Farm­ers brew up wealth with na

Lo­cal econ­omy ben­e­fits from boom in de­mand for a taste of Da­hong­pao, re­port He Na and Hu Meidong in Wuy­is­han, Fu­jian prov­ince

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - FOCCUS -

Peng Longfu, 72, never imag­ined that he would own a five- story house and that each mem­ber of his sev­en­strong fam­ily would have their own bed­room. Nor did he ever dream of own­ing two sedans cost­ing more than 300,000 yuan ($49,000) each. A few hun­dred me­ters from Peng’s home, his daugh­ter-in-law has been busy hir­ing work­ers to build an­other five-story house.

While mem­o­ries of hard times re­main vivid, many of Peng’s fel­low vil­lagers, tea farm­ers in Tianxin vil­lage close to the north en­trance of Wuyi Moun­tain National Na­ture Re­serve, are still at­tempt­ing to ad­just to the dra­matic rise in wealth that has come in just a few years.

Their cramped, shabby bun­ga­lows have been re­placed by four- and five- story houses and, rather than carts or tri­cy­cles, Mercedes-Benz and BMWs are parked in the shade of trees.

The vil­lagers at­tribute the change in for­tune to the sud­den pop­u­lar­ity of Da­hong­pao tea, which means “Big Red Robe” and is one of the most fa­mous brands in China.

With huge signs dis­play­ing the char­ac­ters for Da­hong­pao hang­ing out­side al­most ev­ery build­ing, the vil­lage re­sem­bles a tea mar­ket rather than a res­i­den­tial com­mu­nity. The im­por­tance of the lo­cal brand is re­flected in the names of the com­pa­nies, which are of­ten based on po­ems ded­i­cated to Da­hong­pao tea. While the signs vary in size, color and font, they all have one thing in com­mon; ev­ery one con­tains the word Zhengyan, which sig­ni­fies that the vil­lage tea plan­ta­tion is lo­cated in the key grow­ing area of the Wuyi Moun­tain National Na­ture Re­serve.

The limited yield means tea grown in Tianxin vil­lage is very ex­pen­sive. The whole­sale price of this year’s newly blended Da­hong­pao is at least 1,600 yuan per kilo­gram un­pack­aged. That price will more than dou­ble once the tea has been pack­aged by one of the large lo­cal busi­nesses, with each bag bear­ing the com­pany’s logo.

“In 2007, our fam­ily had debts of more than 100,000 yuan. How­ever, just six years later, the fam­ily’s an­nual net in­come is more than 600,000 yuan. Our plan­ta­tion is just two hectares, but fam­i­lies with larger plots of land can make much more money,” said Yin Qi’an, a lo­cal pro­ducer.

The Yin fam­ily’s work­shop opened in 1993. “It’s called a tea plant, but it’s re­ally just a fam­ily work­shop and we only hire out­side work­ers in the busy sea­sons, when the leaves are be­ing picked or blended,” he said.

“Thanks to the re­cent rise in de­mand for Da­hong­pao tea and my fa­ther-in-law’s ex­cel­lent blend­ing skills, our tea al­ways sells out ev­ery year, even be­fore the leaves are picked,” added Yin.

Peng’s 20- year- old grand­daugh­ter is ma­jor­ing in man­age­ment at a col­lege in Xi’an, Shaanxi prov­ince, and the el­derly grower hopes she will re­turn to the vil­lage af­ter grad­u­a­tion to help him de­velop their brand and ex­pand the fam­ily busi­ness.

“Com­bin­ing her mod­ern man­age­ment meth­ods with my tea blend­ing skills is not just a dream,” Peng said.

Grow­ing mar­ket

Da­hong­pao tea makes high de­mands on the en­vi­ron­ment and mainly grows in Wuyi Moun­tain, ac­cord­ing to Huang Xian­geng, di­rec­tor of the Wuy­is­han Sheng­dong Tea Cul­ture In­sti­tute.

Wuyi Moun­tain is known for its danxia land­form, a ge­o­log­i­cal term de­scrib­ing a con­ti­nen­tal red bed land­form with many es­carp­ments. The multi-hued land is full of min­er­als and fea­tures high moun­tains and deep val­leys and a good cov­er­ing of count­less va­ri­eties of plants.

In ad­di­tion to the ge­ol­ogy, abun­dant wa­ter va­por and mod­er­ate sun­shine are ma­jor fac­tors in pro­duc­ing the unique taste of Da­hong­pao, Huang Xian­geng said.

The blend­ing process, the pro­ce­dure for mak­ing Da­hong­pao tea, is com­pli­cated and each of the sep­a­rate 18 steps is cru­cial to the taste.

Only ex­pe­ri­enced blen­ders with more than five or six years ex­pe­ri­ence ever have the op­por­tu­nity to prac­tice th­ese skills be­cause the yield of Da­hong­pao is com­par­a­tively low.

“We have many dili­gent tea farm­ers, but work­ing hard is just one of the re­quire­ments for mak­ing good tea; a good un­der­stand­ing of the tea-mak­ing method and tea cul­ture plays a much more im­por­tant role. And there are still very few peo­ple who meet all the re­quire­ments,” said Huang.

De­mand for Da­hong­pao was low be­fore 2010, when the price was be­tween 600 to 1,000 yuan per kg. Even tea from Tianxin vil­lage only cost around 2,000 yuan per kg.

“To guar­an­tee the qual­ity of the tea, we used or­ganic fer­til­iz­ers and weed­ing ma­chines in­stead of pes­ti­cides, which greatly in­creased the cost. So, de­spite the fam­ily’s hard work over the course of the year, the in­come was very low. Many young peo­ple went away to work be­cause the in­come was so low,” said Huang Xianyi, a vil­lager of Tianxin.

How­ever, at the be­gin­ning of 2010, money be­gan to flow into the Da­hong­pao tea in­dus­try and Im­pres­sion Da­hong­pao was launched. The show was China’s first teath­emed open-air live per­for­mance. It com­bined tea cul­ture with vis­ual high­lights and was the brain­child of cin­e­matic mae­stro Zhang Yi­mou, di­rec­tor of Red Sorghum and Raise the Red Lantern. The mar­ket reaction was swift and the price of Da­hong­pao more than tripled.

Not only have the tea farm­ers ben­e­fited from the boom in de­mand for Da­hong­pao, the lo­cal econ­omy has also flour­ished.

Wuy­is­han city is home to some 9,300 hectares of tea plan­ta­tions, of which 8,000 hectares are grown from cut­tings from six “mother” trees, ac­cord­ing to the lo­cal tea bureau. In 2012, the yield of Da­hong­pao tea reached 6,200 met­ric tons, with an mar­ket value of 1.55 bil­lion yuan.

With more than 1,800 reg­is­tered tea com­pa­nies in the area, ap­prox­i­mately 80,000 peo­ple are em­ployed in tea-re­lated jobs. That’s boosted the em­ploy­ment prospects of the large, ru­ral la­bor force, but also pro­moted the de­vel­op­ment of re­lated in­dus­tries, such as pack­ag­ing, lo­gis­tics and ter­tiary in­dus­tries, par­tic­u­larly ser­vices.

The per capita net in­come of tea farm­ers in Wuy­is­han city reached 2,486 yuan in 2012, an in­crease of 78 per­cent from 2009, ac­cord­ing to the lo­cal tea bureau. That saw the city’s tax in­come soar to 51.19 mil­lion yuan, a jump of al­most 110 per­cent jump from 2009.

The city of tea

Wuy­is­han can be re­garded as a large tea-themed tourist park. The shops sport dif­fer­ent dec­o­ra­tions, but ev­ery one con­tains a large wooden ta­ble, com­plete with a teapot and a set of cups ready for brew­ing the bev­er­age.

Hailed as the “King of Chi­nese Tea”, Da­hong­pao has been grown for cen­turies on the rugged Wuyi Moun­tain and was of­fered as a trib­ute or gift to the im­pe­rial courts in an­cient times.

Ac­cord­ing to Ye Qi­tong, a well-known tea ex­pert and mas­ter blender, many fas­ci­nat­ing sto­ries about Da­hong­pao add to the charm of this pres­ti­gious tea.

“One pop­u­lar le­gend has it that dur­ing the Ming Dy­nasty (1368-1644), a young scholar on his way to the im­pe­rial civil ex­am­i­na­tions was laid low by ab­dom­i­nal pain and fainted in front of a tem­ple on Wuyi Moun­tain. A monk treated him with tea grown on the moun­tain­side,” ex­plained Ye.

Cured by the tea, the scholar con­tin­ued his jour­ney and took first place in the exam.

Re­turn­ing to the moun­tain as a high­rank­ing of­fi­cial, he ex­pressed his grat­i­tude by cov­er­ing the tea tree with his new, flam­boy­ant red court robe, and since then the tea has been called Da­hong­pao, ex­plained Ye.

An­other anec­dote that high­lights the value of Da­hong­pao oc­curred in 1972, when then-US pres­i­dent Richard Nixon made his his­toric visit to China.

Dur­ing the visit, Nixon was pre­sented with 200 grams of Da­hong­pao tea by Chair­man Mao Ze­dong. How­ever, the amount was so small that Nixon thought the gift triv­ial.

Sens­ing Nixon’s doubt, Zhou En­lai, China’s pre­mier at the time, ex­plained that the to­tal an­nual yield of the six mother trees, which have sur­vived for hun­dreds of years, was a mere 400 grams and joked that the chair­man had al­ready given him “half of the coun­try”.

Re­tain­ing its sta­tus as a pre­mium gift, the tea boasts a high mar­ket price. In 2002, 20 grams sold for a record 180,000 yuan at an auc­tion in Guangzhou, Guang­dong prov­ince.

Healthy de­vel­op­ment

The promis­ing mar­ket for Da­hong­pao in re­cent years has re­sulted in tea com­pa­nies spring­ing up all over the city.

“Com­pe­ti­tion is the engine that has driven the in­dus­try to up­grade tech­no­log­i­cally and pur­sue a higher level of qual­ity. How­ever, dis­or­derly com­pe­ti­tion could ruin the in­dus­try, es­pe­cially in terms of the en­vi­ron­men­tal toll,” said Huang Shenghui, chair­man of the Rui­quan Tea Co.

“The high qual­ity of Wuyi rock cliff tea mainly lies in the well-pre­served nat­u­ral en­vi­ron­ment and eco­log­i­cal chain,” he said.

The Rui­quan brand is more than 300 years old. Al­though the com­pany owns more than 67 hectares of tea plan­ta­tions, the an­nual yield is re­stricted to just 20,000 kg to en­sure the qual­ity re­mains as high as pos­si­ble. Rui­quan is one of the very few tea com­pa­nies in Wuy­is­han that con­ducts busi­ness over­seas, with 20 per­cent of its prod­ucts ex­ported.

“Tea plan­ta­tions make high de­mands on a place. It needs the right en­vi­ron­ment and the cor­rect amount of sun­shine, which means not ev­ery place is suit­able to be a tea plan­ta­tion. Blind ex­pan­sion will de­stroy the eco­log­i­cal bal­ance and that could deal a dev­as­tat­ing blow to the lo­cal in­dus­try.”

Huang’s com­ments were echoed by Yu Dai­hua, pres­i­dent of Ji­u­long­pao Tea Co, one of Wuy­is­han’s top 10 tea busi­nesses.

“Wuyi Moun­tain is the best ad­ver­tise­ment for the city’s tea in­dus­try and to pro­tect our own in­ter­ests, we need to safe­guard our best as­set,” said Yu, re­fer­ring to the fact that un­re­stricted com­pe­ti­tion has caused con­fu­sion in the mar­ket for Da­hong­pao tea, be­cause the high-qual­ity leaves are now be­ing mixed with

“The best way build con­sumer c the best brands,”

He stressed th stand­ing should b sumers be­lieve th one of the six m Da­hong­pao. Yu sim­ply un­true: “C pao tea trees are which means the cut­tings from t main­tain the hig

Clock­wise: The tea-themed open-air live show Im­pres­sion Da­hong­pao

has boosted Wuy­is­han’s tea in­dus­try. Women are pick­ing tea leaves in Xi­amei vil

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