by kate on October 11th, 2012
Canton Tea Club Week 2: ‘That Pouchong…’
Those of you that were customers of Canton before joining the club will probably have heard us wax lyrical about our Pouchong many times before, and many of you might be regular drinkers. It may seem like we are taking a very safe route by putting this tea in the Tea Club box – as it is one we stock on our website and indeed one of our bestsellers. But we just couldn’t pass up the opportunity to share this tea with as many people as possible – and tell the story of why we are in this business.
Canton co-founder Barney Allen: Why are we doing this? Why do we exhaust ourselves to start a tea company in the teeth of competition from giant corporations and fake independent companies?
Er, that’ll be the Pouchong – the enigmatic green/oolong tea from Taiwan that led us into this mayhem.
Taipei 1988: ‘It’s just green tea’ said Professor Lin, as the large dark green leaves lurked, unfurling in my cup. I knew I was tasting something special. At once sweet and dry, mineral and floral, rich and light, complex yet direct. Sometimes we don’t know what the music is but we like it anyway. It took us over 20 years of drinking Pouchong to realise that we wanted to share it. The rest is history.
Pouchong Oolong is grown around Pingling, Wenshan County just outside Taipei. It’s so lightly oxidized, the locals call it a green tea (and we classify it as such in our shop). It’s easy to brew, easy to ‘get’ – a great gateway into green tea – but very hard to actually get.
The harvest happens suddenly, when the confluence of biodynamic elements and the rather crazy weather is right. The email comes within hours – maybe 15 grades – $30 a kilo to $3,600. The merest delay means disappointment as the more earthly-priced grades are quickly snapped up by wholesalers, who then mix it with inferior teas. We have to move fast to capture the single estate grades. We do. Can we negotiate the price? No, this is true Fair Trade, Taiwan-style: ‘You want it, or not?’. We do.
Visiting Wenshan County is weird and wonderful experience: a short drive from the suburban jungle of Taipei into a volcanic, subtropical world of impossibly steep twisting roads, small tea plantations, and tea farmers, who are delighted to see you. So keen to share tea, but perhaps even more so to press you with ‘special country dishes’ – don’t ask, don’t tell – and the oh so fiery local firewater.
Professor Lin’s cousin, Farmer Xu and his aged parents are a joy to meet. Sun-baked like their tea, delighted to show you their wares, their many wooden plaques proclaiming their victories in the tea-grading competitions, their amazing vegetable patch, and their stunning views.
So try their Pouchong. Dump it in a mug and keep topping up with hot water. Or get your stopwatch out and brew it gong fu style to explore the range of flavour and texture as you go through the infusions. Pouchong has that indefinable, elusive quality of everything good. It is an expression of the producers’ unbending will to create something fabulous. As Edgar said when he first started drinking it: ‘That Pouchong…’