On Sunday, April 24th, just a couple of days after our last day of harvest, we held a live stream from our house in Banna to talk about the new tea season, and not least to have a relaxing chat together with so many passionate tea-people.
First comes the weather, that this year has been pretty benevolent: we had more rain than usual since mid-March, but there has not been anything catastrophic or damaging for neither the tea trees nor the yield and the sustainability of the whole forest.
To have a relatively rainy harvesting season means to cope with some added problems:
Our trees are located on the highest part of Bama side in Nannuo mountain, and they cannot be reached safely if the country road suffers more than a few hours of rain.
It means that each rainy day slowed down the harvest, making it more difficult to harvest all the buds on time. Moreover, the rain accelerates their sprouting and every period of good weather is increasingly busy.
The leaves often had a slightly higher percentage of water, making the shaqing slightly more delicate: they required a longer time to reach the ideal amount of water before rolling, and the longer the time in contact with heat, the more risks to over-cook them.
The withering phase has also been affected: due to the often humid atmosphere, it required more time to reach the ideal level, and it needed to be checked more carefully than usual.
The sun-drying we apply to all the three tea types we produce - Pu'er shengpu, Dianhong red tea and Yueguangbai white tea - then needed to be planned with care, therefore the weather forecast was our daily source of truth and hopes.
Three years into the pandemic: movement restrictions
During the beginning of 2022 a new surge of Covid cases severely impacted East-Asian countries, including China, where the pandemic had been mostly under control with a zero-cases policy for over two years.
The reaction of the Chinese government to keep the impact of Covid at the lowest rate possible has affected the tea industry on several layers: production - especially the plucking -, and trade balance.
A sign at the entrance of a village in Youle mountain. It says: "People and vehicles that do not belong to the village are forbidden to entry".
At a production level, it deeply affected the availability of skilled staff to fulfil the seasonal demand of labor; it was true especially regarding the plucking of the fresh leaves: as we said here-above the days with positive weather were fewer and needed the maximum effort to effectively pluck all the buds, but it had not always been the case.
People not only were not able to move from one country to another, like it was for the previous two years, but also from one county to another: thus few workers were allowed to move to other valleys and mountains for the harvest season, determining a scarcity of labor and a great increase in its cost.
Some villages in famous Pu'er mountains decided to agree on a maximum salary; in some border areas, such as Yiwu, not even construction workers were allowed to enter, creating a generalised shortage of labor.
Tea producers on mountains were clearly more isolated: less people moved from one province to another, with a general dramatic reduction of business trips for professional purchases, learning trips, and leisure travels.
It means that producers have seen a decrease in their marginality, in favour of intermediaries with roots in cities, and brands, with both physical and online shops.
Whereas the raising demand for high-quality tea is increasing assuring higher prices for the most renown terroir, the producers from lesser known areas lost marginality in favour of big buyers and commercial brands.
The limitation of Shenzhen at the beginning of the year, and then the big impact on the logistic center of Pudong, Shanghai, created considerable problems to the export of teas. The major couriers all had some period of complete stop, determining higher fees on the available options. Moreover, the Russian invasion of Ukraine made it impossible to ship by railway, increasing the difficulties.
Currently shipping between two Chinese provinces still has limitations, due to strict control on movement of people between different areas.
How is the current state of international travel to China?
Currently entries in China are strongly restricted; whatever the nationality and the port of departure, on arrival is requested a quarantine time of 3 to 4 weeks in a special structure, followed by 1 to 3 weeks of health monitoring.
Foreign passport holders without a permanent resident permit need one of these two requirements: have a PU letter, that is a special authorisation released by the Chinese Government, or a Chinese vaccination. The PU letter is released to government-related roles or for project of relevant importance; the Chinese vaccine is available only for certain countries.
At the moment, considering the delicate situation in Shanghai, that is the largest port of arrival, the available flights are few and considerably expensive; moreover, most of the citizens from European countries are not allowed to have stop-overs.
For further information and the updated procedures we recommend to contact the local Chinese Embassy or Consulate.
We don't expect a policy change before Autumn 2022, after the CCP congress and a new vaccine.
Hopefully we will be able to welcome visitors from Mainland China by this summer, and international guests from January-March 2023, at least for long-stay.
We look forward to it; your passion is what motivates us, and to share our leaves, places, and time, is our greatest pleasure.