We arrived in Wenzhou, Zhejiang yesterday afternoon and today, we're on a bus
headed to Jingua. This is a city located in the heart of Zhejiang and the source
for some of our green teas as well as our soon to be minted cast iron teapots.
Upon arrival, we meet a new friend who charms us so much, we spend two full days
in his company all over Jingua - Mr. Lu. He's the director of a family owned
factory that is working on our cast iron teapots. These pots (you may know them
as tetsubin) are originally from Japan, and as such, they are difficult to
produce in China. It's always a challenge to learn a new art, different from
your own, and to be honest, some of the pots I had seen from other factories
were not very good. But Lydia never lets us down and, miraculously, she found
the incredibly talented Mr. Lu. He inherited this business from his father in
1992 and he works with his brother and 2 sisters running different parts of the
business. His father actually still works in the factory, checking the quality
of the work and giving feedback to the workers. You can see this dedication to
perfection in his son; we watched Mr. Lu pause several times to take a closer
look at a teapot in progress, showing the craftsperson a more exacting way to
buff it or shape it. He really knows his work, and he's a very kind, gentle and
utterly hilarious soul. It's very obvious he loves tea.
Every teapot is made by hand, and if at any point they're not perfect, the iron
is melted down and shaped again from scratch. Even after they're painted and
fired; it's never too late to turn back and try again. It's incredible to watch
just how much sorting takes place to make these pots.
Lastly, we visit Mr. Lu's exhibition room, where sample pots in various colors,
shapes and sizes are on display for potential buyers. I have never seen so many
truly unique creations; in the States, we often see the same patterns and shapes
repeated amongst a small number of retailers. This is so inspiring! What
beautiful work! Mr. Lu was kind enough to send us home with teapots of our
choice, too, so we can test them out and offer further feedback. We're positive
you, our customers, will really love these when they're available. These are
very special teapots.
Mr. Lu really loves people who are so excited about tea, and he wants to learn
more himself, so he offers to take us to meet our farmer friends later in the
afternoon. Their organic farm and factory is also located in Jingua, which is a
beautiful, green and clean city. The two ladies who meet us are from Jiu Feng
Tea Factory, which provides several teas for Adagio, most notably the base tea
for our flavored greens (a Chinese-style Sencha tea - ie: a steamed green). They
make a lot of tea for Japan and Europe, too. Quite a bit of Sencha tea sold in
Japan is actually from China; they just drink too much to grow it all
themselves. This year, because of the earthquake, business is very big in Japan,
as they're in need of a lot of tea. So, this company is busy busy, but they're
still very happy to spend time with us in their beautiful organic garden.
As we drive up the hill, we are greeted by the sight of adorable white, fluffy
"tea goats" - this has to be the sweetest thing we've seen in the past 2 weeks!
The goats live on the farm, amongst the tea bushes, where they happily eat all
the grass and weeds, so the bushes can grow more easily. So cute! The scenery is
absolutely stunning; in our photos, you can see a large body of water at the
base of the mountains behind the farm, and miles of quiet hills in every
direction. So very peaceful and perfect.
We drive back down the hill to visit their factory, which they are transitioning
out of to a much larger, very modern facility (which we also saw). Their
production equipment is very impressive and can handle 6 to 7 tons of tea per
day. In a good year, they will make 2,000 tons (!!) of green tea and they are
very helpful in making just what their customers need. Larger leaf? Darker
color? Clearer cup? No problem! They're very good tea people and won't leave
their customers stranded.
To finish off the evening, we visit their tea retail shop - OH! The amazingness
(is that a word?) of this place! Several quiet rooms where you can brew tea
gongfu-style at your beautiful dark wood table, piles of fresh tea, amazing tea
ware and a huge gathering table (carved from an old tree) where friends can have
tastings. Tonight, we taste a very special tea: Wuzhou Juyan Tea, a rare
"cultural heritage" tea with a 2,000 year old history. This mountain-grown tea
was once a tribute tea to Emperor Zhu Yuan Zhang, who helped foster peace during
a period of unrest.
The next morning, our friends (including Mr. Lu) meet us for a lovely drive to
China's Shuanglong Park, a protected area deep in the mountains surrounding Lu
Lake. They have an organic tea garden in the heart of the park, on a hilltop in
between the peaks. No joke... it's amazing. Here, they make several teas including
one we tried at their teashop yesterday, Foggy Green (or Misty Green, depending
on your interpretation). We also go for a hike through some of the natural caves
in the park, including one named Peach Blossom and Double Dragons (dragons, of
course, are very lucky here, and with more travel ahead, we can use the luck!)
Lydia has sparkle in her eyes as we start tentative planning for Adagio's first
Tea Garden Tour for customers - hopefully next spring? - and this would
definitely be one of the places we would visit again. A mountaintop tea garden
inside a national park - It doesn't get much prettier than that!
We say goodbye to our friends from Jiu Feng and depart for Hangzhou, home of
Dragonwell tea (located just north of Jingua). Zhejiang seems to be a beautiful
province, with beautiful people, too. Mr. Lu heads back home tonight, too, but
we're looking forward to meeting him again if we do another Tea Tour; he's a
very good tea friend. Tomorrow, Dragonwell tea!