Sunday 26th April 2015, found me jumping on a plane at Canberra airport which was the beginning of a 29 hour journey to Xinyang, China. The flight took me to Melbourne, then on to Singapore, then another connecting flight to Wuhan airport. Here I met Sarah de Witt of Impala & Peacock the Melbourne based tea company, with tearooms on Sydney road, Brunswick, Melbourne. Later we were to meet up with Nathan Wakeford of Somage Fine Foods and our two guides Vivienne and Amethyst, our Chinese buddies!
Travelling by road from Wuhan we soon reached our destination of Xinyang and the Zhong Le in Flowers Hotel. Rooms organised we just had time for dinner and after a little tea tasting in one of the hotels tea rooms, but our beds were calling.
After a good night’s sleep and then some very interesting breakfast choices, we were ready for the day. After being escorted by Vivienne and Amethyst to an incredibly large exhibition centre, where the opening ceremony of the 23rd Xinyang International Tea Culture and Tea Expo was about to commence. We stood quietly but then were whisked up onto the stage with other officials to be involved in the opening event. The camera’s clicked and in a moment Sarah became a tea superstar, having her photo taken with everyone, of course the odd one or two asked for photo’s with Nathan and I, but being pretty, Australian, a tea expert and in China was definitely the go!
Being hosted by the city of Xinyang the local tea was obviously front and centre. This famous Chinese tea is a green spring picked tea called Maojin. All other pick in this region throughout the year are produced in to a black tea, known as Xinyang hong cha. The Maojin is not brewed in a teapot but rather in a glass, almost like a lager style glass. The locals like to brew the tea with regular boiling water but for a short period of time, producing a strong aroma. The leaves are usually re-brewed a further three or four times.
A visit to the local tea market was a fascination for the three of us. This large building with at ground level many tea shops selling various styles of tea and flowers which can be added to scent tea.Then on the upper level tea accessories including tea pots, glasses, cups, storage containers, tables, and just about anything tea related. Outside and around the back of the building was a market place for small growers, this was more like it.
Growers finishing their teas there at the market in charcoal woks, so many variations in quality of the same tea, Maojin. Then I spotted something a little different to the rest, it turned out to be Maojin made from wild mountain trees, as opposed to cultivated Camellia bushes. The three of us went around buying small batches teas from different growers. What an interesting experience it was.
The Next day was the 2015 China International Tea Conference and we all needed to be sat and ready by 8.30am in a large hall at another conference facility. We were given five different speeches over a three hour period, the main one from Mr. Sun which was followed by a speech given to our Chinese hosts by Nathan on behalf of the AASTA and ourselves. Other speeches included the encouragement of tea companies to engage more with IT and the global possibilities this could bring. Also sustainable tea production was another major topic covered. Several of us were also requested to award the 2015 prizes to various tea growers, producers and companies, including awarding Mr. Jie Feng Lin with his 2015 award as best ‘Tea Master” for 2015. This young man is breaking down the old norm’s of what it takes to be a great tea master, and at 25 he is seen as a bit of a superstar.
After all the official proceedings, a grand lunch was served to us and a little time to talk with one or two of the officials. Later in the afternoon we were treated by Jie Feng to visit two tea houses in Xinyang one of which is his own tea house. It was great watching and learning from Jie Feng as he pulled out tea after tea from his own production portfolio, he was incredibly proud of his teas, some priced incredibly high compared to what we would pay in Australia. The tea culture in China is quite different and where we may pay exorbitant prices for a bottle of Grange Hermitage, the Chinese will pay highly for quality teas.
Once all our official duties were out of the way, we now had time to visit the tea fields around Xinyang and old tea villages where time seemed to have stood still. We were also treated to an excursion to the Guang Yi Research Institute of Tea Culture. This was an amazing experience watching tea artisans creating by hand the Maojin tea. We were introduced to the whole process from newly picked leaves being withered, then hand rolled in woks and finally hand finished by a 79 year old tea master over the gentle heat of charcoal. I found being introduced and watching this man work an incredibly humbling experience and a pleasure to witness. In the evening Vivienne and Amethyst asked could they take us to old Xinyang for some traditional street food, wow it was wonderful. A street barbeque, but by the time the girls had filled the table it was more like a banquet. From miniature lobsters, steamed dumplings a selection of barbequed meats, vegetables and tofu, to name but a few of the things we had. Thank you to both of you for this treat.
Our day’s in Xinyang was coming to an end. One last chance to visit a tea packaging company and to be introduced to the methods of making the tin canisters and packaging that we take for granted. Then another visit to the Xinyang tea market for some last minute teas and accessories. I’m sure all three of us could have easily filled a shipping container each of goodies.
Then as quickly as this visit had arrived it was now time for it to end and that 29 hour journey back to Australia. What an absolutely amazing and fascinating trip, which is thanks to the Chinese people, Long Tan tea company, but particularly because of two fabulous hosts Amethyst and Vivienne.
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