We believe women should be celebrated all year round, but with International Women’s Day just around the corner, we wanted to highlight some of the incredible female farmers we work with. Traditionally, tea is a very labor intensive process. Often men are in charge of the physical and skill driven production elements of its creation. Men are also in charge of the land, tea fields are inherited through the male lineage. While this feels like an antiquated practice, it is still the norm in most of rural China.
So where does that leave women in the process? Women often handle the business tasks - the sales, tastings, client dealings, etc. Most often, women play a supporting role in the tea industry, so we wanted to celebrate and share with you four women we work with directly that take on a leading role in the craft. These four women come from three different famous tea growing regions, and are all from different generations. It’s quite incredible to see the different roles they play while considering their generational placement.
Xu A-yi of our Jin Ji Shan Huang Ya
Xu A-yi is the matriarch of our Huang Ya Yellow Tea tea. (A-yi is the polite addition added to females a generation older than you). Her and her sister married two brothers in the village, and now Xu A-yi is the tea making expert of the house. We love being around her, she’s full of such personality! Always laughing, very loud and boisterous in the most endearing way.
Her husband works in the city, and sometimes cannot make it back to the village for tea season, leaving her to handle the hard labor. Her son always comes to assist her, but it’s really Xu A-yi’s skill that makes the tea as incredible as it is. She’s especially skilled at Zhuang Huo/La Huo, a very difficult flash roasting process during the refining part of Huang Ya.
What we love about Xu A-yi’s story is not only is she the main person in-charge of the hard laborious aspects of the traditional tea making, but she’s created a name for herself in her abilities and skill. For her generation as a woman, this is incredibly empowering to witness.
Chen Ding Hua (aka Sao Zi) of our Lu An Gua Pian
Chen Ding Hua (who we call Sao Zi - the name of the wife of someone who’s your generation but older than you) is half of the partner duo that makes our Gua Pian Green Tea. The two of them are not just a married couple, but truly a team in every aspect. They are a beautiful couple, and do not shy away from showing their affection publicly. In rural China, most couples their age tend to refrain from any sort of public displays of affection. Sao Zi leads the tea pickers to the mountains for picking and works side by side with her husband late into the evening processing the tea. Her involvement as an equal partner is bold and empowering for women to see.
During the off season, she shoulders all of the labor intensive work of maintaining tea fields while her husband works in the city. This consists of some of the hardest tasks - pruning, loosening the soil, pulling out the weeds, etc. Many farmers outsource this part of the farming as it often happens in summer when it’s the hottest in the sun. Sao Zi does this all by herself, an incredible feat for anyone.
Sao Zi is also very well read, even without much formal education. But according to her daughter, she’s quite shy about it. She’s also always the family member who insists on helping others when they are building a home or enduring a major event in the village. This concept of helping neighbors is very common in rural China, but often the men go do the heavy lifting and assisting.
Zhang Hui & Zhang Ying of a selection of our Wu Yi Yan Cha Wu Longs
These two sisters are part of a new generation. Born into a family with no sons and two daughters, historically this would have been a sign of a disadvantaged family in rural China. But instead, the Zhang family has completely changed the narrative. The family makes a selection of our Yan Chan Wu Long Teas including: Ban Tian Yao; Huang Guan Yin; Qi Lan; Mei Zhan; and Jin Mu Dan.
The girls grew up hating tea because of the hard labor involved in helping their parents. That all changed once they left home and received degrees in Tea Studies from university. They saw the potential of tea in a completely different way, and were able to visit tea regions around the world (like Korea and Australia) to understand the business and industry on a much larger level. Travel access aside, a university degree is still considered a rarity and a huge accomplishment in rural China.
The girls are both incredible tasters, with multiple notebooks each season detailing the tasting notes of each and every tea. They joke that there may be others who drink more tea than them, but no one pays as close attention to each sip as they do. They will go out of their way to drink everyones tea to really get to the bottom of what makes each one exciting and how to better their own tea. Zheng Hui was the first in Wu Yi Shan to be selected as a brewer to the judges of the Tea Competition in the region. She has since led and trained many brewers for this incredibly respected tea competition in China.
They are both also very adept to taking charge in male dominated/aggressive moments of production. For example, when picking up tea leaves from the UNESCO site in the region, it’s very competitive and chaotic. These sisters come by in their pick up truck and give then men a run for their money with their focus and abilities. If this part of the process is delayed, it can cause your entire tea making schedule to be late. So it is very important, and the sisters know how to handle the rush.
These women have dedicated their careers not only to tea, but to the evolution of the industry. Their diligence, constant pursuit of quality, keen evaluation skills and charismatic personalities have earned them great respect in the industry. This is notable and hard earned in a rural area where families with only daughters are seen as hopeless for their future. It’s with this dedication that their family is now one of the top award winning farms at tea competitions including the most prestige Dou Cha Sai. We’re extremely proud to know these women and work so closely with them on some of the best Yan Cha Wu Longs on earth.