ancient tea trees and wild tea hunting in china

I stole the title for this piece from an article that Jay (the subject of this interview) wrote for the Chinese edition of Outside Magazine.  The subtitle was An American’s Inside Experience into the Deep Mysterious Culture of Ancient China which I think is equally inspiring. It’s a beautifully written piece, about Jay’s experiences in China and of his adventures with wild tea and Taoism.

Jay has traveled throughout China for years, sourcing wild, ancient and rare handpicked teas.  He has lived in China and can speak, read and write Chinese (Mandarin).

What is ‘wild tea’ and what is it’s history within Chinese culture.

Wild teas have been used for thousands of years by Taoist and Buddhist monks to enhance their meditation, martial arts, spiritual practices and healing. We use the ancient wisdom of wild and ancient tea tree teas to bring balance for optimum health, healing and balance. Wild teas are rare, wild, and ancient tree teas mostly from the high elevations of mountains in various regions of China.

They are grown high on the mountainsides at elevations of up to 7,500 feet. At these elevations the air is pure, and the environment, just right for the best tea on earth. Even organic teas grown at sea level, lower elevations and even mid mountain teas are still exposed to chemical fertilizers in the air and soil from other nearby farms.

The wild teas are some of the most highly prized and highly guarded tea trees in China. I have seen some trees protected by the government even. One farmer I work with has a wild tea tree that sells for over $30,000 per kilo.

Wild tea is not highly promoted in modern day China, as it simply is impossible to sell in mass quantity.  If you meet real tea connoisseurs here they all seem to have a private stash of wild and ancient teas.

Tea Pickers on Wild Tea Trees

What do you think makes wild tea stand out amongst it’s other commercially grown counterparts.

Wild teas have much better Qi and give you more energy because the tree is much stronger than a normal farmed tree. The roots grow deeper into the ground absorbing more nutrients than a farmed tea is capable of. In addition the soil must be very good for a tea to grow wild. One of the biggest benefits of drinking wild tea is increased Qi or energy. It can greatly enhance not only energy levels but also mood.

Because the trees that the tea comes from are ancient and or wild, they are much stronger than younger trees that must be tended gingerly. The result is a much stronger Qi feeling. Some call it a Qi high. Each wild tea has its own unique feeling and Qi effect. Drinking wild tea can save money because it can be brewed on average 8-15 times per cup. I have seen some wild Puer teas brewed up to 40 times per cup!

Average teas on the market can only be brewed 1-3 times per cup and the more expensive ones 3-5 times per cup. Wild teas usually can be brewed many more times, you get to taste many more flavors as each cup slightly changes in taste like a good wine that gets better when it breathes. Wild teas often reveal a more complex, deep taste that no commercially grown tea can ever compare to.

How can someone be confident they are buying wild tea; are there many instances of companies or individuals marketing their tea as wild, when in fact it isn’t.

Actually in China there are many people who will say anything to get you to buy their tea. That is why I demand to go directly to the tea mountain personally to verify that it is in fact a wild and or ancient tree. I have spoken to American companies that buy their teas from China without ever going to see where the tea comes from. They buy their tea off of websites like Alibaba.com or go to tea auctions. This is a bad idea. For example, the laws here are difficult to enforce so buying tea from someone in China you have not met is really risky. They can claim anything.

I have also found through my research that 90% of the tea companies here are tea traders, not farmers. They will all tell you they own the tea mountain, but in reality they don’t. Most of the good tea I have learned does not get exported. They keep it here for the local market. I have had to fly all over China and go to some very remote places to meet the farmer and see the tea mountains that we were going to buy from.

On a personal level, what does tea mean to you.

Tea for me is a source of happiness, healing and well being. Each tea has it’s own unique spirit and when you drink wild tea you can begin to really feel the spirit of that tea. I drank many farmed teas for many years and enjoyed it, but when I was introduced to wild teas by a well-known Chinese Medicine doctor in the US my view of tea changed forever.

I never knew tea could be so powerful. After coming to China and meeting Master You, he taught me the spirit of tea. He taught me how to connect with the spirit of the tea. The stronger the tea tree the stronger the spirit, the more benefits.

I like the Taiwanese saying about the three essentials – food, water and tea.

Once you drink tea like I do you really miss it if you don’t drink it for one day.

Smelling Phoenix Mountain Tea being dried

Who is the most intriguing character you’ve met during your tea travels.

Master Luo is by far the most intriguing character I have met during my tea travels and in China.

He is Master You’s Taoist master. When I met him I thought he was just some little old man. He was dressed in raggedy old clothes, old sandals, and a jacket that looked old and worn. He was staring at an empty plastic coke bottle with an LED flashlight for a very longtime. I thought this guy was strange when I first saw him. He also acted like he didn’t speak English and would only speak to my translator in Cantonese.

Sometime later I found out not only could he speak English, but actually quite fluently, much more than the average Chinese. I also realized he owned the teahouse and a Taoist tea company. To make matters even more interesting, he is regarded as a very high level Taoist master in Hong Kong and mainland China. He is most famous for his Ghost catching abilities.

His knowledge on I Ching and Taoism is beyond anyone I have met. He once said to me:

“When you meet the real Taoist, you will never know. They will come dressed like a normal person and they hide their abilities.”

He said most of the Taoists I see in the temples here are for tourists and really do not even know what real Taoism is. His stories of Taoists living in the mountains for hundreds of years, ghost catching and more was very hard for me to take in, but I have met his disciples who are all amazing people. They all have their own successful businesses even, functioning as very normal seeming people in society.

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Comments
3 Responses to “ancient tea trees and wild tea hunting in china”
  1. Jackie says:

    Absolutely love these photos – they are wonderful. Thanks for this interesting interview with Jay & his thoughts and reflections on (wild) tea. I’ve just one request; could you explain a little what “Qi” means? I’m not sure it’s entirely self explanatory 🙂

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