Farmer Roy atop his tractor on his tea farm in Northern California
One of the greatest contributions to humankind by the Camellia sinensis
plant is the way it encourages the overcoming of difficulty. When people are troubled, few actions express more kindness or healing intention than serving them a pot of tea.
I was reminded of this quality in tea when visiting the new tea farm of Roy Fong, owner of Imperial Tea Court
and the first and most influential tea man to bring high quality Chinese tea to the United States.
I asked Roy if I could bring my video camera when visiting the tea farm for the first time, and he said "Let's wait. We have had some issues with the tea." Hmmm....
When reaching the bucolic 23-acre property about an hour or so north of his Berkeley tea house, I couldn't imagine what might have gone awry. "We imported and planted 600 tea plants and all but 40 perished," said Roy. The problem?
Roy looks over some of the 500+ plants that didn't make it.
"We discovered that our water source here is too alkaline to grow tea." The forty saved tea plants are being rehabilitated at his home, where the water is compatible with the tea.
"The water here [on the farm] is great for brewing tea because it has a high mineral content, but it's no good for growing tea," said Roy. Alas!
Another person faced with such a situation might lament his fate and sell the property. But not Roy Fong. Instead of discarding his tea farm idea with the failed plants, Roy has come up with a way to change the ph balance of the water before it reaches the tea plants. In fact, his next planting is already in the works.
The Fong tea farmhouse
Roy comments on how much he loves the nature of the land and its quietness.He shows me the koi pond, teaming with polywogs as well as koi fish; we amble over to the cherry and peach trees, which already overflow with fruit. Then we visit the greenhouse, and ache to see dozens of twigs reach up from dry soil where once there were tea plants full of vigor and expectation.
We leave the greenhouse. Roy looks across the open land, a streak of intention punctuating his expression, as if he is seeing something others can't imagine. I turn my attention from the rolling hills back to Roy. And there it is: in every muscle and contour of his quietly determined face, I too can see the tea.
Stay tuned as the story unfolds.