The Fear of Failing Our Customers

The Fear of Failing Our Customers
January 19, 2022 Leo Kwan
In In Focus, Tea Log
Tea plucking in Tongmuguan

Tea plucking in Tongmuguan

Possibly the first black tea ever produced, and definitely the best of its category from Wuyi, Tongmuguan One has a solid group of followers. Its flowery, intricate, full-body and smooth character is an apex in tea enjoyment. Many are keen on having it before it’s sold out.

Indeed the top batch is rare and not easy to get. Every year there is only 20 to 25 kg of it. There are always other batches around the same time, but since the time of picking, the sun intensity, which patch of the garden the leaves are from, pick quality, timing before processing, etc, etc all affect the outcome, there is always one batch that is the best. We want that one. So do a number of other traders who buy direct like us. It has always been a race.

Normally our collector, who is a relative of the factory owner, would earmark a few batches and send me samples to finalise which, a few days before the factory release them to other buyers. The selection has to happen within these few days.

Last year, because of the Wuhan virus pandemic, courier service had been constantly delayed. Fearing we might lose these batches to competitors, we forsook this sampling stage. Trusting the collector’s tasting capability, I asked him to decide for us and send the sack directly to our logistics. From the phone, he said that was the best one in many years, getting me quite excited.

So when the tea arrives with the other early Spring harvests, it was routinely tasted and evaluated. It was good, and indeed possessed some distinct characteristics.

My staff put the stock in reserve storage to rest before the tasting again for release, as we always do for most teas.

Contrary to popular myths, black tea is never the best when freshly produced. It requires resting to show its true colours. Most varieties improve with age when properly stored. One reason the myth still propagates is the flooding of the market of cut or broken leaves poorly handled and packaged throughout the wholesale trading and retail packaging process. These compromised products then further degenerate in pretty looking tins with ineffective air insulations. They are then treated as a jar of sugar or salt in the enduser’s pantry, receiving heat and moisture to hasten more quality loss.

Skeptical customers who have now been converted are storing newer releases properly for at least a year and then telling us how good the tea taste.

Unfortunately, I was too sick (not COVID) to go to work from May till September. That was really a very long absence. My trainee taster did the tasting and all related duties on my behalf. Amongst it was the release of Tongmuguan One.

Each taster mug is coupled with three cups of infusion at different infusion parameters

In a second tasting of a tea, each tea is infused with different parameters for better understanding of its potentials and optimisation.

As I returned to work gradually and began to pick up things, I noticed that there was a smell not quite right yet for the tea. It was a herbal scent that should have been transformed through baking. I worried the tea was slightly under processed. Immediately I withhold its sales, suspecting that my Wuyi collector had picked the wrong batch, with me unaware of it in the first tasting and then my trainee missing it before the release. The worst feeling though, was that so many loyal customers have already bought it. I thought I might have betrayed them.

Tea Hong: Black Tea: Tongmuguan One

Tongmuguan One

However, I dare not make any hasted decision because I was not fully functional yet. I was not sure if it was the trainee or myself whose tasting was not right.

My health gradually recovered in the past couple of months and so have my senses. Last week, in a tasting session, an experienced taster joined me. Tongmuguan One, the current batch together with two previous ones, were amongst the objects of study. I will skip the details to give you the verdict: it has matured to be the best batch we have ever offered. So the problem was only me being not quite myself in that previous tasting.

What a relief it is that we have not failed our loyal customers and followers of this tea.

I have not called my Wuyi collector yet to thank him, but may consider assigning the job of selection to him again in the future.

So now you have it, the best batch of the best black tea from Wuyi, possibly the whole of China, Tongmuguan One.

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