There is a certain percentage of our population that just can'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) in 1990.
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, there was no going back!
After a 6-month stint I returned home to finish College, but after graduation immediately returned to Taiwan to attend language school at National Taiwan Normal University in Taipei. During this 2 1/2 year period I made lots of good friends, met a girl named Chia and got married. Tea was a constant companion and I was pretty crazy about it. I remember I once hiked a full day to the top of a mountain in Puli just to get fresh spring water from a stream to make my tea, which I did and it was amazing.
At the time, China was booming and I had every intention of being a liaison between Chinese and American companies. But with the prospect of children now I decided to return to the States and establish my own Martial Arts Studio nearer my family. Throughout these years I returned to Taiwan many times to visit family and friends taking the opportunity to explore, learn and enjoy a lot of tea. My own tea collection was formidable and to this day, not an evening goes by without tea at my side as I teach, train and encourage students at my traditional Karate Dojo.
Here's how BTTC started. One day in 2010 I noticed a tea store had opened in my local mall. I was thrilled to see it but upon exploring what they had, I couldn't believe what they were doing: passing off the cheapest teas out there as "gourmet" to defenseless consumers. I was completely indignant! This wasn’t anything like the teas I drank on a regular basis and I couldn't let the reputation of my passion be tarnished by low-quality factory, non-transparent teas dressed in fancy packaging sold at exorbitant prices.
And just like that, I decided to start my own tea project. In my store I would offer the teas I knew well; small-batch, single-origin, family-farm direct teas from the best regions in Taiwan. In order to have as much first-hand knowledge of the teas and the farms I would source them directly from the human-beings who grew them. It was time to head into the mountains for the first time.
Fortunately, I have lots of Taiwanese tea-expert friends who helped introduce me to those they knew to be the best farmers. For instance, my friend Xiulian introduced me to Farmer Zeng in Shanlinxi. His top-notch Misty Mountain Oolong and Shanlinxi Premium have been represented on our site year-after-year for the last ten years.
My own family connections helped also. Chia's mother has a classmate who married a Baozhong tea farmer in Pinglin. She called her friend and arranged for me to be picked up at a bus stop down the mountain from the farm. He turned out to be Farmer Chang, one of the best farmers out there! These tea connections multiplied and we soon started sourcing directly from farmers in places like Alishan, Sun-Moon Lake, Yushan, Lishan, Dayuling and many other quality places.
In 2015 we did a Kickstarter to help us expand our teas to include other amazing areas. It went double over goal and was SO much fun. From that time, we've carefully added great teas from other outstanding areas like Yunnan, Guangdong and Fujian in China and Kagoshima, Japan. Nowadays, (outside of covid) I generally spend about a month of the year in tea travel. Establishing and growing BTTC has been a lot, lot, lot of work but I'd do it all over again in a heart beat.
There are hardly better people than tea people. Tea encourages our common humanity and one of my greatest pleasures is sharing tea with friends, family and wonderful people from all walks of life. We've been fortunate to grow year after year. We have a large circle of tea friends now and some of them have even logged in more than 40 tea orders over the years :) Last year was our best year ever. I'm humbled and thrilled.
Here's to the next ten years of new adventures, friends and sharing tea. Please enjoy!
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