Friday, December 28, 2012

Guest Post: Sourcing Tales- How We Found our Dancong

Today I am featuring a guest post from Derek Chew. 

Sourcing Tales- How We Found our Dancong

One morning, in a room in Guangdong province….

“Okay, let me see your notes. You ranked B first, C second and A third. I actually picked B first also but A second. So which is which?”

“A is labeled 2, B is labeled 3 and C is labeled 1. I’m guessing B is from Mr. Huang?”

“Let me see, 1 is from Huang, 2 is from Lin and 3 is from Chen”

“No kidding?”

“Yeah, I would have thought that with all his awards, Huang would…… Anyway, let’s eliminate the other 2 and carry on.”

That was what transpired when my wife and I went to Guangdong to source for our Dancong. Does our exchange sound cryptic?

Allow me to explain.

Because sourcing for is the lifeblood of our business, we need to be objective. We realized very often subconsciously our brain tells us certain teas are better than others before we try it.

It can be reasons like packaging, prices or the vendor. Whichever the case, we approach a tea, often with preconceived notions and hence there’s a placebo effect.

That is all fine if you are drinking for leisure or just buying 50g or so but in our case, we need to get the best quality within a certain price range.

We used blind tasting to eliminate the biasness. I would label the teas while my wife would then place them in a receptacle and use a new set of labels before handing to me to brew.

This way both of us would not know which tea came from which vendor and approach the tea entirely based on its own merit.

Bearing in mind this was conducted a day after literally drinking hundreds of infusions of Dancong and purchasing quite a bit of samples.

Without knowing which vendor each sample came from, I would brew them in exactly the same way- almost 1/2 full, boiling water, infused for 3 minutes. The resultant brew is extremely bitter but all the flaws of the tea surface.

Where flash infusions are often insufficient to assess the merits of teas, prolonged infusion with high heat and large quantities will separate the good ones from the mediocre ones. Doing it blind will prevent our prejudices from clouding our judgment.

This is especially so since genial personalities may not be the best producers or have the best teas. While we may like Huang personally for his interesting anecdotes but his teas, when put to the acid test, came in second.

Of course before we started we were worried that Producer X (who shall remain anonymous since there are not THAT many Dancong producers) who was somewhat a pain to deal with would have the best tasting tea but thankfully that was a conundrum we did not have to face on that occasion.

That morning we repeated that another 2 rounds before settling on our Dancong.

Not every tea was selected in this manner but we found this method is very useful for us to mercilessly select the highest quality teas.

Of course the day before, we continue to sit with the producers and listen to their fascinating tales but the reality of sourcing is often less story-telling and more ruthless objectivity than people realize.

Having said that, next Spring Harvest I will still visit Huang again, perhaps if we bring in a new type of Dancong, his version might bring something a different element to the table.

If not, I can still listen to his stories.

Author Bio:

Derek Chew owns and operates Peony Tea S. – an online tea shop that specializes in loose leaf tea from China and Taiwan that are free from additives.

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