There is a certain percentage of our population that just doesn’t paint by the numbers and is hard-wired to explore and absorb. I am firmly in that percentage. Many years ago, I left my home for what to me was a distant and far-away place in search of the world. That place was Taiwan for me. I ended up living in Chia-yi City which is just under the shadow of Mt. Ali (Alishan).
While I was there, I spent the weekends riding motorcycles all around Alishan and, for me it was magically free, beautiful and mysterious. One day, in Chia-yi, a friend of mine brewed up a small pot of Alishan High Mountain Oolong tea. I remember it clearly. It was a fantastic tea because I was suddenly transported to the top of Alishan. The smell, the mist, the soil, the atmosphere… all of it was in that cup. It was AMAZING and I never knew tea could do that. It’s like it captured the spirit of the place in that little tea cup.
Well after that, I was hooked!
Fast forward… I came back to the states, finished College and went back to Taiwan. I attended a university there on scholarship to study Mandarin Chinese. Made lots of good friends, met my wife (She’s Taiwanese). We got married there and back here in the states. By this time, I had a lot of good teas in our cupboard because the Taiwanese are wonderfully hospitable and they knew I liked tea! I’m so crazy, I once hiked a full day to the top of a mountain in PuLi just to get water from a stream to make my tea, which I did and it was amazing. After 2 ½ years, I came back to the states and started my own unrelated business which is our main livelihood to this day.
Fast forward… Suddenly, about four years ago, I got the wild idea to start a tea website… which I did and then some retail space became available right next to our normal business. So we started a tea store!
Here’s what I did: Now, in Taiwan you normally can’t just buy teas wholesale right off a farm. They sell them to a wholesaler who sells them either in Taiwan somewhere or Mainland or Japan. So, you have to have some solid connection, preferably family because farmers are known to cut their teas with teas from Vietnam or Thailand because of higher profit margins. The tea industry can be a little shady and gangster-ism is not absent in Taiwan’s Tea industry. So, be careful no matter where in the world you buy teas.
Fortunately, I have lots of Taiwanese friends who are straight up experts at tea and they helped introduce me to farmers through family connections they have. My own family connections helped also, my mother in law has a classmate who married a Baozhong tea farmer in Pinling, for instance. My brother in law has a classmate whose dad has been a tea buyer for 40 years, he gives me a lot of advice and he’s a wonderful resource. I love that guy!
Leveraging these connections, we couldn’t be happier with the farmers we use in SanXia, PinLing, XinZhu, AliShan, ShanLinXi, RiYueTan, and we’re always looking for new teas from avant-garde farmers to add. I meet with them and all my Taiwanese friends every year I go back to Taiwan. It's pretty cool.
My idea was to offer top-quality Taiwanese teas grown on small family farms to North America which we are doing. I’m perfectly happy with the quality of the teas we are able to directly source. Recently, we are starting to add “Guest Teas” from other world-class tea growing regions so I’m teaming up with other vendors like us to fill out our line a little better. So far the teas are AMAZING. Our long-term goal is to be able to travel more and build a business we feel good about.
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