All photos credited to Vicu @teaproject.uy
One of the biggest draws to tea for us at Tea Drunk is its ability to build a bridge across cultural divides and unite people. This belief was one of the founding pillars of our company and is a major driving force of everything we still do today, nearly ten years later.
While we focus on opening access to the pinnacle of tea from China's most prestigious terroir to the Western world, we believe this act of cultural connection is happening worldwide.
In February 2022, our team traveled to Misiones, Argentina, to meet the Sands family at the Alma Annette Tea Farm to teach the local farmers how to improve their tea processing techniques. We coordinated with the fantastic teams at Soy Te from Mexico and Pei Chen Tea Palace from Buenos Aries to host a group of connoisseurs from ten countries to join the experience. This trip was really an exemplification of the Americas coming together in the spirit of tea!
Arriving at the Sands' family farm was a powerful experience; many of us have patiently waited years through the pandemic to be next to tea trees again. Others got to experience seeing tea in its plant form for the very first time.
The Sands family has an incredible story and history, which you can read about here. We immediately felt their desire to treat tea well and their genuine passion for the trees. The farm has a variety of tea plants, their heirloom forest of 80-year-old trunk-style tea trees is as tall as a canopy (they even call it their "cathedral of tea," and their heirloom fields have more cultivar diversity than we've seen in one place anywhere in China. We believe this cultivar diversity is due to the mix of seeds imported when the Sands family arrived 80 years ago vs. the Chinese terroir that has been established for centuries, where we more often see indigenous cultivars that are quite stable and genetically similar to one another.
The first day we arrived, so did the rains. This region has been plagued by drought for months, with fires threatening nearby nature preserves and agriculture. So we all rejoiced and appreciated that the rains would help the plants on the farm and the whole region and natural surroundings. Climate change and drought are an issue that occurs in many tea regions globally and is a significant factor in vintage quality year-over-year.
After we all settled in, we went straight to work. Over six days, we harvested and processed six categories of tea: green tea, yellow tea, white tea, pu er sheng cha (which we called Sheng Guarani), wu long, and red tea. With theory lectures, hands-on processing, and in-the-field examples, we all learned an incredible amount about the difficulties and intricacies of processing tea. Making artisanal tea is not like mass manufacturing, where they "set it and forget it" with timers and machines. This processing style requires the maker to be hands-on with the tea 24/7. Being "on tea's schedule" means being attentive enough to the tea and knowledgeable enough about the process to know when steps are complete and how to adapt to environmental changes. The persistent heat and sporadic rains created a few less than ideal processing days, but we learned how to adjust and adapt to make a delicious and complex final product.
There's a bright future for tea in the Southern Hemisphere, with places like Alma Annette making waves and putting themselves on the map. If you're interested in having an experience like this, sign up for our newsletter to be in the know when we return to Alma Annette for the spring season (around October).