WITH A RICH CULTURAL HISTORY GOING BACK THOUSANDS OF YEARS, CHINA - WHERE GUNPOWDER, PRINTING AND THE COMPASS WERE INVENTED - IS THE CRADLE OF NUMEROUS DISCOVERIES THAT HAVE TRANSFORMED CIVILIZATIONS THE WORLD OVER. THE DISCOVERY OF TEA IS JUST ONE ELEMENT OF THIS CULTURAL HERITAGE, TAKING ROOT IN CHINA BEFORE CONQUERING THE OTHER CONTINENTS. OVER THE CENTURIES, TEA HAS NATURALLY EMERGED AS AN ESSENTIAL PRODUCT, ADOPTED FOR ITS MEDICINAL BENEFITS BEFORE BECOMING PART OF THE EVERYDAY LIFE OF CHINESE SOCIETY. TODAY, CHINA IS REMARKABLE FOR THE WIDE VARIETY OF TEAS IT PRODUCES, THE DIVERSITY OF ITS TERROIRS AND ITS INCOMPARABLE EXPERTISE, WHICH HAS BEEN HANDED DOWN THROUGH A CULTURE THAT HAS MADE TEA A WAY OF LIFE.
History China is where tea was born. Chinese legends that speak of its discovery are so ancient it would be easy to believe that tea has always existed there. But if tea has been known in China since time immemorial, it has not always been in its current form. Indeed, different ways of growing and drinking it have evolved over time and according to changing customs. SHEN NONG -THE FOUNDING MYTH Among the Chinese legends that recount the discovery of tea, the oldest dates from 2737 BCE. It involves the mythic Emperor Shen Nong (known as the "Divine Emperor"), who, it is said, habitually tried new plants to discover their curative properties. Suffering from an unusual malady, he sat under a tree, put some water on to boil to purify it and then fell asleep from exhaustion. When he awoke, he noticed that some leaves had fallen into the water. Intrigued, he tasted the infusion and realized that, in spite of its bitter taste, it was able to both detoxify and stimulate him. Taking this legend into account, it is possible to say that tea has been used in the Chinese pharmacopoeia for over 4,000 years. According to Lu Yu, author of the first work devoted to tea, it was in the time of the Zhou dynasty (II21-256 BCE) that tea became a popular drink. Until then tea had been used medicinally or as a food, mixed into soup or with other foods. It was not until the Han dynasty (206 BCE-220 CE) that tea was considered a beverage in its own right. THREE DYNASTIES, THREE AGES OF TEA Chinese feudal society was at its peak in the pros-perous days of the Tang dynasty (618-907). During this era, the art of tea was developing along with the arts of painting, calligraphy and poetry. Strong economic growth, a rich social life and the abundance of cultural exchanges combined to create the conditions necessary for the spread of a culture centered on tea. More and more plantations appeared, the art of tea growing progressed and more specialized techniques for the processing of tea were developed. It is also during this dynasty that tea was democratized. Whereas courtiers, nobles, intellectuals and monks had always been accustomed to receiving their visitors over a serene cup of tea, this privilege now became a popular pastime. The custom quickly spread through every level of society. Tea became the beverage of choice for poets, artists and philosophers, as it was cheaper and more stimulating than alcohol. In addition, tea became an essential element of nomadic peoples' diets, which was very poor in vitamins. This growing popularity triggered, among other things, the founding of the first tea houses. Poetry, ceramics and painting also contributed to the burgeoning of tea culture as a true art. During the Tang dynasty, tea was not prepared in the same way it is today. At that time, tea was compressed into bricks that were then softened so they could be crumbled with a mortar and pestle. The resulting powder was mixed with salt water and sometimes with ginger, onion, orange zest and rice before being boiled. The broth was drunk from small wooden bowls and was more like a soup than an infusion. For Lu Yu, who was largely responsible for spreading the idea that tea should be consumed without the addition of any other ingredients, "These drinks were no better than the rinsing water of gutters." Tea was also shaped into bricks to make it easier to transport because, from the south of China to the north of Tibet, tea traveled more than 900 miles (1,500 km). It would have been extremely bulky to carry several pounds of loose-leaf tea on the back of a donkey. During this time, the popularity of tea was expanding beyond China. Entranced with the taste and the benefits of tea, neighboring countries, such as Korea and Mongolia, and many nomadic tribes became major consumers. Recognizing that trading in tea bricks could increase court revenues, tea became a valuable exchange currency. Under the Tang dynasty, the Ministry of Horses and Tea was set up so that the Chinese could exchange their tea bricks for Mongolian horses, a trade that allowed them, among other things, to create their cavalry regiment. During the Song dynasty (960-1279), important changes occurred in the way tea was manufactured and consumed: it was the age of beaten tea. The dried leaves were ground with a millstone to obtain a fine powder that was then beaten in a bowl with a bamboo whip until “jade foam” appeared. The Japanese, who were introduced to tea during this period by Buddhist monks, still use this process during the chanoyu, the tea ceremony. Among the general population, using and drinking tea was becoming an easier process. It grew in popularity as its processing time was reduced and its preparation was simplified. The custom of "precious" harvests began, when only the bud and the first leaf of the first spring harvest were picked. These were called imperial harvests, and the crop was reserved for the emperors. More luxurious accessories also appeared. Finished with a dark glaze that enhanced the jade green hue of the tea, wide and flat ceramic bowls gradually replaced wooden bowls. Unfortunately, the end of the 13th century was marked in China by the invasion of Mongol hordes, which slowed down the diffusion of tea. It was not until the cultural renaissance of the Ming dynasty (1368-1644), almost a century later, that tea culture was reborn. It was at this time that tea began to be prepared as we do it today, by pouring simmering water over dried leaves, marking the beginning of the age of brewed tea. Most of the instruments that serve to brew tea today (kettles, teapots, zhongs, cups without handles, etc.) were invented during this period. The Qing dynasty (1644-1914) was another important period in the history of tea in China. Indeed, several prestigious teas were named during the Qing dynasty. The famous Bi Luo Chun and Long Jing were named by the Emperor Qianlong. During this time the Chinese also lost their monopoly over the tea trade. High demand in Europe encouraged the cultivation of tea in other parts of Eastern Asia and in India, Africa and Sri Lanka. Having discovered the secrets of tea, the British no longer needed to rely on China to satisfy their thirst for it. Throughout the 20th century 一 with the demise of the imperial era, the Japanese invasion of China and the civil war followed by the communist revolution of 1949 - China underwent fundamental changes in its society and customs. The Cultural Revolution (1966-1976) in particular, with its slogans like "we must forget the past and march toward the future," was especially detrimental to tea culture. Most teahouses closed. Tea growers, most of them the bearers of a long family tradition, were set to other tasks, often in distant provinces. During this century, the use of intensive production and industrial processing techniques for tea were greatly expanded. Tea bags and iced tea in cans also appeared on the Chinese market. With the softening of the regime since the late 1980s, we have seen a renewed vigor in the tea industry in China. Several prestigious teahouses have reappeared. Universities and agricultural schools are specializing in the study of tea. In order to develop the culture of tea on a more scientific basis, the Institute for Research into the Culture of Tea in China was founded in 1993 in Hangzhou. Museums devoted to tea and teapots are also being opened. Cultural associations, festivals and various activities are organized in order to emphasize the importance of the cultivation of tea in Chinese culture and to further stimulate the industry. Today, with the emergence of a newly affluent level of society in China, lifestyles are changing and the demands of the nouveau riche in regard to tea are encouraging the growth of an increasingly refined market. Chinese Terroirs China covers a vast territory, and tea growing spreads over thousands of miles. More than 3.7 million acres (1.5 million ha) are devoted to tea plantations. The best estates are concentrated in the southeastern part of China, particularly Fujian, Zhejiang and Anhui Provinces. The coastal provinces, with their mild, misty climate and numerous mountain ranges, are also favored terrain. Further south, Yunnan Province, where the tea tree originated, is famous for its tea production. The remarkable variety of the weather and geological conditions of each of these regions gives the tea leaves produced there a unique character. In fact, these teas are often named after the region where they are grown. We can divide China into four regions: the southwest region, the southeast region and the regions located to the south and the north of the Yangzi Jiang River. We present here the most important tea-producing provinces in each of these regions. THE SOUTHWEST REGION The southwest region includes the provinces of Yunnan, Sichuan and Guizhou. In spite of its irregular terrain, the overall climate is generally mild and humid (subtropical) but punctuated by a season of heavy rains. The high mountains offer very diverse climatic conditions in relation to the elevation. YUNNAN PROVINCE Considered to be the birthplace of tea, Yunnan Province is undoubtedly one of the most ancient tea-growing regions. Wild tea trees, one of which is reputed to be 1,700 years old, can still be found in the tropical forests of Xishuangbanna. Its extremely varied terrain includes mountains with peaks soaring to over 6,500 feet (2,000 m). Yunnan has a temperate, moist climate that alternates between hot summers and mild winters. The region has an average annual rainfall of between 40 and 80 inches (1,000 to 2,000 mm). Yunnan Province is also blessed with a rich red soil that abounds in organic materials. This region has always offered ideal conditions for the cultivation of tea. True to the tradition preserved over thousands of years, Yunnan still produces bricks of Pu er tea. In fact, black teas and Pu er teas represent the two major specialties of the region. The town of Pu er, which for a long time was the starting point of the Tea Road, is still an important trading center. Indeed, the recent enthusiasm for this type of tea has convinced several growers to follow the market trend and give up the cultivation of green or black teas in favor of the Pu er variety. However, Yunnan Province, remains one of the major producers of black teas, including the famous Yunnan Hong Gong Fu. THE SOUTHEAST REGION The southeast region includes the provinces of Guangdong, Guangxi and Fujian as well as the island province of Hainan. It produces many famous teas belonging to the six families, including Anxi Tie Guan Yin, Bai Hao Yin Zhen, Bai Mu Dan, Zhenghe Hong Gong Fu, Da Hong Pao, Rou Gui, Zhi Lan Xiang, Qi Lan Xiang, Huang Zhi Xiang and Mi Lan. The most common soil type is old clay soil that contains both red and yellow clay. Except in the north of Fujian, the temperature is warm, with an annual average of 66 to 72°F (19 to 22°C), the rainfall is abundant, with 45 to 80 inches (I ,200 to 2,000 mm) annually, and the picking season extends over a period of 10 months. FUJIAN PROVINCE Fujian Province, a region with a subtropical climate (meaning hot, humid summers and mild winters) is renowned for the variety of teas it produces. The mountainous massif of the Wuyi is famous for its wulong teas, and the Anxi district produces excellent Tie Guan Yin varieties. The plentiful organic matter contained in the rich, deep soil of this region is ideal for growing the best white teas, which can be found mainly in the Tai Mu mountains and near the towns of Zhenghe and Jianyang. Fujian is also said to be the birthplace of black teas and wulong teas. THE REGION SOUTH OF THE YANGZI JIANG RIVER The provinces of the region south of the Yangzi Jiang River are Zhejiang, Hunan, Jiangxi and the southern parts of the provinces of Anhui, jiangsu and Hubei. Two-thirds of the tea produced in China, including several famous teas, come from this region. Most plantations are located on hillsides, and some of them are at very high altitudes. The mountainous terrain is extremely favorable for the production of high-quality teas, as the plantations enjoy excellent soil drainage and plentiful sunlight. The annual temperature varies from 59 to 65°F (15 to I8°C), and rainfall, which is concentrated in the spring and summer; can be up to 55 to 63 inches (1,400 to 1,600 mm) annually. The soil is red with yellow and yellowish-brown patches, and it can be alluvial in places. The soil quality is also excellent for pottery and is used, in particular in the production of the famous Yixing teapots. ZHEJIANG PROVINCE Zhejiang, a rich coastal province, produces mainly green teas. These plantations enjoy a moist, subtropical climate and alluvial soil that is rich in minerals. Production includes high-quality vintages made according to traditional methods, such as Long Jing, Anji Bai Cha and Huiming, as well as lesser-quality teas industrially manufactured for export, such as the Gunpowder brand. This diversity is due to the fact that some plantations are in the mountains, where the best teas are cultivated, and others are on the plains, where industrial teas are grown. ANHUI PROVINCE Renowned for the beauty of its landscape, Anhui Province produces teas of exceptional quality. In the mountainous massif of Huang Shan ("yellow mountain"), where the highest peaks soar to 5,900 feet (1,800 m), Huang Shan Mao Feng ("downy point of the yellow mountain"), one of the best-quality Mao Feng teas, is produced at altitudes between 1,000 and 2,600 feet (300 to 800 m). A temperate climate combined with a mainly red soil, rich in humus and iron, allows the growers in Anhui to maintain a high standard of production. The most famous black teas are grown in the southwest of the province, in the county of Qimen, located in the extension of the Huang Shan massif. With an annual mean temperature of about 60°F (15°C) and an annual rainfall of almost 67 inches (l,700 mm), the region is blessed with highly favorable growing conditions. Famous teas, such as Tai Ping Hou Kui and Qimen, are cultivated here. THE REGION NORTH OF THE YANGZI JIANG RIVER The provinces of Henan, Shanxi, Gansu and Shandong, as well as the northern parts of the provinces of Anhui, Jiangsu and Hubei, make up the major growing region that lies north of the Yangzi Jiang River. These regions are newcomers to the history of tea growing in China, and they have the coldest climate of all the Chinese tea-growing provinces. The average temperature is around 55°F (12°C), and it can drop several degrees below freezing in the winter months. Precipitation is low and rarely exceeds 40 inches (1,000 mm) a year, with an average between 28 and 40 inches (700 to 1,000 mm).The yellow to yellowish-brown soil, which is very poor in some areas, resembles the desert terrain of northern China. However; there are several mountainous regions with interesting climatic conditions that can produce good-quality teas, such as Lu An Gua Pian and Huo Shan Huang Ya. The most famous tea cultivated in the region, Xin Yang Mao Jian, is grown in Henan Province. The Chinese Tea Industry In China, annual tea production now exceeds a million tons (according to 2008 data from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations), and government initiatives designed to promote trade are beginning to have a significant impact on this industrial sector. Annual tea exports from China are close to 330,700 tons (300,000 t), and most of this is green tea, which represents more than 75 percent of the total product exported. The industry is extremely diverse and includes numerous small traditional harvests from artisans alongside huge industrial corporations producing vast quantities of tea. INDEPENDENT GROWING AND INDUSTRIAL GROWING Tea growing in China is predominantly the domain of peasants who cultivate small-scale plantations. This explains, in part, the low yield of tea per acre compared to India, for example. In all tea-growing regions we find independent producers who grow and process tea according to traditional, ancestral methods. Manual picking and processing is still common practice among artisans. In addition, a very large part of the tea produced by these traditional methods is distributed for local consumption. Except in large towns, it is rare to see certain types of teas outside the region in which they are produced. Industrial growing, on the other hand, is a relatively recent development in the history of tea in China, even more recent than industrial growing in India or Japan. Although large-scale tea production first appeared in the 1950s, it was not until the 1980s that the industry began to organize and diversify.To satisfy the needs of this industry, and in spite of the fact that cheap labor is still frequently employed, harvesting and processing methods have become increasingly mechanized. Unfortunately, this massive industrialization has created many undesirable side effects, and today it is not unusual to find industrial copies of famous independently grown teas. THE SPECIALTY TEA MARKET The tea market in China has changed considerably in recent years. Whereas production was originally destined for local consumption only, today it responds to an increasingly diversified market, one in which the quest for quality is the principal challenge. While quality tea is still a luxury product beyond the reach of Chinese lower classes, demand has increased substantially since the end of the 1990s, with the rise in average incomes. The demand for rare and unique products has put pressure on the artisans, leading them to specialize in certain types of cultivation and the production of several types of tea that only China can boast of offering. That is the case with the oldest known family of teas: Pu er teas have been captivating the attention and the taste of a large number of tea collectors. The same is true of the famous green teas - such as Long Jing, Bi Luo Chun and Anji Bai Cha, which are now available in most large Chinese cities - whose first harvests are fought over by enthusiasts. PROVINCIAL EXPORT COMPANIES Like the history of Chinese tea, the trading of tea in China has a rich tradition. Once used as a form of currency, tea remains vital to the economy of many regions throughout the country. As far as exports are concerned, China is an exception: it is one of the few tea-producing countries that does not sell its product under the auction system. Until very recently, the export system was managed by government agencies grouped by province, which handled most of the teas on the market. Any tea destined for export had to go through the regional offices under government control, which proposed a standardized product typical of each region. To purchase tea, a foreign importer had no alternative but to deal with the representative responsible for the region in which he or she was interested. This representative exercised tight control over what product could be exported. For example, a buyer could not obtain a tea from any estate that did not fall under the jurisdiction of the government specialists. Today, in spite of a certain liberalization of the market system, large-scale exportation is still mostly organized through regional wholesalers. There are a number of wholesalers and exporters in the capital cities of every tea-producing region, and they offer different harvests according to the growing region to both Chinese and foreign buyers. THE APPELLATION SYSTEM In China, many elements are involved in the choice of a name for a tea. Some are named for the cultivars from which they were derived or for the region in which they are grown. In a more poetic vein, the name is sometimes inspired by a legend (for example, Tie Guan Yin and Long Jing). In some cases, the tea was named by an "interested” emperor, as is the case with Bi Luo Chun. Unfortunately, in the absence of a functioning system of controlled appellation, disreputable growers can usurp the name of a celebrated tea and use it to designate products from another terroir or made using a different method. One of the best examples of this is the case of Long Jing, the most famous green tea in China. Long Jing is the name of a little village close to the town of Hangzhou in Zhejiang Province. The region has been famous for the tea it produces for many centuries. Picked by hand, it is processed almost exclusively in the traditional way, thanks to the expertise of the local growers. As the tea trade has grown in China and the world, certain producers have tried to copy this type of tea in order to increase their sales based on their competitor’s famous name. Today, most Long Jing teas sold exclusively for export on the international market are in fact teas that come from Sichuan, Taiwan or, in the case of organic teas, Jiangxi Province. Some traders will even buy tea leaves from the south of Zhejiang and sell them to producers who live close to Long Jing so they can be processed there. They then sell the teas produced as genuine Long Jing teas. It must be said, however, that this type of deception does not only happen in China. This problem is also a challenge for some of the other major tea-producing countries, such as Japan, India and Taiwan. A Meeting with Mr.Liu Xu, Industry Professional Mr. Liu Xu is a national tea taster. He has also coauthored eight books on tea. Mr. Liu Xu, how long have you been working in the world of tea? I have been working in the world of tea since I was a university student 23 years ago. Today I am a national taster. What is your background? How does one become a tester of national standing? I was born in Chengdu in the province of Sichuan. I graduated in July 1991 from the Faculty of Food Products at the Agricultural University of Xinan, where I obtained a bachelor's degree specializing in tea. In July of the same year, I started working at the Institute for Tea Research in the Department of Inspection and Tea Research. In 2003 I obtained my master’s degree and then the Certificate of Professional Tea Taster at the national level. Later I was involved in different types of training for tasters of all levels and from various countries. I have also been responsible for numerous evaluations on behalf of the China Tea Association, the Tea Inspection Center of the Ministry of Agriculture, the Huayun Art of Tea School and Shuren University in the province of Zhejiang. I have been invited to speak on many occasions at conferences overseas, in Japan and in Korea. What are your main responsibilities? In general, my duty is to evaluate newly created teas and teas from different regions. I regularly participate in several tea contests, inspecting and evaluating teas on a local and national level, and I teach tea-tasting courses to pupils who wish to become professional tasters. Which aspect of your profession do you like best? The opportunity to taste exceptional teas and to travel to the different growing regions to meet many people who are passionate about the field. What major challenges do you think the Chinese tea industry will have to face in the coming years? It is my opinion that the biggest challenge will be to interest younger generations in the culture of tea. It will also be critical to maintain a steady growth in tea production. What is your favorite tea? In each family of teas there are varieties of a superior quality.They are the ones I prefer. How would you define a good tea? The tea that you like is a good tea. A good tea is the tea that is at hand when you are thirsty. A good tea brings you all the joy of nature. A good tea lifts your spirits and fills you with enthusiasm. Gardens and Plants Spread over 3,781,000 acres (1,530,000 ha), the tea gardens of China are organized in many different ways. Tea trees are arranged in rows about 3 feet (I m) wide and are usually on a mountainside, according to the relief of the terrain. On the steepest slopes, small stone retaining walls are built to create a stepped effect. The tea trees can be set out as hedges, separated into bushes or cultivated in a terraced pattern. Although new machinery appears every year in the factories, most of the plantations in China are still cultivated according to traditional customs. CULTIVARS AND VARIETIES In the early 1980s, the All-China Commission of Examination and Approval of the Best Genus of Tea was created to record, examine and analyze every cultivar of tea tree growing in China. At that time, some 2,700 species were cataloged. In 1984, the commission recommended 30 teas that were considered the most promising. A few years later, in January 1987, 22 cultivars were selected as the best and therefore most worthy of being cultivated in China. Consequently, these 22 cultivars were given priority over all others. Unfortunately, instead of seeking to protect the naturally rich diversity of the numerous tea trees grown in China, the principal thrust of this kind of research is to increase productivity by standardizing cultivation. We have chosen to present here four cultivars that are found primarily in China and are outstanding for the production of tea. Each of them belongs to a different tea family. The Fuding Da Bai variety is used for the cultivation of white tea, Long Jing 43 for green tea, Tie GuanYin for wulong and ZhuYe for black tea. FUDING DA BAI The Fuding Da Bai variety seems to have been discovered in 1857, growing wild on a mountain close to the town of Fuding. The person who discovered it, Chen Huan, is said to have then begun cultivating it. The Fuding Da Bai variety enjoys a long period of vegetative growth from the beginning of March to the end of November. Its buds are white, sturdy and very hairy, which allows them to remain tender longer. Rich in nutrients, the leaves are perfect for the production of white tea, but they can also be used to produce black and green teas. In addition to being highly resistant to drought and cold, Fuding Da Bai has a survival rate of close to 95 percent. Its very high yield has made it one of today's most widely grown teas in China. Some 840,000 acres (340,000 ha) are devoted to the cultivation of Fuding Da Bai. LONG JING 43 The Long Jing 43 cultivar was developed by the Center for Tea Research at the Agricultural Institute of China in the 1960s. In 1978 it won an award at the Science Conference of China. Chosen in 1987 as one of the best cultivars, today it is grown in more than a dozen provinces, including Zhejiang, Jiangsu, Anhui, Jiangxi and Henan. Extremely productive and resistant, it bears buds that appear in great abundance in early spring. Its flat, pale-green leaves with brownish edges are very aromatic and thus perfectly adapted to the production of high-quality tea. TIE GUAN YIN The Tie Guan Yin variety, which produces a tea of the same name, is widely grown in China, mainly for the production of wulong teas. Legend has it that a certain Mr.Wei discovered it 200 years ago. Renowned for the speed of its growth and the abundance of its harvests, Tie Guan Yin has oval leaves, and its young buds, easily recognizable by their purplish-red hue, are lacy and pointed and have a thick, silky texture. Compared to other cultivars, Tie Guan Yin contains a larger diversity of organic components, such as polyphenols, catechins and other amino acids. It is also rich in minerals, such as manganese, iron and potassium, which gives it a slightly mineral taste. ZHU YE Today, the Zhu Ye cultivar is used for the production of Qimen, one of the most famous black teas of China. Previously intended for the production of green tea, this cultivar seems to have been used to produce Qimen for the first time in 1815, thanks to Hu Yun Long. According to legend, he had cultivated Zhu Ye to produce green tea until he returned from a trip to Fujian, the birthplace of black teas. He decided to convert his production of green tea to the production of black tea using the same trees. When he realized that the black tea he obtained from the Zhu Ye cultivar was better than the green tea, Hu Yun Long gave up the production of green tea to devote himself entirely to the production of Qimen. The Processing of Chinese Teas Just as the cultivation of the tea tree has a long tradition in China, the processing of the leaves is an art that the Chinese mastered many centuries ago. This experience, acquired over time and through trial and error, has spawned a wide variety of processing methods, so much so that it would be easy to believe that every region now has its own specific process. In fact, that would not be too far from the truth. Chinese tea production is based on the agricultural traditions of each region, and so different methods of processing have been adopted by each region, which has given rise to new types of teas. As well as being recognized as the birthplace of the six great tea families, China has developed methods to produce several hundred different types of teas. Before the processing methods were refined, the leaves were brewed when freshly picked. However, since they spoiled very quickly, growers decided to first dehydrate them in the sun in order to preserve them for longer. This idea was probably at the root of tea processing, because the heat of the sun on the leaves also created a natural chemical reaction that affected the taste and properties of the tea. Over time, the Chinese have learned to take advantage of this reaction. As most of the teas produced in the world are marketed in tea bags, the different methods of production, from picking to processing, are almost always industrialized. These techniques are only efficient in the case of high volumes, so large-scale producers need to emphasize quantity over quality. And yet it is still 1he small-scale traditional methods that are characteristic of Chinese expertise: it is also these methods that are best at bringing out the distinctive characteristics of a tea from a specific terroir. THE STORY OF LU YU Abandoned on the banks of a river, Lu Yu was adopted by a Zen monk from the Dragon Cloud monastery. Despite the influence of the environment in which he was raised, Lu Yu remained indifferent to Zen teachings and quickly discovered other interests. According to the story, he took advantage of a traveling theater troupe to flee the monastery and join the actors as they traveled throughout China. Lu Yu became famous for his talents as a teataster, his mastery of the method to prepare tea and for having written Cha Jing, the first book devoted to tea. The book was published around 780 and different versions, translated into several languages, are still available today. This was a unique moment in the history of tea. A BRIEF SUMMARY OF THE CHINESE TEA TRADE Total annual production: about 1,257,000 tons (1,140,000t) Percentage of production by type of tea: green tea, 73.7%; black tea, 5.6%; wulong: 10.5%; other, 11.2% Average production yield: about 665 pounds per acre (745 kg/ha) Annual exports: about 315,000 tons (286,000t); Zhejiang Province exports the most Principal purchasing countries: Morocco, 62,600 tons (56,800 t); Japan, 30,500 tons (27,700 t); Uzbekistan, 21,000 tons (19,000 t); United States, 20,700 tons (18,8001); Russian Federation, 18,300 tons (16,600t) Source: 2008 data from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.(Values in imperial units of measure supplied by publisher.) BEAUTIFUL TEAS Over the past several years, a new aspect of tea appreciation has appeared in China: visual appreciation. Strangely, many new tea enthusiasts are more interested in the aesthetic appearance of a tea than in its taste. And so, some teas are analyzed in relation to the beauty of their leaves and the way they move in a glass. If the leaves have an attractive shape and color and remain parallel to the sides of a glass during infusion, they will be considered highly valuable, regardless of their taste. The reverse is also often true. As such, if a tea does not look attractive, it will be sold for a cheaper price even if it tastes very good. In conjunction with this fashion for beautiful teas, tea producers have also made great strides with their packaging in the past few years. Utilitarian bags have been replaced with more luxurious containers, such as metal boxes and cardboard packaging. THE WORK OF A SPECIALIZED TASTER-IMPORTER The world market for tea is enormous: 3.5 million tons (3.2 million t) of tea are produced every year. As a rule, distribution is handled by major import-export companies that buy from and sell to wholesalers. These wholesalers then resell the merchandise to other distributors, who are responsible for practically all the tea in circulation on the international market. These corporations are, of course, looking for cheap tea to sell to a mass market rather than high-end teas. The taster-importer, who is looking for a better-quality tea, tries first and foremost to establish contacts with independent traditional growers in order to build a trusting relationship. That is why he or she travels every year to tea-growing countries, visiting plantations and the people who work on them. Once a feeding of trust is established, taster-importers are sometimes invited to taste small, experimental batches of tea that would never find their way to the wholesalers. This is how they make valuable finds. And so, by dealing directly with the growers and avoiding the middlemen, taster-importers can choose teas on the basis of their complexity of taste or their unique characteristics. They can then purchase them for a fair price and import them by air to preserve their freshness. THE AGE OF TEA TREES From one garden to another, or even within the same garden, the age of tea trees can vary enormously according to customs and the preference of the grower. Whereas young trees are usually preferred for the production of green teas, you can find ancient trees that may be several hundred years old being used for the production of Pu er and wulong teas in Yunnan and Guangdong Provinces.