Although the Wangs and many other tea growers feel they must resort to using pesticides, there exists a select group of tea cultivators that refuse to use hazardous chemicals—keeping their tea 100% organic. Tea Master Zheng and her family run one of those organic tea operations; it’s called Zijing Mountain Organic Tea, Ltd.
From the moment that I first stepped into Zheng’s house, I knew that I had come across an unordinary bunch. Buddhist prayers echoed from a corner room, similar to ones that I had heard two years ago in Shangrila. Taking a seat at a large, round table decorated with a variety of food, I realized that there was no meat. Suddenly, a monk named Ding plopped down right next to me. “Nice to meet you!”
Almost everyone who lives and works at Zijing Mountain is Buddhist, and the prayer room on the top floor of Zheng’s house is a testament to their way of life.
One by one, the four story house’s occupants filled the open spaces around the table. The last man who entered the room was much older, clad in turquoise robes, and had a jovial grin. I rose to shake his hand. “Could you please tell me your honorable surname?” I asked.
“Just call him Master,” interrupted Zheng. To this day, I’ve never heard anyone call him anything else.
Every time I meet with Zheng and gang, I sit down to a healthy, vegetarian meal before trekking off to talk with various characters working on their 180 mu, or 30 acre, plot of land.
The high quality, organic tea cultivated at Zijing is a reflection of the holistic lifestyle of its occupants. “We refuse to use those nasty chemical fertilizers,” Zheng tells me. “They ruin the land, ruin our water, and you can taste them in the tea. We rotate organic fertilizers annually on a three year cycle—using a different type each year. We use: cow, sheep, and chicken manure; rapeseed fertilizer; and organic compost.”
“What about pesticides?”
“We don’t use them,” she replies.
“How do you fend off the swarms of pests when the weather heats up?” I inquire.
“We keep our growing season shorter than most tea cultivators. We only harvest tea for about six weeks out of the year. Providing the highest quality tea and keeping our operation completely organic is important to us. If we overharvest the trees and spray them with pesticides they won’t be as healthy they are and this will affect the final product.”
Since Zijing Mountain is located two hours outside of Hangzhou’s center, Zheng’s tea has a much bigger bang for the buck than tea produced in brand name tea regions like Longjing and Anji. Superior Quality (优质-yōuzhìchá) green and white teas in regions such as Longjing often cost around 5000RMB/0.5kg, but at Zijing Mountain these teas often cost 2000 RMB less.
So, how does Zheng harvest for a shorter period than producers in famous regions and still keep her prices much lower? She has much more land, many more tea trees, and thus that much more tea. The great thing is…it’s all organic! So, when you drink Zheng’s tea, you know you’re not drinking any harmful contaminants.