At BTTC, we normally don't deal with farmers who are not directly introduced to us by trusted friends. Unfortunately, the tea world can be pretty shady and we've found that the only way to get honest quality from honest people is to buy through long-standing connections (known as "Guanxi" in China and Taiwan). Several years ago, however, we met a now-trusted farmer quite by accident.
When we first opened our website there were two teas I really wanted to carry: Red Jade and Formosa Assam. Both of these are high-quality black teas grown mostly around the scenic Sun-Moon Lake in Central Taiwan. The problem was that I didn't know ANYONE who had a connection to a farmer who grew these teas much less a good one!
Well, there was only one thing to do... with no leads on either tea I just up and went to Sun-Moon Lake on a desperate search for a good source. I spent days searching all over the area trying every Ruby Red and Formosa Assam I could find. There are many road-side stands there catering to tourists but the quality just wasn't there and the prices were ridiculous. "There must be better tea than this", I thought. Then, while stuck waiting out a loud Taiwanese-style down-pour under a restaurant awning I noticed a gentleman with what looked to be tea-stained hands.
I asked him, "Are you a tea farmer?" Showing me his hands he said, "How could you tell?" We hit it right off and he invited me over to drink his teas with him. I was thrilled that he not only grew Ruby Red AND Formosa Assam, but his were the best I'd tasted by far! He mostly sells to people who know tea, not tourists. I've connected with several farmers since meeting them but theirs is still the best one. Each season we visit the farm, pay our respects and drink the new crop. Yum.
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