Originally shared in our Tasting Journal Newsletter
This article is excerpted from our Daily Deal Newsletter.
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This article is a bit more “behind the scenes.” If you’ve browsed our site, you might have noticed quite a bit of Tibetan teaware - including Nixi pottery, hand-woven tea runners and Tibetan incense made from foraged wild herbs in Meili Xueshan. What’s the story behind these Tibetan offerings?
Verdant Tea's Tibetan offerings actually grew out of the very same months in China a decade and a half ago that sparked my love of tea.
My deep friendships with our partner-farmers started when I was a student-researcher collecting the folklore of tea growing regions. I was lucky enough to get a research grant to meet Li Xiaoping in Dragonwell, the He Family in Laoshan, and study with Wang Yanxin, recording and publishing stories about how teas got their names, how they first arrived in an area, etc.
After this first research grant term wrapped up, I was able to extend my time in China on a second grant focused on folklore - retracing the route of Tibetan author Alai’s journey recorded in his travelogue The Mountain Staircase.
This travelogue was a deep exploration of the unique Khampa Tibetan tradition, including Bön shamanist stories of mountain gods, as well as modern recollections of deforestation during the Cultural Revolution from a frenzy to build structures only with the endangered red pine of Khampa because the red was seen as more patriotic.
Along this journey, I got to meet cultural activist Dakpa Kelden, who has been working to bring back old traditions in Gyalthang and build an economy to support these traditions, including Nixi pottery. He introduced me to some of the last living masters of Nixi pottery, and to traditional textile artists as well as Khampa incense makers.
At the time, this was all important work to document as a researcher and translator.
Much later, I reconnected with Dakpa Kelden, who had started a tour company Khampa Caravan, as well as a hotel and a school for traditional Tibetan Thangka painting. I was in awe of all the work he was doing to revitalize the crafts he cared so much about when I first met him.
I felt like our paths were crossing again for a reason. As a student, the work I got to document in Nixi and Gyalthang was incredibly moving. So why not reignite those connections and offer the logistics chain forged over the last decade to bring in tea and teaware from individual families to the families I met in 2008 in Gyalthang?
Thrillingly, Dangzhen Pichu, the son of the master I documented in 2008 in Nixi, was excited by the prospect of sharing more of his work internationally, and Li Shuling - the textile artist I met in 2008 - couldn’t wait to share with a wider audience.
We also connect with Manzhaya, the incense company working with Living Buddha Danzing Qunpei to revive old-school Tibetan medicine was interested in seeing their work enjoyed on a wider scale.
So, that brings us up to date.
I am so honored to represent so many skilled artists and farmers. It is why I get up in the morning, and it is what keeps us so excited year after year. I wanted to share some background here because Verdant Tea is a community at the end of the day. It grew - not out of a business idea - but out of deep relationships forged decades ago through cultural exchange.
To recognize the connection between these special Tibetan hand-crafted objects and the tea farmers we represent across China, I want to highlight a few Pu’er offerings. The ancestors of farmers like Mr. Zhou in Qianjiazhai picked pu’er that found its way to Gyalthang on Khampa caravans along the tea horse trail; a reminder that tea has always transcended borders.
- 2014 Shu Pu'er NuggetsThis tea is a new experiment from one of Master Zhou's former students, another member of the cooperative. Qianjiazhai one hundred to three hundred year wild-picked leaves and buds are pile-fermented until they clump together in tight balls in the heat. The balls ferment and age differently than loose tea and yield a rich vanilla-heavy flavor that is impossible to steep out.
- 2020 Single Tree Sheng
Qianjiazhai is home to some of the oldest tea trees in the world. Once again, we are extremely lucky in 2020 that we will be able to offer a single-tree harvest from the oldest tree on the Li Family’s high elevation plot, estimated to 1300 years based on its trunk diameter. Located at 24°16'13.6"N and 101°12'19.6"E, this single tree needs to be carefully climbed to sustainably harvest about ten kilograms of leaf per year. Growing out of a rocky mountainside, and surrounded by a biodiverse wild growth of evergreens, tulsi plants and flowers, this tree benefits from cool misty air, and mineral-rich soil. It takes three people with linked arms to circle the trunk! The deep roots and thousand plus years of fighting for survival give this tea an incredible complexity full of yun cooling sensation and aloeswood incense undertones. The Li Family works with Master Zhou to dry this tea in bamboo baskets in the sun, and hand finish the maocha for traditional stone pressing. Even within a microclimate like Qianjiazhai, each mountaintop and valley has its own unique qualities, and the cooperative selected this tree as worthwhile to finish separate from their blended cakes to show off the stunning terroir and the complexity that is possible with ancient tree stock. Set aside a few cakes for aging and the yun cooling and tingling qualities continue to develop over the years. We’ve been following this tree for six years now and have been blown away with the development we see in cellaring. available in 2020 year in 100g tea cakes and 250g pressings
- 2021 Wild Crassicolumna Sheng
This tea is sustainably wild-foraged from ancient Camellia Crassicolumna (厚轴茶) tree, a close relative of tea native to Qianjiazhai. This year's tea is available both loose and in 100g cake pressings. Crassicolumna is naturally caffeine-free and rich in antioxidants. The giant leaves and buds picked from this wild-growing tree stock are allowed to gently sun dry without any heat processing to keep the most natural flavor. Wild crassicolumna trees can be anywhere between several hundred and over a thousand years old, and are incredibly tall and difficult to climb to harvest these precious leaves, but the rich nuanced flavor and lingering aftertaste is worth the effort. Master Zhou pressed the leaf material from part of this years harvest into 100g cakes and 205g Xiao Jin Gua perfect for aging and long term storage.
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