The most frequent question I’m asked is definitely where to find beautiful tea wares. I always wish that there were an easy answer. High quality tea wares, even in China, are hidden among sub-par counterfeits, or decked out to the point of being garish. Tea wares in the spirit of the Song dynasty (that is, vessels and tools of the ceremony which enhance the flavor of the tea through their appearance) are few and far between. Even still, I do remember that the first time I went into a tea market, before I knew anything about tea, it was because I was caught by a particularly graceful teapot in the window. The tea pot in my story and the tea pots I search for serve the same function- they are invitations further into tea.
With this in mind, we set off to meet with old friends of Wang Huimin. When you are in the tea business for 20 years between Qingdao, Xiamen and Taiwan, you have the benefit of meeting some extraordinary tea ware vendors and artisans. We were lucky enough to have that benefit extended to us. Wang Huimin used to work with a kind and soft spoken younger man from Jingdezhen who opened up a shop in Xiamen and ended up representing his friends’ work and the work of a few respected workshops. She excitedly beckoned us to his hidden shop only to find everything gone. Only a few boxes remained on the shelves and the lights were off. Worried, we asked around and found out that today was the day they were moving into their big new location. Relieved, we set off again and found this paradise of Jingdezhen wares.
Most vendors and craftsmen in China have a huge variety of goods, where everyone under the sun would be able to find a teapot they could fall in love with. Wang’s soft-spoken friend was an exception. His collection was a clear aesthetic statement, tending mostly towards the simplicity of the Song Dynasty, featuring natural texture and material, soft glazes and restrained painting. We hit it off immediately. Despite him only having a few examples of each hand painted pot, cup or set that we liked, we picked up as much as he could spare. These pieces are all up for pre-order now on our site, and we will endeavor to get more as he can bring it in from Jingdezhen.
After such luck with tea wares, we went to visit a strong-willed and opinionated Tieguanyin farmer from Anxi who had known Wang Huimin for many years. After traveling to the city to sell Tieguanyin, her tea became so sought after that she was able to open a large shop, and over the years has come to purchase tea from farmers she knows around China to round out her collection, which she is proud to sell to many of the fine teahouses in town. She brewed up some incredible Bilochun for us, but told us we would have to wait another week for the high elevation Tieguanyin from her own farm to be ready. The best Tieguanyin comes out a bit slower in the spring than green teas because of the high elevation and colder conditions.
Later, we took a trip to the Nanputuo Temple in Xiamen, strolling the temple grounds and chatting about opening a tea bar in Xiamen. Wang Huimin is going to be helping us full-time, taking the lead on trekking out to the tea farms to taste each harvest, and bringing along a camera for pictures and interviews when we can’t be in China ourselves. Her help will ensure that each season, we find more and more incredible and unique teas, and will allow us to seek out more direct connections to farmers across China. She is already planning a trip to Yunnan to see about commissioning some special cakes for us. As we grow, we will in turn help her to realize her dream of a full-scale tea bar in Xiamen. It is likely that she will be coming out to America this summer to train our staff at the new Minneapolis tea bar on proper brewing and host some workshops for anyone interested in studying gongfu tea.
At Nanputuo Temple we were particularly looking for a statue of Da Mo Zu Shi, a Buddhist monk who came from India to spread Buddhism to China, and in some stories, is responsible for creating the first tea plant through a miracle. We wandered without luck, until Wang Huimin saw a little cave with a monk studying inside. She went in to ask him about the statue. Five minutes later, she came out and told us that you won’t find statues of Da Mo Zu Shi in any temple across China. Since he brought Buddhism to China, he doesn’t need a statue: praying to any arhat or buddha is also a prayer to Da Mo Zu Shi.
Very exciting to be connecting with farmers in Anxi, and discovering authentic Jingdezhen wares. I am sure that the coming days will bring even more fun as we journey off to Dragonwell Village and possibly Wuyi Mountain.