Farmers brew up wealth with native cup of tea

Updated: 2013-08-20 07:59

By He Na and Hu Meidong (China Daily)

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Farmers brew up wealth with native cup of tea

The tea-themed open-air live show Impression Dahongpao has boosted Wuyishan's tea industry. [Photo by Zou Hong / China Daily]

Local economy benefits from boom in demand for a taste of Dahongpao, report He Na and Hu Meidong in Wuyishan, Fujian province

Peng Longfu, 72, never imagined that he would own a five-story house and that each member of his seven-strong family would have their own bedroom. Nor did he ever dream of owning two sedans costing more than 300,000 yuan ($49,000) each.

A few hundred meters from Peng's home, his daughter-in-law has been busy hiring workers to build another five-story house.

While memories of hard times remain vivid, many of Peng's fellow villagers, tea farmers in Tianxin village close to the north entrance of Wuyi Mountain National Nature Reserve, are still attempting to adjust to the dramatic rise in wealth that has come in just a few years.

Their cramped, shabby bungalows have been replaced by four- and five-story houses and, rather than carts or tricycles, Mercedes-Benz and BMWs are parked in the shade of trees.

The villagers attribute the change in fortune to the sudden popularity of Dahongpao tea, which means "Big Red Robe" and is one of the most famous brands in China.

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To most people, tea is just a beverage, but to Ye Qitong, a Dahongpao master grower and blender in Wuyishan city, the drink is a work of art that seeps in to the soul.

With huge signs displaying the characters for Dahongpao hanging outside almost every building, the village resembles a tea market rather than a residential community. The importance of the local brand is reflected in the names of the companies, which are often based on poems dedicated to Dahongpao tea. While the signs vary in size, color and font, they all have one thing in common; every one contains the word Zhengyan, which signifies that the village tea plantation is located in the key growing area of the Wuyi Mountain National Nature Reserve.

The limited yield means tea grown in Tianxin village is very expensive. The wholesale price of this year's newly blended Dahongpao is at least 1,600 yuan per kilogram unpackaged. That price will more than double once the tea has been packaged by one of the large local businesses, with each bag bearing the company's logo.

"In 2007, our family had debts of more than 100,000 yuan. However, just six years later, the family's annual net income is more than 600,000 yuan. Our plantation is just two hectares, but families with larger plots of land can make much more money," said Yin Qi'an, a local producer.

The Yin family's workshop opened in 1993. "It's called a tea plant, but it's really just a family workshop and we only hire outside workers in the busy seasons, when the leaves are being picked or blended," he said.

"Thanks to the recent rise in demand for Dahongpao tea and my father-in-law's excellent blending skills, our tea always sells out every year, even before the leaves are picked," added Yin.

Peng's 20-year-old granddaughter is majoring in management at a college in Xi'an, Shaanxi province, and the elderly grower hopes she will return to the village after graduation to help him develop their brand and expand the family business.

"Combining her modern management methods with my tea blending skills is not just a dream," Peng said.

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