Talking with Postcard Teas, the first tea company to put the makers’ name and location on all 60 of their teas.
Timothy d’Offay has been exploring the world via tea for well over twenty years. An expert who makes the complex seem simple; his book ‘Easy Leaf Tea’ delivers on the joys of a hoop jug, kitchen cola and how to make tea pair better with food.
Postcard Teas is Tim’s place, born from a fascination with tea tradition in Japan, it supplies some of the most thoughtfully chosen teas from China, India and Vietnam to name a few. What makes Postcard Teas is its dedication to small tea growers and producers. We heard from Jonathan Nunn, a former customer who joined the team after a particularly convincing taste of single tree dancong.
In a nutshell, why is small tea the best tea?
– We work with farms that produce small tea in 6 countries across Asia because we believe small producers of less than 15 acres are better for people, places, and planet. When you buy tea from a small farm where there is ideally no hired help, you know that a much larger percentage of your money is going directly to the people who made the tea. Direct trade can be good but if you are buying tea from producers over 15 acres then it is usually only the owners who are benefiting financially not the people who actually make the tea.
Could you select a couple of small producers to tell us about?
– Coming from Minamata where terrible mercury pollution in the sea killed or disabled thousands of local people, Master Matsumoto believes that chemical farming is not an option for him and his family. Where he has broken new ground is by his decision to use no fertiliser, not even organic versions as he believes that all fertilisers attract insects to plants. His delicious teas have confounded critics and made the possibility of tea farming with no or low amounts of fertiliser look possible.
– Master Matsumoto studied tea agriculture in Makinohara but even then he was convinced tea could be grown without any additions. He also believes weeds have a vital role to play in improving the soil’s balance. His unusual traditional teas like his Kamairicha, which he designed his own machine to fire, as well as innovations like this black tea, which is different from the many other black teas coming out of Japan at the moment, have made him a leader of a small but significant tea movement.
– Master Xu, another small producer, is a graduate of tea studies at Fujian’s University Of Agriculture and Forestry in Fujian. He later worked for The Wuyi Institute of Tea where he specialized in researching and developing new varieties of Wuyi rock teas from historic trees as well as supervising the tea growing and processing in the Unesco protected World Heritage Wuyi Mountain area. He was responsible for taking care of the Da Hong Pao mother trees for over 15 years and he led the team that picked and processed the last ever production from the mother trees. Although he still works for The Wuyi Tea Institute, he also hand produces tea from four families land totaling just eight acres in the heart of the Unesco protected park.
What should tea drinkers look for in their choices?
– It depends on what you value. If you care about health, including the health of the people who make the tea, then you should find teas where the farmers use no pesticides – whether that’s by certification or finding a vendor who can vouch for the farmers or who does testing. If you care about inequality and social justice then try to find teas made on small farms where there is either little hired help or where it’s known that the pickers and workers who make the tea get paid a fair wage. If you care about quality and education then find a vendor who can tell you the provenance of the tea: down to the exact location, maker, cultivar and processes that go into it.
What’s coming next at Postcard Teas?
– We are experimenting with the idea of having a take-away tea menu, something we have always wanted to try but haven’t found the right way of doing. We will probably trial this out in the new year. More imminently we will have a small exhibition of tea bowls opening late November called ‘American Zen’ which will focus on the Japanese influence on American potters during the 20th century.
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