it is not as fragrant as Tie Guan Yin and some people like that about it. Mao Xie also has a unique taste that comes from the variety of tree that is used. Even within these four categories of oolong, there are also many sub-varieties and variations.

The best way to understand the differences is to compare the fresh leaves of the four varieties. The Tie Guan Yin leaves are curved outwards and have rounded serrations, Huang Jin Gui has thinner leaves with pointier serrated edges, Ben Shan has thicker leaves and even more rounded serrations than Tie Guan Yin, and Mao Xie is somewhere in between Tie Guan Yin and Huang Jin Gui in both thickness of the leaves and pointedness of the serrations.

Compared to other teas in China, what stands out the most is the distinct environment of Anxi and these four special varieties of tea. I don’t believe you can say that there are ‘better’ or ‘worse’ teas, just that every tea has its own unique characteristics. Personally, I like Tie Guan Yin the best. The main reason is the lingering aftertaste that you get from drinking it. After becoming accustomed to this, I’ve noticed that other oolongs do not give me the same feeling.

Interviewer: How is Tie Guan Yin made, and what are the differences between the different grades of Tie Guan Yin?

Mr. Zeng: For oolong teas like Tie Guan Yin, the clippings can only be bought directly from the government. Once these clippings are planted, the leaves are not picked until the second year, which is the year when the leaves taste the best. The leaves of the plant will continue to be harvested for another 2 or 3 years after that. Once the tea plant is 5 or 6 years of age, the quality of the tea leaves drops noticeably and so these plants are usually replaced with new bushes. This process of replacing the tea bushes every 5 or 6 years can be a bit costly, however, as money is needed to purchase new clippings and for the labor. When growing oolong, both the amount of sunlight exposure and the composition of the soil have to be ‘just right’, as the amount of water given to the plants, etc. For Anxi oolongs, the Autumn tea is considered to be the best, followed by Spring tea; while Summer and Winter teas are considered inferior.

After the fresh leaves are picked, next comes the ‘kill green’ process where the tea leaves are placed on a large mat and are sun-dried, after which they are taken to a room with a cooling system to rapidly lower their temperature. There are different types of Tie Guan Yin that have variations in the method used to ‘kill green’ and have variations in the time used to cool the leaves afterwards. The next step in the process is the shaking of the leaves in order to cause minor breaks in the cell walls which has an affect on the taste and the fragrance, so variations in this shaking step will also yield a slightly different end product. The shaking also causes the serrated edges of the leaves, which are red, to fall off, and the stems are removed during this stage as well. After this shaking step, the cooling step is usually repeated and then another ‘kill green’ process in which the leaves are placed in a hot-air dryer. After this is completed, the leaves are either hand-rolled or rolled by machine. The tea is then roasted to further bring out the aroma and flavor.

Determining the different grades of Tie Guan Yin, such as ‘fancy’, ‘premium’ and ‘imperial’, has a lot more to do with the way the tea is processed through these complicated stages rather than the quality of the original leaves themselves. Although these core processing steps are the same for all grades of Tie Guan Yin, it is very difficult to conduct every single step perfectly for a given batch of tea, and so only by tasting the tea at the very end can the grade of the tea be determined.

Interviewer: How is Jin Guan Yin different from Tie Guan Yin?

Mr. Zeng: Jin Guan Yin (金观音) is a fairly new variety of oolong tea that is made by combining Tie Guan Yin cuttings with Huang Jin Gui root-stem systems. This is the only difference, the process for making the tea is the same. The result of combining these two varieties of tea plants is that the final product has the natural osmanthus fragrance of the Huang Jin Gui and also has the lingering mouth-feel of the Tie Guan Yin.

Interviewer: How is ginseng oolong produced?

Mr. Zeng: This type of tea is also produced in Anxi and any of the four varieties of Anxi oolong could be used in its production, and will affect the quality of the final product. A special machine is used to mix the oolong tea with a licorice and ginseng paste which gives the tea the natural sweetness and forms the pellet-like shape.

Interviewer: How are darker roasted oolongs produced, such as Da Hong Pao and Shui Xian?

Mr. Zeng: Da Hong Pao (大红袍) is a special variety of tea-tree from the Wuyi area of Fujian that has only three remaining original trees left, but the clones of these trees are used to make ordinary Da Hong Pao. This tea is then processed in a similar way as Tie Guan Yin, but the leaves are ‘kill-greened’ by hand-frying them in a wok before they are dried with hot air and roasted.

Variations in the redness and greenness of the leaves is determined by the temperature during the ‘kill green’ stage and also how long the leaves are roasted, which can range from a couple of hours to several days depending on the kind of tea that is being produced.

Shui Xian is also processed in a similar manner, but it is another varietal of tea from Wuyi. Wuyi teas are often large arbor trees that are different from the smaller bushes used for Anxi teas such as Tie Guan Yin.

Interviewer: Where does the name Da Hong Pao come from?

Mr. Zeng: Da Hong Pao literally means ‘large red robe’. The story goes that during the Qing dynasty their was a student who was passing through the Wuyi mountains on his way to attend the imperial exam in Beijing. While passing through these mountains he fell ill. A villager gave him some tea and the student immediately felt better and then continued on to Beijing to score number one on the exam. Word of this got around, and before long the Empress also fell ill and so some Da Hong Pao was given to her and she also soon recovered. The Qian Long Emperor then personally visited these tea trees and draped his red robe over one of them in order to to mark his pleasure for this tea.

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Interviewer: How are Guangdong oolongs, like Dan Cong, different from Fujian oolongs?

Mr. Zeng: Dan Cong tea trees are a large arbor variety that is similar to Wuyi oolong, and they also have long life-spans similar to Pu-erh tea trees in Yunnan. There are about 3000 trees that are over 100 years old. The trees are about 1 to 2 meters tall and a single tree can produce roughly 10kg of oolong leaves in one year. There are also many varieties of Dan Cong, as this tea has about 900 years of history, much longer than Tie Guan Yin’s 300 years of cultivation.

Interviewer: Can oolong tea be aged in a way similar to Pu-erh tea?

Mr. Zeng: Yes. People in Anxi will put aside some Tie Guan Yin every year and age it for 15 to 20 years. This tea is considered to have medicinal properties. This aged tea is often very expensive, and since this is usually undertaken by private families, it can be very difficult to verify the true age of the tea.

Interviewer: Please tell me what you think is the most ideal way to brew and prepare oolong tea.

Mr. Zeng: I prefer to use porcelain teawares and ideally the thinnest gaiwan possible in order to allow some of the heat to escape while infusing the leaves. The most traditional and common way to pour tea in Fujian is to not use a chahai glass pitcher, but to pour the tea directly from the gaiwan into the cups for drinking, also without the use of a filter. Some people who sell oolong teas like to use the smelling cups, but those who drink oolong tea on a regular basis very rarely use them. Each time I infuse the leaves, I only steep them for about 5 to 10 seconds, sometimes 15 to 20 seconds, and drink about 7 infusions. This is for Tie Guan Yin, however, and Da Hong Pao, Shui Xian, or aged Tie Guan Yin teas need slightly longer infusion times.

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Interviewer: What is your personal favorite tea and why?

Mr. Zeng: My absolute favorite tea is Guan Yin Wang (观音王), which is the highest grade of Tie Guan Yin there is. This tea can go for about 10,000 to 50,000 RMB per kilogram. The process of making the tea is exactly the same as lower grades of Tie Guan Yin, but every step of the process is done with absolute perfection, making it the most fragrant Tie Guan Yin conceivable.

Interviewer: Please tell me your views of the tea business and how things have changed.

Mr. Zeng: I make tea for people who like drinking tea, so as long as my friends and the people I work with enjoy the tea that I produce, that’s enough to make me happy. The tea market is growing in size every year and so there is always more and more competition, while prices for teas continue to inflate. The Guan Yin Wang tea that I mentioned above that goes for about 10,000~50,000 RMB per kilo, used to be 50 RMB per kilo 30 years ago.

In the past , the process for making oolong tea was much simpler and we didn’t have the same kinds of machines that we do now. Tea such as Tie Guan Yin used to have a much stronger and deeper taste and less fragrance than it does now, because the tea was oxidized for longer periods of time. Now the market demands that Tie Guan Yin has a stronger flower smell, and so the teas are oxidized less, which means that they are more fragrant and also the taste isn’t as strong as it used to be.

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My dad told me stories that 30 years ago in the tea mountains of Anxi, most of the tea was hand-picked by beautiful young girls. Young men would have the job of carrying the large baskets of tea over the mountain roads by foot. This created a culture of courtship by song, as a boy would sing a song to a girl to express his interest in her, and then the girl would accept or reject that boy also by singing a song back. Now that there are so many more options for younger people in the cities, tea is frequently picked by the housewives of farmers and this culture of singing is practically non-nonexistent. Tea famers used to be very poor and life was isolated and inconvenient for them, but now there are paved roads and the growing tea economy has brought a lot of wealth directly into the hands of the farmers and cultivators.

Overall, the future of the oolong business looks bright, and I am very happy to share my Anxi oolongs with people from all over the world.

Interviewer: Thank you very much for taking the time to sit down with me and answer my questions.