Mrs Wu, wife of our Longjing farmer
Every time I see Mrs Wu I feel happy just to see the big smile on her round, rosy cheek. The plump, sunny woman is always energetic, moving the huge sacks of Longjing green tea that her family just made to show me. Her unmistakable Zhejiang rural accent is always delivered with the joyful optimism of a farmer who has so much positive energy in life.
Longjing black tea
She seldom shares the Longjing in our tasting cups, but always has some reddish brown leaves soaking in her own mug. “Is that Jiuqu Hongmei?” I asked when I first saw it. A puzzle froze behind her thick eyelids for a split second before apprehension changed the shape of the eyes to narrow crescent moons again. “Yes, that’s right. I drink Longjing hongcha more often. Too much green tea upsets my stomach.”
Jiuqu Hongmei, the traditional name of Longjing black tea, was more seen in books than in the tea market at the turn of the century.
When I began working with the Wu’s then, processing of this historic black tea was not quite right yet. Few in Hangzhou had picked up black tea production again anyway. As I raised the question of degree of zao-qing ( oxidation — in the Western understanding of the process ), she said that was what Longjing hongcha had always been. It was quite a tedious process to convey better black tea production to a person who had been living in tea for all her life.
Red Plum Classic, the English name that I have since given it and now used by many traders — has only gradually gained enough popularity to push for improvement in production techniques. This year, as I praised her of the much improved taste, I wondered whether she remembers her defensive response when I first walked into her little warehouse.
We have the best ever Red Plum Classic this year — heightened aroma, smoother, sweeter body and good depth with the signature plummy note — I feel so much more comfortable drinking it. Maybe so does Mrs Wu, just not sure if she remembers that less harmonious drink in her mug 15 years ago.