Stone Basin

Stone Basin
at Ryo An Jin

Friday, May 4, 2007

Day 2 and 3 Canton

Early in the morning, before it was civilized for dimsum, Sebastian and I headed out to Canton in the spiffy new China trains. In an hour we were in Canton, amidst the best conditions you can imagine, lots of frizzy rain washing out the heavy pollution. We climbed the 7 flights of stairs to my relative's house with our luggage on our heads before heading out to a nonstop tour of the tea city, the oldest one in the country. It used to be a tea mall of all kinds of tea from Long Jing to 15 year Tikuanyin to Pu-Erh, from fine porcelains to crude Western tea service sets. This time, it was all Pu-Erh all time. Every shop has switched to selling Pu-Erh, and the teawares? Billed as 'suitable for Pu-Erh'. Sebastian broke down and bought a very, very , very expensive award winning Pu-Erh. The award came from the World Tea Union organized by our friend Wing Chi. No doubt Wing Chi will flip when he finds out we actually paid for one of these.
We had some good meals here and there. One particular enormous restaurant (all the ones are enormous) served gong fu style tea. Of course they pretty much all do, but it was a new experience for Seb. Here is a photo of just a one. The serving staff were equally as impressed by the fact that he could make tea all by himself; My uncle was shocked that he used chopsticks so well, and me? I noticed a noticeable decrease in men smoking in public. I haven't had to yell at anyone yet or tell them to move to another table! We had bitter melon, okra, and stuffed tofu. Sebastian won points by not only eating lots of bitter melon, but nonchallantly expressing his secret history of preferring them. We tried a new beer called 'Pearl River Beer'. It was tasty but light. I thought perhaps I could drink at least 10 of these in one sitting, but uncles says someone died from drinking just 3 bottles last week. Those Chinese can't hold their liquor!

The Free Leaf meeting was next. The big boss of one of the largest white tea farms in Fuding came to meet with me. Being extremely bright, he noticed that we are the only ones doing Free Leaf. I didn't explain the Patent stuff. You know the more trademarks or patents you have the faster they will copy it! Anyway, everything seems to be operating, although doing anything with China requires not just extreme patience (it should be an Xtreme Sport) but knowing how to yell loudest, of which I do not excel. Cursing people in Cantonese I can do well, but there is little occasion to curse in Cantonese. Have you any idea how efficient and impeccably competent people are in Hong Kong? Does one know how frustrating and incompetent most workers are in China? Knowing how to curse in Mandarin should have been more useful to know. Alas....
We had vegetarian escargot in a vegan restaurant next to the temple. Sebastian could not believe that snails could be made vegetarian. He said off the record, it was quite good. In reality though, I think he was grossed out.
Day 2 is going well. After some last minute dealings at the Tea City and the martial arts store, we headed out to the airport, where I am now sitting where there is Wi-Fi. The tech situation is great. I have 2 phones and two phone #s, occasional internet access. At the end of the day, we will be at Shantou, Phoenix Mountain! Hopefully the pilots are less cavalier as they used to be, flying those little inland planes like fighter jets, heading vertically up and down just for sport.


Fred said...


You rock! I'm following your trip to the Center Kingdom with interest. Keep us posted.



rotterdarned said...


You have a nice blog and I hope you continue to enjoy your trip! I've been a tea trader since 1969 so your blog fascinates me. I will share some thoughts without burdening you with technical tea jargon.

In the other big tea producing countries like India, Sri Lanka and Kenya, every tea factory and tea estate has a registered export name for their crop. This stimulates export sales for a number of reasons - it is great marketing because every tea has an exotic-sounding "garden mark" on the world market (e.g. its registered export name).

Every foreign buyer knows precisely what and where he or she is getting their tea from as well, in terms of chain of custody (e.g. as opposed to a generalised district name as is used in China).

But China does not have such registered tea factory / estate export trademarks. China exports its teas with a region / district name followed by a standard number which very generally indicates its usual quality.

Traditionally, this practice has held the China tea makers back from receiving a fair world market price for their exports - China teas must be deeply discounted versus world market levels in order to gain foreign buyer interest.

China can't afford to continue "giving away" its great teas in this manner, because eventually financial capital as well as human resources will flow away from the industry. Tea business people will not be interested in continuing to make an unprofitable return and and tea labour people will give up on tea and look for better paying work in the cities.

Last year, the first major step toward possible joy was made. China invited the prinicpals of the world's largest tea auction brokerages to come to China and provide guidance and recommendations on how China might commence a weekly tea auction for sake of global price transparency as well as efficiency to benefit to smallholder.

These foreign tea experts counseled the Chinese that it all must start with registering export garden and factory marks, because foreign buyers do not wish to pay a fair world market price for "mystery blends" that only contain a district name and number to identify and verify a given tea's actual manufacture location ("chain of custody").

You might ask the tea makers as your travel continues why they don't export their teas with a registered garden or factory name for the reasons I've mentioned - in sum, to benefit them financially. I promise you might get some interesting replies!