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March 16, 2021
Ms. Qiong's philosophical approach to tea farming, tea crafting, and way of life
自然農法 shizen nōhō, in Japanese / "natural-farm tea"
Living mindfully and in harmony with nature; the farming and crafting of tea in its most natural state—without additional superfluous elements.
The principle of natural farming is to ensure the ecological well-being of the Earth and land. It pays attention to the balance of the whole ecosystem—the interactions between animals, plants, soil and humans. No fertilizers are used, chemical nor organic. Only plant material compost like decaying leaves are used. In addition, no pesticides are used, not even biological pesticides. More than an approach to agriculture alone, it also embodies a way of living mindfully and in harmony with nature and Earth's ecosystems. It is a regenerative way of farming and living.
Ms. Qiong's single-minded intention: regenerative way of farming and living
Unlike most tea craftsmen, Ms. Qiong’s foray into tea making was not for the love of tea. Her intention was to restore and enhance the vitality of the soil and land in her hometown village. Ms. Qiong grew up watching her father and mother harvest and make tea. She says the tea farming practices of today are vastly different from what they were when she was young. “When I was young, our tea trees were not sprayed with pesticides and we did not use chemical fertilizers. There were not many pests. I think that our present day farming practices are too destructive for the Earth. I hope the soil and earth can return to its natural, balanced state."
She firmly believes the key to our future lies in reconnecting ourselves with nature: living and farming in accordance with nature’s principles. Guided by this pure intention, she adopted natural farming methods to care for her tea garden and the crafting of her teas.
Her remarkable story: from corporate life to tea farming
Ms. Qiong’s hometown is Xiufeng Village in Fu’an County of Fujian Province, where the history of tea cultivation spans hundreds of years. Originally, there were around 100 families living in the village, growing tea for generations. In the 1980’s, an upsurge of factories were followed by the migration of workers to bigger cities. The tea farmers who stayed in the village worked hard year by year, harvesting and making tea, but were only able to earn a meager $600 annually. Over time, more young people moved away, until only the elders were left. Ms. Qiong and her family left their village and moved to Fuzhou in 1995.
She studied architecture in university and later worked as the Chief Financial Officer in Xiamen. Ten years had passed and she felt metropolitan and corporate life was becoming more and more soul crushing. After the passing of her father, she decided to return to her hometown where she stayed in their centuries-old wooden family house and started making tea. Her daily life took a drastic turn from working a nine-to-five job in a skyscraper to working in her sparsely populated hometown among the tea gardens in the mountains.
Her uncle, who is eighty-something years old, had been making tea all of his life. He was the one who taught her the basic techniques. A few handwoven bamboo trays for drying tea along with the vague memories of her mother making black tea as a child—this was the humble beginnings of Ms. Qiong’s naturally farmed tea.
A one-woman natural tea farm
She sets out each day by sunrise to the sound of Buddhist music, weeding in the tea garden. She sprays her homemade natural insect repellant of fermented chili and grass. During the first year, pests in the tea garden ate almost half of the new growth tea leaves. “What was interesting was the further you went up in the mountain and away from the vegetable farms, the less pests there were. I didn’t know the reason back then”, she said. In the second year, she discovered why. “It was because of the pesticides and chemical fertilizers that were used before. These insects could no longer live in the Earth; they had to come out of the soil to eat the tea leaves. If the Earth and soil were clean, the insects would stay in the soil.” After a while, she didn’t have to worry about insect control anymore as natural balance was established and the insects had their own habitats to return to.
From then on, she decided to let the tea garden grow completely naturally, without any human intervention, allowing the soil and land to restore to its natural balance.
Ms. Qiong is not one to be concerned with professional knowledge or the chemistry of tea making. She simply wants to make use of the decades old deserted tea garden that her father left her to make clean, radiant and delicious tea.
Her teas are made with faith and conviction, yielding a tea that is simple, clean, and soft with an unwavering stamina. In the spring season, she harvests during the daytime and crafts the tea at night. It is extremely labour intensive, but it is the only way she wants to make her tea. Since she tends to the tea garden all by herself, she is only able to produce a very limited amount of tea each year.
There is immensity in the singularity and simplicity of Ms. Qiong’s character and her tea. We are deeply grateful and extremely proud to be able to share her teas here with you. Her approach to tea embodies everything that we stand for and is the very reason we chose to open this tea shop six and a half years ago.
Find her Spring Light tea here.