Interview with Tea Master Jason Chen
Owner of Smacha, Tea Master brand and C.C. Fine Tea Imports.
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Can you give us a rough idea about your background and history with tea?
My first thought, is that my father played an important part in all of it. My father’s home town was West Lake, the famous Long Jing Village. My family lived in Huang Zhuo and was fairly well off. I remember, as a very small child going to our home in West Lake each summer. It was always very hot, and my family had the perfect way to cool off. We would take a boat out onto West Lake lake, and slowly sail under the massive, overhanging trees on the edge of the lake. We would drink the Long Jing tea my father brought with us while sailing around the lake—the perfect memory. Sailing along the calm water cooled us down, shaded by the trees, drinking the refreshing green tea. My father often reminded us of this story in the summers of my childhood, and he implanted this image into my mind—one of tea, and a beautiful, happy life.
In 1949 My father was forced to leave the mainland in hopes of making better life during the revolution. He was well-off before, but was forced to leave everything behind and move to Taiwan, poor and completely alone. He felt home-sick and often reminisced about West Lake. This memory, that my father passed down to me, was the early beginning of my dream to have a tea business—not because of profit, but because tea is something a person can enjoy, something that cultivates a beautiful lifestyle, and that brings families together. My father created this beautiful image of tea for me.
When I was 27 I was stationed for work on Alishan mountain in Taiwan, right when the High Mountain tea plantations were really starting to become popular and develop. I had so many chances to talk to tea farmers and tea masters. I was taught and learned all the processing techniques and how to judge the different qualities of tea. I was treated so well, they almost treated me like a life-long friend, never keeping specific processing techniques secret from me, and so on. This feeling I was given on Alishan from the different farmers—it was something I wanted to one day be able to pass on to tea lovers around the world. I want people to enjoy good tea and a wonderful life. It was a very important feeling to me and this was the time when I really first wanted to do a tea business seriously. I wanted to make a business that brought happiness to people.
15 years ago I began my wholesale business here in Seattle, and soon after I had the chance to travel all over China, and continue to learn and understand the other types of Chinese tea— Black, White, Jasmine, Puer and much more. I went to numerous mountains and villages
learning each tea’s entire processing method and cultivation techniques. I noticed myself becoming more open-minded about tea, and even started learning about Japanese and Indian teas.
I also have an Art background. About 18 years ago I began studying Chinese art and calligraphy. Maybe I am strange. I am not a good student, but I am open minded. From a young age I have tended to study things others don’t, like historical Chinese art restoration, traditional Chinese instruments and Tai Chi. But, the art lifestyle gave me have a calm, patient, detail-oriented mind. It shaped my personality and has helped me create tea ware and pay attention to important details. Good tea must be made using good water and good tea accessories.
I understand you personally manage the whole supply chain, from planting, harvesting, processing, roasting, ect, for your products. Why do you feel this is important?
The quality of the tea is the most important, the price comes next. If I can give you my word and guarantee the quality of the tea, the profit will follow and the business will succeed.
I created (purchased, set up, and planted) tea gardens in 2000, 13 years ago. If you want to sell high quality tea, you must have your own tea gardens, processing facility, importation system, and warehouses. You must do all the processing yourself, otherwise you cannot guarantee that you have good quality.
You also must have both the proper faculty and your own sorting facility. Most people deal with high end or clean sorting facilities, but what about where the tea was before it got to the sorting facility? Who was handling it? How was it treated? I want to be completely confident in all of these things. Our green teas, for example, are all processed in our own facility which is very clean and hi-tech and maintains strict quality control over each package.
We also do our own importation. This is important because it is not possible to import the exact same quality of tea every year, so we need strict control over what we bring in, and additionally we must have an understanding on how to roast the tea, store it, and keep it fresh to maintain that quality.
This supply-chain is all-important. When I know the whole process, only then can I speak with confidence and honesty to my customers.
Of course when you add more teas, black, white, jasmine, you must have strong honest, reliable, partnerships, which I have been luckily enough to find after 15 years of searching.
Your wholesale has been quite successful, so why did you decide to open a retail location?
I just try to do my best. I still do not feel like I have achieved success. CC Fine tea is still not a famous brand compared to other famous American tea brands. We have done our best but many people don’t know of us—yet.
China has so many good teas, but no good brand names. Tea lovers are confused about finding reliable brands from China. How can we create a good, reliable brand of Chinese teas? After 15 years of hard work building my companies I created my first retail store in order to promote them and develop my brand name, which I am confident represents the highest quality.
The question is always, “How can I know what brand is good?” and with this, I have three points to help people:
1. The tea is clean, i.e. has no pesticides 2. The tea is fresh and affordable 3. The tea tastes good, and is beneficial for your body
It is very hard to find reliable famous tea brands from China. Many famous sellers of Bi Luo Chun and Ti Kuan Yin all failed recent pesticide tests. This included a few 100-year-old companies that people truly trusted. This caused a tremendous hassle; how can we find and trust a reliable source for tea? I want to provide a reliable tea brand for tea lovers, so I decided to create my first retail store in addition to my wholesale.
How do you see the tea industry in America as it stands now? Do you feel that traditional Asian tea culture can be successful, or does it need to be re-adapted to fit the American market?
I believe in the tea business, one must keep an open mind. I have seen that Americans know how to appreciate real quality and tea culture and this is encouraging. I want to provide a wonderful tea lifestyle to Americans.
Take coffee for example—people all over USA people were drinking coffee, but they didn’t know how to enjoy it. Starbucks came in and taught people how to experience coffee, and added value to coffee this way.
Wine was a similar story. Wine companies have done a great job at educating people about how to enjoy wine and the lifestyle around it. Introducing wine culture into spas and doing tours of the wine gardens, for example, greatly helped this. Wine lovers have received a good education on how to enjoy wine and a wine lifestyle.
Tea is in the early development stages and is rich in culture, lifestyle and health. the USA really needs this right now, so I believe there is a huge potential.
Everyone knows tea, but maybe only 3-5% of drinkers can choose good tea. The rest of the 95- 97% don’t even know how to properly brew or choose a quality tea.
Whether coffee, wine or tea, there is a starting point. Smacha will do its best to introduce tea lifestyle and educate people in the art of tea.
What is your vision for the future of Smacha?
With our first retail store I want to focus on loose leaf teas, tea tastings, education and creating different tea accessories for each type of loose leaf tea.
I want to create a modern way to brew tea. Tea to-go, iced tea, tea lattes, and tea Smachinos, for example, are modern ways to enjoy the same tea. Creating a way for young tea lovers to easily enjoy tea and its benefits is important. We will also introduce easy-to-brew packages to help tea lovers brew tea more easily.
We are also beginning to roast oolong teas in-house, introducing different types of oolong roasts into to the American market. This gives people the chance to enjoy oolong tea in the same way they would enjoy different roasts of coffee. We bring out a different and unique fragrance with each roasting. Tea combines the subtle refinement of artisan coffees with the great feeling of wine.
We will work on expertly blending all of these aspects to provide tea lovers with the perfect experience, and the perfect tea store to help them grab hold of that experience. It is my hope that one day everyone will experience their own West Lake—tea, and a beautiful, happy life.
You can find more about Smacha Tea Co. on their facebook page or visit them at:
14603 NE 20TH ST / BELLEVUE / WA 98008