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The Patience of Soup in Yunnan

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Both of these teas were made by Mr. Tang Shuang Jiang. 

Mr. Tang cupping sheng puer in Xi Gui

I love the food in China (a geographical distinction from Chinese food in America). I love the seemingly infinite variety of plates that march endlessly towards your table that you communally pick from, the generous use of chili peppers, and the comfort of three constant companions; tea, rice, and some kind of savory, brothy soup. Making that broth takes time and patience rarely found in American kitchens.

Mr. Soup taking a picture of the soup from Mr. Zhao

Driving in Southern Yunnan also requires time and patience. Since most of the land there is vertical it’s best to be on good terms with those in the car with you. We have been buying tea from Mr. Tang Shuang Jiang for the last two years, but on this trip he was “The Driver.” He is a long-time friend of my friend and travel companion on this trip, Daniel Hong, who said of him “even get lost will not panic” (I had no choice but to be convinced). It would be the first time I’d spent more than a couple hours with Mr. Tang and now we were going to be cooped up together for 10 days. Daniel refers to him by his nickname, “Mr. Soup.”

Daniel and Mr. Soup drinking tea at Mr. Zhao’s home

A good driver is always valuable, especially when driving in Xishuangbanna where sometimes the road is only there in spirit. And that spirit is alive with pigs, chickens, slow lumbering trucks of prior eras, cows and their owner on foot, scooters with too many people on them, and us. Driving there requires ever-present awareness since it is mostly scenic and uneventful until it becomes scenic and eventful. This was particularly true when I wasn’t always sure where we were going, and I wasn’t sure they knew where we were going either. True to Daniel’s word, Mr. Tang did not panic.

A view from the side of the road in Jing Mai

These long car rides gave me the chance to question Mr. Tang “Socratic-method” style on tea making. Instead of just accepting the direct answer, I had time to ask the naive question “why?” To understate it, the body of information on tea-making printed in English is limiting. He was able to walk me through the thought process on why he chose the specific tea fields, the particular cultivar, and processing decisions along the way to the finished product (and even when a product is ideally considered “finished”).

Check out Golden Buddha & Rock Oolong

Both of these teas were made by Mr. Tang Shuang Jiang.

Mr. Tang examining the tea of Mr. Du. This is what you spend most of your time doing.

Mr. Tang’s career in tea came by happenstance. His father sent him to the Fujian tea college after high school. It was free and they were poor. After graduating he got a job roasting oolong at a big tea company, but the politics of a large organization didn’t suit him and he soon quit and found work outside of tea.

Mr. Tang and his friend Mr. Liu Zhao Qian, Chief Tea Officer of Logan Tea Company

Fast-forward this story, and when asked why he stays with tea, he smiles and says “I don’t know other stuff better than tea.” On this trip we visited Mr. Liu Zhao Qian, Chief Tea Officer of “Logan Tea Company” in Puer city. Why? He was a classmate of Mr. Tang from tea school. We visited Ms. Chen and her husband in Kunming and drank puer collections in the back of ceramic flooring companies (yes, plural). Why? She was a classmate of Mr. Tang from tea school. Most importantly, how did Mr. Tang meet his wife, Ms. Lin Feng Ying? She was a classmate at tea school. Their two-year-old daughter will request a cup of Ti Kwan Yin by name, wait for the cup to cool, then pick it up and drink it.

Mr. Tang and Mr. Chen. We were drinking tea at a tea table in the middle of a ceramic flooring showroom.

In English we tend to talk about tea in myths and legends and not in terms of technique, economics, and daily life - which is actual and fascinating by itself. In the story behind his teas, Mr. Tang is the main character. No monks or monkeys were employed. Just Mr. Soup, time, and patience.

Mr. Soup and his new friend

-Michael Lannier, Operations Manager

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