I really loved being a part of the 15th China Global Tea Fair in Shenzhen and the entire trip was a great success!
I was there to speak about the growing demand in the UK for Speciality teas and herbal teas and how the shape of British tea drinking is changing. The UK has seen significant growth in fine quality leaf teas and herbs over the last five years and as the world’s largest producers of tea, many Chinese companies are now wanting to know more and more about this growing market. With many companies looking to export their products to the UK, often for the first time, the plethora of rules and regulations relating to the import of tea can be quite a minefield and so I has been asked to join an international panel of consultants to give advice to Chinese companies who wish to export their teas to the U.K. and Europe.
After the China Global Tea Fair was over, I travelled to Bangkok via Hong Kong and spent the next few days in the charming company of the Chairman of The Thailand Tea Association, Dittawat Steven Kaewkarnjanadit who was kind enough to give me an in-depth tour of the temples and tea markets of Bangkok’s Chinatown.
After four days in Bangkok, I then travelled north to Chiang Mai where I spent Christmas Day and Boxing Day before meeting up with a large group of tea people from Malaysia, China, Thailand and Australia. The entire group then travelled further north to the Chiang Rai, where we were privileged to stay at the Lao Lee Resort. Mr Lao is a former chairman of the Thailand Tea Association and gave us all a wonderful tea tasting and a very kind gift of an 11 year aged Pu’erh Tea Cake which is absolutely delicious and can be infused up to 15 times! Lao Lee Resort is extremely beautiful and is set in the foothills of the mountains of Northern Thailand.
After leaving Lao Lee Resort, we headed for Doi Chaang Coffee Estate, which was owned by the charming Jennifer, who is the wife of Veichang Pan who’s family owns the amazing Wawee Tea Estate. Doi Chaang proved to be a wonderful experience as it is currently harvest season and I got some great photographs of the myriad of coffee bushes with the cherries just reaching ripeness. We were also privileged to have a coffee cupping with beans that had literally just been picked and dried the day before – you can’t get fresher than that! Leaving Doi Chaang we descended the mountain and headed for Wawee Tea Estate, which is owned by Veichang’s family, and when Veichang said he’d arranged a special day for us, I was absolutely delighted to learn that day was to be spent entirely on the tea estate and we spent the morning picking tea from bushes aged between 7 and 800 years old. The group I was part of, consisted of 15 adults and two children and it took the entire group all morning to pick one large basket of leaves suitable for making into tea. We then returned with this large basket to the Wawee tea factory where we pan fried the leaves and were shown how to hand-roll them. The fruits of the labour of the entire group for the whole morning yielded just enough shoots to make about 1kg of tea! Other professional tea pickers were bringing entire baskets of leaves to the factory that they had picked themselves. These pickers are employed directly by Wawee and have worked with the Pan family for many years. Veichang and his brother then set us all on making our own Pu’erh Tea Cakes and helped us each to steam the tea and form the tea into the traditional flat cake using a stone mould. We were each given the cake that we had made as a present and I now have mine in pride of place on the mantelpiece in my office. I am very grateful to Veichang and his family for extending such hospitality and kindness and for looking after us all so very well.
We then journeyed the following morning to an Opium Museum which told the story of Opium and Heroin production over the last 300 years and had the weirdest Kids Corner I’ve ever seen! We then took a boat-ride along the Mekong River and visited the two other countries within the Golden Triangle, Myanmar and Laos, we simply stopped in each of these areas and visited markets alongside the boat stops. Passport control was informal to say the least and whilst visiting these markets I saw certain ‘delicacies’ that would quite frankly be illegal over here (including some of the most bizarre infused grain spirits that I have ever seen). It was easy to resist the urge to bring any home.
After this extremely unique and memorable morning we headed back to our hotel to prepare for New Year’s Eve, which we all celebrated with great gusto! On the 1st day of 2018 our merry band departed to their various homes in China, Malaysia and Australia and I was left with Veichang and Jennifer and spent a delightful two days visiting temples and winding down after what had been a very intense 23 days. I would recommend visiting Northern Thailand to anyone who is interested in tea and coffee and I saw things that I have never seen before whilst on this trip, and I feel privileged to have shared this experience with such lovely kind people.
More wonderful photos of the visit are available on the Northern Tea Merchants Facebook page here.