Ti Kwan Yin Mother Bush in Anxi, Fujian, China
In the United States we tend to group teas into the categories like black tea, green tea, oolong etc. In China the emphasis is on the specific tea name (often the same as its cultivar) like Rou Gui or Dragonwell, and our definitions of black tea and oolong don’t always translate well.
Statue of Wang Si Nang
For example, in the United States, Ti Kwan Yin would come with the explanation that it is an oolong tea. In China, it is simply (and famously) Ti Kwan Yin. Case in point, I visited a large monument in honor of this plant and Wang Si Nang, the man credited with identifying and propagating Ti Kwan Yin nearly 300 years ago. It is not a monument to oolong tea.
Wang Si Nang’s study
Wang Si Nang was not just a tea farmer, but also a scholar. His study where he prepared for imperial examination is now a museum room containing his portrait and other artifacts. I asked my host, Daniel, about a collection of books under glass, assuming this was Wang Si Nang’s tea journals/notes/diaries. He replied “no” and mentioned that they were books on society and social customs, which was not the answer I was anticipating. He later explained that as a scholar Wang Si Nang was expected to learn the Confucian classics and that tea is a spiritual part of this education, not just an agricultural pursuit.
Case containing classic books on Confucian studies
Ti Kwan Yin is considered one of China’s “10 most famous teas” and the main driver of the Anxi tea economy. According to Daniel, the local farmers were almost too successful, as the terraces of tea fields carving out the sides of the mountains are evidence of the growing demand for their efforts. But this has come with a cost as too many trees have been removed leaving too little shade and inviting too many pests, both of which negatively affect the quality (particularly the aroma) of the finished product. The government has intervened with efforts to stabilize and improve quality. Use of pesticides is strictly regulated and large scale rolling machines are forbidden.
Anxi tea fields
Change happens. We were surrounded by construction that had already long begun to upgrade what used to be a modest shrine with newer, fancier (bigger) facilities. Daniel likes it the way it was and it’s those kinds of sentiments that help me trust him. He also tells me there is an argument that it was Wei Yin, not Wang Si Nang that deserves the credit for Ti Kwan Yin. I like his willingness to share a contrarian point of view while standing on the grounds of a monument. It helps tell the story that tea is not just a beverage.
Outside of Wang Si Nang study
-Michael Lannier, TeaSource