Checking in on the Tea Farm in Progress

Roy and Grace invited me to tag along on their trip to the future tea farm this weekend. The rolling hills are still carpeted in green for a few more weeks before the long dry season sets in next month. Mustard and poppies are in full bloom, painting the landscape in vivid colors. The same wild mustard plants can be seen in some of China's tea-farming areas, as can the horsetail pine; according to Roy, there's a saying in China that if you can see horsetail pine, it's a good place to grow tea.

This weekend wildlife were on full display, unfazed by human proximity. Jackrabbits bobbed through the almond orchard while a pair of quail scurried through the underbrush and across the driveway. We couldn't spot the new baby koi, but the pond was teeming with tadpoles and minnows, with a bullfrog laying down a bass line nearby. The killdeer we spotted near the pond last month is now treating us to an elaborate protective display when we approach what must be his nesting area, while high in the cloudless sky we could spot half a dozen hawks on patrol.

After making the rounds in mid-day sun that's already intense, even in April, we retreated to the shaded patio to enjoy the cool, fragrant breeze and gaiwans of green tea from Ning Qiang, the region in Shaanxi Province where Roy will start his China tea farm next year - making him the first tea merchant in history with commercial tea crops in both China and California. We debated about the best spots on the property to install stone tea tables and stools and wondered if it's possible to get a miniature bamboo raft, modeled after the ones that carry tea tourists down Wu Yi Shan's legendary Jiu Qu Xi (Nine-Bend Stream), for the pond.

Roy met with his agricultural manager and signed some paperwork to get the farm certified organic. We also picked up a jug of local honey for his latest experiment: tea preserved in honey. This traditional Chinese delicacy is made by covering tea leaves with fresh honey and sealing the container for several months. Then you extract the leaves and brew tea. If Roy can match the product he remembers from China, it will be another specialty item for the teahouses.

The almond orchard is loaded with young fruit

This is the season for thousands of colorful wildflowers

This "grass dragon" is part of the farm's fertile ecosystem