Huiwei is the name of the newly opened shop that two neighbors operate to market the tea grown on their 50 mu of total land. These two farmers, the legal proprietors of the shop, are Chen Junli and Wu Fudong. Both these men are assisted in this venture by their wives and family, especially Chen, whose wife’s family has possession of a plot of “old bush” tea. That being said, whatever Wu Fudong lacks in connection he makes up for with his deep personal understanding of tea.
The plots of the proprietors and their partners total at 50 mu in area, all of which is located in what now gets classified as “mid-mountain” elevation for dancong teas. The road connecting the village to these plots, which are clustered together, is a single steep road, accessible only to motorcycles and horse teams. The land which make up their plots was “opened” in only the last few decades, with a substantial portion being forested up until ten years ago.
The tea plants are grown on a terraced hillside. On this hillside, varietals are separated into semi-organized sections whose delineation is not obvious to visitors. The origin of these different varietals are not singular. Some were seedlings transplanted from other farms, but a great many were grafted onto pre-planted rootstock(which is typically the Shuixian varietal. Additionally, according to Wu Fudong’s son, seeds will be occasionally collected when the tea plants’ pods open in the winter for the purpose of later planting. His parents, however, stated that none of the plants on their land have been grown from such seeds.
The preference for grafting over planting comes from a desire to avoid any change in flavor that may result from the natural genetic mutation that comes along with reproduction. Through grafting, farmers are taking a living section of the desired cultivar(the scion) and essentially giving it a new set of roots(the rootstock). Like the other farmers we met on our trip to Chaozhou, the fine folks at Huiwei have planted a large number of cultivars, including: Baxian, duck shit, Milan Xiang, Tuofuhou, Xingren xiang, Dawuye, Xiongdi and Songzhong, and many others. Unlike most green teas, Dancong teas have well-defined cultivars and terroirs. And thus, just like apple farmers in America, tea farmers in Chaozhou are incentivized to grow the maximum number of varietals and always be ready to re-orient to whichever varietal has become “hot” on the market.
The peak production period is the late spring, encompassing mainly the months of May and June. During this period, around seven or eight full-time pickers will work their fields daily, sleeping in the proprietors homes during the evenings. After the peak period has passed, labor is performed by the proprietors, their families, and two or three neighbors. Such labor of course includes picking and processing, but also more specialized work like spraying pesticides, grafting, weeding, and pruning the tea bushes. Unlike older bushes, for whom none of these things are considered common practice, such “modern” methods are the norm for low and mid-level elevation plots.
It is important to note that the Huiwei partners also stated that they produced and sold both limited amounts of bot organic and old bush tea. However, since we have did not see any evidence of this on our last trip, we cannot repeat that claim here (yet).