Visiting a Famous Beijing Teahouse, Planning an Organic Jasmine Farm

I want to file a report of my activities in Beijing. Never one to sit on my hands, I arrived in Beijing yesterday, checked into my hotel, and went out scouting the best-known teahouse in Beijing. Yuan Chang Hou Teahouse (元长厚茶庄) has a long and illustrious history and they sell the most authentic jasmine tea I know here in Beijing. I then met with my jasmine tea partner, Mr. Chen Qin Di, who flew in from Fuzhou for the meeting. Mr. Chen and I have been working together since 1993, when he owned a teashop in Beijing and wholesaled out of his store the jasmine tea he produced in his own factory in Fuzhou. I started by buying a few pounds of tea at a time, slowly moved up to a few cases, and at the height of our cooperation I ordered over 15 metric tons of tea from him for my wholesale customers here in the US and Europe. I invested in Mr. Chen's factory and we became partners; he now makes his entire production for us only. He gave up his store in Beijing, returning to Fuzhou to work in the factory full time. We met in Beijing to discuss issues with this year's production.

Thanks to our loyal customers Imperial Tea Court is doing ok, but our wholesale orders have fallen in the last two years, largely due to the economy. Although Mr. Chen and I both worked hard on our jasmine tea production, the result is just not what I remember that excellent jasmine should be. We discussed a range of issues and found that we agreed on one most important aspect of production that is out of our control: the jasmine blossoms! Since we purchase jasmine flowers from wholesale markets like everyone else, we don't have total control over the flowers. The fact is, the use of chemical fertilization lowers the quality of the flower. The blossoms look good, but the fragrance is just not what it used to be. More scenting is not an answer; excessive scenting causes the tea to go dark and in fact doesn't add more fragrance. Finally, I took the plunge and told Mr. Chen to look into getting some land to grow our own flowers organically, the way it should be done! It is too late to get started this year but we'll lay the groundwork. With support from our friends we should be able to pull this off!

Also today, I finalized the redesign of the outer box for our digital tea kettle. The kettle has been very popular. We worked on making it possible for over three years, from a concept I had since 1993! I was so happy to finally receive UL approval and final production that I neglected the packaging, thinking how bad can it be? Oh well, lets just say I don't like it, so we've redesigned it and it will be printed and on the way with the main shipment next month.

If you think I am busy, I did more. Today I drove for over two hours in Beijing traffic to visit my friend Mr. Yang Wu, who is battling cancer. I couldn't sleep all last night thinking about my visit, worrying about Mr. Yang, who is a relative as well as a friend. In fact, Yang traveled with me to various tea farms where he deemed the trip too difficult or dangerous. He came along to keep an eye on me so I didn't get in trouble and acted literally as my bodyguard! We shared many moments of tea and wine drinking. Mr. Yang and Mr. Chen, my jasmine partner, also became friends and Mr. Yang would order his personal tea from Mr. Chen. Anyway, I found him in the hospital in remarkably good spirits. He said jokingly, "Hell, if I could walk I'd be out chasing those young nurses around the hospital. I guess it'll take a few more days before they find out how fast I am!" We laughed and spoke about old times. He promised to get well and come to the US to eat noodles with me. I felt energized by him at the end of the day and ready to tackle the world. I am going to the tea market here in Beijing tomorrow to have a look see and will report. After that I am going to Fuzhou to meet up with Mr. Chen to look for possible sites and hopefully we can afford to move forward with our plans and to bring back the glory days of yesteryear's jasmine tea!

After Fuzhou, I am off to Yunnan for a few days, after Yunnan I will return to Hangzhou for one more look at this year's green tea harvest. Then I am coming HOME!