Austin Hodge’s Qingming Report 2014

Qing Ming 2014

By Austin Hodge, President of Seven Cups
Seven Cups is an importer of Chinese tea, located in Tucson, Arizona

Filed April 6, 2014. An abridged version appeared in World Tea News previously. Read our previous story about Qing Ming and its meaning from our April 7 Need to Know post.

I started writing this on the way up Xigui Mountain in Lincang Country to check out the condition of some ancient tea trees. We raced  along a one lane winding road for about 80 kilometers, starting in Lincang City, a thousand feet above the valley floor. Along the mountain roads there are hard working stone carvers making new facades for the ancestors of local tea growers, as well as plenty of colorful fake money to be burned so that they have some cash. There is plenty of incense also to celebrate Qing Ming, the tomb sweeping holiday, pivotal for both ancestor worship and tea. It was typical of my trip traveling through Lincang Country, visiting areas that are producing some of the most sought after puer. This puer is certainly some of the most expensive, ranging into the thousands of dollars per kilo.

My first question has been how’s the weather? How has it affected the tea? In this area of Yunnan the weather has not been problematic.  The old tea trees are producing excellently. The prices here have been doubling every year, and questions about a new bubble are met with exuberant denial even though the evidence is abundant that a crash is coming.

A few weeks ago I was in Hangzhou in Zhejiang, and then I traveled to Anhui and Fujian. The harvest had just begun in Zhejiang, coming a few days before I got the in Xinchang, guaranteeing a very robust pre-Qingming harvest. In all of those places I could not find any evidence that the hot, dry summer last year would have any effect on this years crop. There has never been any time in history, that I know of, where the was no pre-Qingming tea produced, so I can only see those dire predictions coming out of the Chinese press last year, as an attempt to imitate American cable news journalism. I was a little bit early for the harvest to begin in Huangshan but there was no indication that there would not be a great crop this year. The same was true in the Wuyishan area where twice I was caught in the rain searching for shelter while up in the mountains.

On our way to Xishuanbana in Southern Yunnan, just out side of Jingmai, we were caught in a violent thunderstorm while having dinner. According to one of the peasants that owned the place, the government had been seeding the clouds to create some badly needed rain. The ferocious storm tried to blow his little corrugated metal Chinese greasy spoon away while we ate. Just down the road we passed a massive metal billboard sign that had been blown off of a roof blocking most of the road. This last winter brought record low temperatures to the south of Yunnan; snow fell for the first time in some places, damaging some of the forests.

The day before Qing Ming, yesterday, I got a much more reliable report from an old friend in Youle, on top of one of the ‘Six Famous Mountains’ of Xishaunbana. Yang Guanqi is one of my favorite producers in the area  and my go-to guy when it comes to any question about Xishuanbana.  The rumor about the cloud seeding was probably not true, because the rain had been going on for days, and it rained while we were looking over his ancient tree garden in the afternoon. Still the drought that has been going on for years in Southern Yunnan will not be countered by a few days rain. It has drastically affected the old trees and overall production is way down and will be this year also. The trees will not be harmed, but their new growth will be small and has been decreasing every year. This year will be the no different. The younger bushes are going to produce more quality in contrast. Tea consumers should be very skeptical when buying any cakes being advertised as coming from old trees. The price of all puer will go up this year.

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