Monday, October 14, 2013

A tea session with Pu Jin Jing

Pu Jin Jing is a tea person i greatly admire. She runs a tea workshop in Lincang.  We have known each other for years on the chinese tea blogs but it was only this summer that i had the pleasure to meet her in Lincang city.

She is famous for writing very detailed articles about tea cultivation and processing. I have learned a lot from her and this tea session lived up to my expectations. We met in her newly opened tea shop in Lincang city.

Yubai was with me, as we were just coming from Jingmai mountain. With three hardcore drinkers reunited at the tea table, the kettle was going to work hard.

 We started our session with three black teas, just released from Pu Jin Jing’s factory.

 -2013 Da Bai Cha buds
- 2013 golden buds
-2013 gushu black tea

Each has its own character, but our preference went for the gushu black tea, despite its modest look, the old tree character could be felt in the throat and the cups were filled with richness.

After this pleasant starter, we went to the serious things: puerh tea.

here is the list of the teas we went through:

-2012 Spring Bangdong
-2012 Autumn Matai
-2013 Spring Matai
-2012 Spring Matai
-2012 Spring Manglu Shan
-2011 Spring Manglu Shan
-2013 Spring Jingmai Single Trees
-2007 Manglu Shan
-2013 Spring Xiao Hu Sai

 The session lasted for about ten hours. After that, i was tea drunk like i rarely am, but for Pu Jin Jing, this is a normal day, she is used to try lots of samples. We tried each tea for  few brews, and then started the next one while keeping on with the former one. Sometimes, we had a cup of shu cha to keep our stomach comfortable. As a rule of thumb, i brew one shu for each three sheng. Pu Jin Jing advises to go from the greener tea to the darker. This time, we didn’t follow that rule, maybe because passion was keeping us busy.

We exchanged a lot of information and Pu Jin Jing is a very knowledgeable and humble person. This session was free of fancy talks, we talked about tea manufacturing and agriculture. This session was one of the most inspiring on my life, great tea with passionnate people.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Natural predator

 Hidden among the leaves, she is watching. Patience is her virtue, stealth is her credo.

 Still and stiff, she is waiting for the right moment to strike. She is a stem, and suddendly, she becomes a voracious predator.

Strong and agile, she will lead her prey in a final dance...

Monday, September 23, 2013

Jingmai celebrates!

Last week, a wealthy family of Jingmai’s main village honored the gods. Their tea business being successful, they need to keep the good fortune with them, and to do so, they organized a massive event.  People from all the area showed up and gathered to eat, drink, dance and pray. Among other things, two cows and twelve pigs were necessary to satisfy the guests’ appetite. Dancing is also a big thing in the Dai culture, dozens of teams succeed each other, basically arranged by village and age. This is the day when  nobody goes to work, it’s an opportunity to share the news and make new friends. This was one of the many festivities held in Jingmai this year.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Modernity and traditions

A new generation of tea farmers is on the way. In the remote countryside of Yunnan, the youth are like everywhere else, they want to be connected, they want to share with the world. I took this picture on a festival day, the nice girls i stayed with took pictures all day and put them on the social networks, sharing them with people in Beijing and Shanghai,thousands of kilometres away. Technology is a way to promote minority culture, just like a good cup of Pu-erh tea!

Sunday, September 15, 2013

The importance of biodiversity in tea farming

What is biodiversity? 

Biodiversity means diversity at different scales of life. It encompasses the diversity of landscapes in an area, the diversity of species in an ecosystem or even the diversity of individuals within a species.

Applied to the scale of a tea garden, it could mean having different kinds of plant: grass, bushes and trees, different families of animal that make a large food web: herbivorous and carnivorous insects, worms, spiders, birds, and even mammals. Among each families, you would get diversity, insects could be colorful, or, on the contrary, use stealth to blend in, they could fly on the top of the trees or crawl on the ground... Their different morphology gives them different abilities, which makes them fullfill a specific function in the ecosystem. Genetic diversity of the tea bushes has also a large impact on the capacities of the tea garden.

The ancient tea forest of Jingmai mountain

Recently established natural tea gardens in Jingmai mountain

A diversified landcape in Lincang county 

What are the advantages of maintaining biodiversity in the tea garden? 

Biodiversity gives resilience to an ecosystems, it means the environment is better at handling change and going back to its original state. Hedgegrows are a perfect fence against floods, deep roots stabilize the soil and prevent landslides, different insects species are as many abilities available to adapt to an invasive species threat. In short, biodiversity makes the field better at fighting off pest invasions and extreme weather episodes. Resilisence is a crucial parameter in agriculture, many fields are devastated by heavy rainstorms, frost, floods, wind or disease. While losing a wheat harvest is a disaster for one year, having a tea garden ravaged by fungi or frost puts an end to dozens of years of care. Economic security for farmers starts from bringing resilience to their fields.

As a consequence of increased resilience, a well managed natural tea garden is not dependent on insecticides and fungicides. The natural protection offered by the fauna living in the gardens is sufficient to limit the damage caused by pest to acceptable levels. It is ecological and free.

“I do the job for free!”

In a healthy soil, some bacterias are able to capture nitrogen from the atmosphere and convert it into nitrogen usable by plants. Nitrogen is an essential nutrient used by plants, it is one of the three elements brought by fertilizers (chemical or natural). A soil fit for life can host a lot of these bacterias and bring a consistant flow of nitrogen to the plants. Nitrogen fixing bacterias are also hosted on leguminous plants, this is why these plants need much less mineral nitrogen to grow, planting them in vacant parts of the field, cutting and burying them is a great way to enrich the soil in nitrogen; all for free!

 Finally, tea gardens with high biodiversity seem to give better tea than conventional plantations. In Yunnan, tea from natural tea gardens costs more than conventional plantation tea, its aroma is more complex and the mouth feeling is richer, but there are exceptions of course.

However, conventional plantations allow a higher output. By giving all the room and sunlight available to the tea bushes, the production yield is maximised. Currently, the largest demand is for cheap tea, therefore, producing a high amount of low quality tea is a stable way to make a living. Yet, the demand for high quality leaves and organic tea is growing. This demand, coupled with the need for environmental sustainability, could open the way to a switch in tea garden management, going from chemically managed gardens to biologically controlled ones. The second Green Revolution is on its way!

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Back to school

Finally back in Europe...

This stay in China was very instructive, i learned more about tea, chinese language, and the impermanence of life.  Now is time to go back to university, i’m happy i had to keep the student mind during the summer holiday. Each day spent in yunnan was an opportunity to learn.

 Tea hides many wonders, it’s up to you to find them. Some are right in your cup, others are at the source, up in the mountain, in the shade of a leaf.

Life is thriving in the tea gardens, and today, i will share a piece of Nature with you.


To be continued...

Sunday, May 26, 2013

ready to go!

I haven't posted for a while, I was busy with school and other stuff. But now, I am about to take a new trip to China. In the next ten weeks, I will work hard towards fullfilling several objectives:

-exploring new tea mountains:
In the past, I have focused mostly on Xishuangbanna, but the Lincang teas that I have tried make me want to discover this area further. It seems a more remote place than Banna, and I am very excited at the idea of looking for tea treasures in Yongde, Mengku, Fengqing and other places. The Pu-erh quest is far from over, there are still dozens, if not hundreds of small ancient tea gardens to be explored. I hope in the future, I can provide more teas from lesser known areas.

-undertaking agricultural projects in the tea mountains, I want to learn and experiment in the fields. Growing organic tea implies to know a lot about the local ecosystem and how to cope with it while getting a decent yield. I would like to test the impact of mulching (spreading a layer of hay on the ground) on tea yield and on the tea garden ecosystem. I will try different settings and monitor several parameters to see which solution fits best. Another objective is to understand why spiders can live in some of the tea gardens and not in others. It would be interesting to study their life cycle and their impact on pest reduction.

-improving my understanding of China, which includes learning more advanced mandarin, meeting new people, paying attention... China is a fast moving country, some things are ephemeral, but deserve to be seen. Each country is unique, but all of what we see is a depiction of the human being's capabilities, in China, one can find so many different people, "different" in their lifestyle, hopes, social conditions, culture... but still, they are all humans, and I want to understand this species more, China is of great help in this journey.

Finally, the most beautiful and obvious objective of this trip is to meet my friends and beloved ones again.  Meeting old friends brings a lot of happiness and is very enriching. I love to see how each of us take different paths, go through life, make choices and develop. If more Pu-erh tea gets in the game, then I will be delighted, it's always a pleasure to get to know a handful of leaves.

Today, I read a great piece of news: the Jingmai ancient tea gardens are on the candidate list to become a UNESCO World Heritage Site, you can read more details in this article.

I wish you all an excellent summer!

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Can Yunnan drought justify the Pu-erh price increase?

original article:

Can Yunnan drought justify increased Pu-erh prices in 2013?

Since Autumn 2009, South Western China has seen a lack of precipitation and high temperatures, which created a drought. Nowadays, the situation is still worrying.

Even though the drought has had a severe impact on tea production, despite irregular consumption, the price increase has not impacted the demand. 

According to statistics, Yunnan tea represents 13% of the Chinese tea production, 25 to 30% if we only consider Spring tea. The Yunnan Agricultural Department estimates that, in 2010, the drought reduced production by 50% overall and by about 60% for Spring tea. As a consequence of the drought, the price of tea last year increased by 20% on average, and up to 70% in some villages.

As a result, Pu-erh tea does not even account for 4% of the total Chinese production nowadays, yet, the Pu-erh stock remains large (two thirds of the Pu-erh tea is stored in Dongguan, near Guangzhou), therefore, the drought should not have an influence on the supply.

In China, the consumption should continue to increase and the prices do the same: Pu-erh tea will surely be more expensive in 2013. Still, will the farmers get out of poverty? Will the tea shops make money?  I think the Yunnan drought has been around for years, can it still be used as an argument to justify higher prices?

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Principles of organic tea farming

Originally written by Pu Jin Jing 普金晶
Check her blog:

Principles of organic tea farming (By Pu Jin Jing)

In all cases, distribute the trees all across your available land, don't leave any empty spot.

Keep 2-3 meters between each tree, this will ensure the tea trees have room to develop their roots; low grass will also grow naturally, it will attract many insects, ensuring good biodiversity and avoiding that too many insects gather on the tea trees and damage them! Preserve a natural food chain in the tea garden.

Try to flatten the steep fields, it will avoid water flowing down and will help keep the nutrients in the soil!

Preserve a natural environment all around the tea garden.

Till the soil once or twice a year, add a bit of homemade fertilizer or cut weeds and bury them around the tea trees. Use local green manure: dead leaves taken from the nearby forest is perfect, it will be enough to give your tea garden a nutrient boost.

6.茶树的修剪: 剪掉过秘的枝条集中茶树营养,或者过长过高的枝条,以此控制茶树过快的长高,增加树冠,让茶树成伞形,以此方便采摘!
Pruning the tea bushes: cutting off the top will concentrate the nutrients into the lateral branches. If it's already tall trees, pruning them will give them an umbrella shape, making the harvest easier.

Control the flowering and fruit growth, pick them systematically!

Picking techniques: refer to this article (in Chinese)

Other translated articles written by Pu Jin Jing here and there.

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Going organic

Dear readers,

It's been a long time I haven't posted, maybe being far from China kills my inspiration, I wish I could have fresh news to tell, brought directly from the fields of Xishuangbanna, I wish I could feel the dampness of Jinghong on my skin, breath the fragrant air of a banana plantation, walk through a misty tea garden in the morning... Since I came back to France, I have learned a lot of biology stuff, and I think many of the fundamental aspects that we study at university can find their use in a tea garden.

Unlike many farm products, tea stays in the field all year round, it requires long term planning. Decisions made today might have an impact for decades. Managing coffee, fruit, vine, cacao and tea plantations requires even more care than growing cereals.

What makes tea farming even more unique is that what we harvest the leaves. In most cases, we rather take the fruits or the seeds. As far as agronomy is concerned, this implies different management policies, therefore, tea farming is a body of knowledge in its own right.

I think there is a large room for improvement in the management of the tea gardens in Yunnan, and I also feel a willingness from the farmers to learn and do better. It seems that the traditional knowledge is being forgotten by the younger generations, or at least put aside...
For several decades, the use of pesticides was the rule of thumb, just like anywhere in the World. But nowadays, the bad side of agro-chemicals is more and more exposed to both the consumers and the producers. The consumer is worried about health issues, while the farmer is concerned about yield, selling price and sustainability.

Menghai market

Nowadays, going organic is a reasonable choice and many producers are considering this option, some of them have already done it. But in many cases, it seems they lack of technical support. While it is profitable for a pesticide producer to dispatch agronomists who will teach the farmer how to use chemicals, there is not much money to be made on teaching how to keep predators in a tea garden to avoid spending money on insecticide. Where there is no money, there is no will.

Eutrophication  due to fertilizer run-off, Erhai lake, Dali,Yunnan

Unfortunately, managing an organic tea garden requires even more knowledge than doing conventional farming. You need to know about ecology, population dynamics, natural cycles, nutrients management and many things related to your local environment.

I have a friend in the North of Menghai who is taking a course about hevea management, his village, allowed new land for rubber tree plantations, in other words, they burned several hills of rainforest to increase the villager's income (this is quite a poor area compared to the average of Xishuangbanna). Hevea is well known for consuming a lot of water, but when my friend asked the teacher if it could have any consequence on the groundwater reserves, the teacher just laughed at him, giving no explanation. It could be just another bad teacher, but the appalling fact is that water management is not even included in the training program; while at the same time, the tropical botanical garden of Xishuangbanna is writing several papers about the impact of rubber tree plantations on the local climate.

I believe change is possible, especially in Xishuangbanna, because people are not starving anymore, they have a choice to make. I don't consider the tea farmers as poor and exploited people, they are an actor of the society and as such, they have an influence on the economy and environment, they shape part of Yunnan's landscape. It affects tourism, biodiversity and tea economy; with such important responsibilities, they should be given the tools and keys to manage the land properly.

People love Nature, but its soft power is too often crushed by hard cash, only knowledge can reverse this trend.