Smacha Tea Company Interview

Interview with Tea Master Jason Chen

Owner of Smacha, Tea Master brand and C.C. Fine Tea Imports.

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Interview Questions:

 

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:

https://www.facebook.com/smachatea

14603 NE 20TH ST / BELLEVUE / WA 98008

425-643-2117
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Cold Brew Tea For The Summer

Cold Brew

Too hot to enjoy hot tea? Though the spring and summer is one the best times to enjoy Raw Puerh, it is not always desired when the heat peaks during the summer. I recently came across an incredible premium Bai Hao from Taiwan, and with some experiments was able to find a nice refreshing solution for your summer beverage needs. A 6 hour cold brewed Bai Hao Oolong, almost pure perfection! This refreshing brew will keep you cool and refreshed all day. I have been drinking this concoction almost every day this summer and couldn’t not share it with everyone. Try it out for your self!

Bai Hao Oolong also known as Dong Fang Mei Ren

(Chinese: 東方美人; literally “Oriental Beauty”)

baihao oolong

A unique tea from the northern part of Taiwan. It is a heavily fermented but delicately processed. You can tell a premium Bai Hao by its color. It will have not 5 but 6 colors, creating and almost purple like brown in the dried leaves. Once steeped, the tea produces a fruit-like sweetness of a well made black tea, but with the wonderful honey like fragrance of an Oolong, and slightly sweet cinnamon. The liquor is very clean but rich, at first look it may appear light but once you take your first sip you will taste it’s full body flavor!

10% OFF purchase with promo code: coldbaihao

Instructions For Cold Brew:
-Place 15g of Bai Hao Oolong in ½ Gallon pitcher, filled with room temperature water. Brew for 6 hours, place in refrigerator and enjoy anytime.

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Tea and Incense

Fragrance

Most Puer tea collectors put a great deal of effort in trying to protect their prized teas from scents and unsavory smells, but let’s take a moment to investigate the world of scents and talk about the use of incense when drinking tea.

Incense (xiang in Chinese: 香; pinyin: xiāng; literally “fragrance”) have a long history of human use and were integral components of most all the great civilizations of antiquity. In China there is a history of incense use that goes back to Neolithic times and was initially probably restricted to religious and medicinal uses, however by around the Song dynasty Incense had reached new heights and become a component of everyday life in China.

Incense have many traditional and modern uses in China, everything from perfuming clothes to practicing music, but in general they are used to create a calm atmosphere, focus the mind, and promote general health and wellbeing. It’s not hard to see how incense can make a great partner with tea drinking and can even elevate the taste and enjoyment of tea.

On this most recent trip to China and Taiwan I gained a deeper appreciation of how incense can be used in combination with pouring tea. In Yunnan and Taiwan I met and drank tea with many people who enjoy burning incense with tea, In TaiChung and at the National Palace Museum in Taipei i was able to see many various incense burners from different periods of Chinese history and i also made it a priority to visit FushanKodo’s only store in Taiwan to see and experience all of their amazing incense.

My recommendation for adding incense to your tea drinking is similar to my philosophy about Puer; The most important thing to consider when selecting incense is cleanliness. You want an incense that will burn clean and isn’t produced with cheap (sometimes toxic) binders or chemicals. Natural, high quality incense that won’t overpower the tea is what you are looking for when choosing an incense to pair with your tea drinking. Traditionally agarwood (沈香; chénxiāng) and sandalwood (檀香; tánxiāng) are the most popular in Chinese culture to burned with the consumption of tea, but now there are many scents and materials from around the world available, so it’s really up to one’s personal preference.

My personal preference, and currently the only incense I will burn while preparing tea, is FushanKodo. FushanKodo is a Taiwanese company that uses only high quality woods and natural materials in their incense. Their products are a of a very high quality that i haven’t seen matched by any others and the aromas blend wonderfully with tea drinking. Unfortunately FushanKodo’s products can be hard to get a hold of in the West but I am working on offering more of FushanKodo’s products in the future.

Be Happy. Drink good tea (and smell good incense too)

Incense burners side-by-side with teawares in Yingge, Taiwan

An old way of burning incense where aromatic wood powder is placed into a grooved stone and burned. Seen in an antique market in Taichung, Taiwan.

Precious Agarwood pieces at a famous wood shop in Sanyi Township, Taiwan

Smelling the delicate fragrances at FushanKodo’s shop in Taipei, Taiwan

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Chinese Porcelain Tea Ware

A Look into the 2nd Hand Markets

Tai Chung, Taiwan

Chinese Porcelain Tea Ware

After learning a tremendous amount from my experience at Vesper Chan’s tea shop in Guang Zhou about tea wares, I was hooked—maybe even addicted. There is somewhat of an adrenaline rush when learning about and finding real antiques, and holding a thousand-year-old art form in the palm of your hand. One encounter with this and you will be hooked too!

In Taichung there is always the possibility of finding treasures, and I thought I had a pretty good idea about what to look for, so I went hunting. Since antique tea ware could take a lifetime to learn, I stuck to what I knew and followed these simple rules:

First, don’t ask about how old a piece is or even worry about it, unless you plan on seriously collecting. The information you get can rarely be trusted, and if the piece is of good quality, you like it, and its worth the price to you, then get it! This is similar to my thoughts on puer—ignore the hype, buy what gives you the most enjoyment, pay what its worth to you. As you drink more, you will learn more, your tastes and appreciation will change and deepen, and you will get better and better tea. So too with tea ware—the more you find and the more you learn, the better your purchases will be, so relax and have fun!

I will say, however, that when you find a real antique that has hundreds of years of history locked up in each brushstroke, you will feel it. That might sound strange, but its true! A real art piece will stir up something inside of you, and its an addicting feeling!

After browsing for a few days in Taiwan I finally came across some nice cups similar to the blue under-glaze porcelain in Vesper Chan’s shop. It was a small Malaysian merchant who set up shop in Taichung. His first prices were high, but I haggled for a while and told him about how much I love tea, and somehow got him down to a much lower price, so I grabbed 16 cups and paid the money. He asked me never to return, because I was too good at haggling!

It turns out that many of the high-end dealers are from Singapore and Malaysia. In China, when the cultural revolution destroyed so many exquisite pieces, a large quantity was taken to these countries by collectors, and remains to this day. The same is also true for vintage puer cakes. In addition to this, many of the old trading routes for merchant ships went by Malaysia and Singapore, so there are many shipwrecks on the bottom of the sea with crates and crates of ancient tea ware in them!

Because the Chinese empire was so huge, rare antiques and ancient treasures can still be found to this day, if you know what to look for and where to look. And strangely, in some cases it is cheaper to buy an older high-quality porcelain than it is to buy the same quality that’s new, because cost of labor is so much higher now and there are less skilled artisans today.

If you are going to buy high-end tea ware and know a bit about it, try your hand in the second hand markets! If you have mastered the art of luck, you might just find something you never thought you could!

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First look at the 2nd hand markets in Tai Chung, TaiwanIMG_3838

Ultra Thin Old PorcelainIMG_3840

Browsing all the merchantsIMG_3845

Many Fakes, but real is fake and fake is realIMG_3988

My finds at the markets
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Typical 1970′s style Tea Ware (Gold, Dragon & Phoenix)

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Visit to a Taiwan Tea Farm

IMG_4293Taiwanese Tea Fields

China’s worldwide influence is growing every year, and this is especially true in its close neighbor, Taiwan. Every year, Chinese buy thousands of tons of the highest quality Taiwanese tea at extremely high prices, which only China is willing to pay. Because of this, much of tea available in Taiwan to Taiwanese people is not the premium quality that Taiwan is known for, and some even comes from Vietnam or China.

I was very fortunate to be able to visit a great Taiwanese oolong tea farm and see for myself how the tea was picked and processed. The tea trees here were very young, only about a year old, but the quality of soil and leaves is very enjoyable, and it was also very affordable.

The interesting part about the market is that most Taiwanese won’t be able to enjoy the fantastic oolong that is being grown there. The Chinese love tea and are willing to pay a premium that far exceeds what the tea could be sold for in Taiwan. This is not an uncommon problem—Alaskan salmon, for example, is almost all exported, leaving Alaska with lesser-quality fish. Washington apples are another example.

Because of this, Taiwan imports more tea than it exports every year to satisfy their tea-loving population. Yes, Taiwan is known for its high quality tea, but the irony is reflected in its tea market. The tea that they love and grow is actually very difficult to find in the market, and nearly impossible to get in the US. Most of what is sold as Ali Shan, Li Shan, Dong Ding or Da Yu Ling is really only a shade of the real deal, even in Taiwan.

In the future it may become increasingly more difficult to get this tea from Taiwan, so I feel honored to have visited this wonderful tea farm in Taiwan.

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Taking a Good Look of the Tea Bushes


Immature Oolong Tea Leaves

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Fermentation Tray

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Modern Tea Drying Machine

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Ready to Drink Some Taiwanese Tea

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