The Huiwei Community is a group of farmers, roasters, and sellers of Dancong Oolong. While not officially a cooperative, they operate in very similar ways. For instance, the Huiwei Teahouse is co-owned by two farming families, the Chen and the Wu families. Mrs. Chen is our main point of contact, and the one with the deepest generational history of roasting and making teas.
Mrs. Chen can do all the production processes of the tea herself, which is a rare feat in the Phoenix Mountains of Eastern Guangdong. In this region of china, tea processing is still rather stratified, with women doing a majority of the picking and sorting of the tea, while the men do the roasting and making. Mrs. Chen is doing her best to subvert these expectations and is really setting her teas apart from the rest by her expertise in fine roasting.
We have been working with Li Xia and the community of friends and neighbors since 2018. They are now responsible for around 50 mu (8 acres) of young to medium aged tea trees in a mid-mountain farm fairly close to the Phoenix Village itself.
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).
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, Apricot Fragrance, 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 primarily by Mrs. Chen and two or three neighbors. Such labor consists of sorting the teas, turning the maocha into finished tea by further baking and charcoal roasting.