Mr. Lin's tea fields
We were atop the highest point for miles around. From here you can see how tea has sculpted the terrain. The vastness is visceral. The drive up here was a bit nerve-wracking to someone conditioned to American roads, but totally worth it (once it’s over). The surrounding fields are the raw materials of Mr. Lin Rui Fu.
Me & Mr. Lin
I struggled to find relevant questions to ask him. Not only was this due to the language barrier, but the cultural barrier that the long history of tea in China casts over an American like me who doesn’t share those kinds of memories. I am also a bit intimidated because I’m clearly impressed by Mr. Lin and don’t want him to think I’m an idiot.
158 year old Huang Jin Gui
He comes from six generations of tea makers and started by helping his father and grandfather at age eleven. He says he grew to love it early on and so he stuck with it. The man he attributes to being his tea teacher is 80 years old and still lives in the village. He says he still talks to him regularly about tea making. Mr. Lin’s own children have decided not to go into the tea business, so he will be the last generation of his family to take this path.
The town of Hu Qiu
When he was young he said food was scarce, but his father always told him that if you work really hard at making tea and develop your skills, you will never go hungry. This advice has worked out rather well for him. He keeps those skills focused on quality and stability, which he attributes to his steady sales. He says he loses customers sometimes because of the recent trend in favor of greener, more aromatic Ti Kwan Yin. He prefers to make the more traditional styles that involve less withering and more baking to get a stronger, deeper flavor. He tells me the customers come back…eventually.
He has no brand. There are no logos on anything to represent his work. But he has built a good reputation and is proud of it. When talking about his preference for manual labor and natural fertilizers as opposed to using chemicals he was quick to add, “And that’s not bullshit!” – wanting to emphasize the commitment to quality, not marketing. He says the challenge now is that the market price is low for Anxi tea compared to its earlier peak when Ti Kwan Yin was the darling tea of China. Many tea farms are being abandoned. He admitted he is not making his highest quality tea at the moment since there is no demand for the price he must charge. But mid-level priced tea still sells very well. Evidence his father’s advice is paying off.
Mr. Lin checking out the tea
My host, Daniel, frequently says Mr. Lin is “not afraid” to try certain plucking or baking techniques that are riskier, but can yield better results. Though I can only communicate with Mr. Lin through Daniel, this “not afraid” quality clearly stood out to me. He puts up no pretenses. It could all be an act, but I doubt it.
-Michael Lannier, TeaSource