Tong Xing Hao Factory in Menghai
As the Tong Xing Hao factory workers finished work for the day, we settled down in the office to drink some tea & eat rockmelon with the manager, Chen Jie (陈金秀), or “older sister Chen” as we called her.
Chen Jie was only 16 when she started working at Dayi, back in the days when it was still a state owned enterprise. She was trained as a blender, responsible for getting the mix of raw materials just right, to produce famous recipes such as my favorite Dayi shou pu recipe 8592.
She described working in a warehouse full of boxes of maocha. Her job was to classify maocha coming into the factory, and to select the right amounts of each type for blending. The raw materials would then be put on a cart and sent off to be processed.
Chen Jie (wearing the blue apron)
It was a thrill to sit with Chen Jie and hear stories of Dayi in the 1990’s. She told us how Guo Yan, who now runs MengYang GuoYan (勐养国艳) was then nicknamed “xiao mei nu” (pretty girl). When Dayi was privatized in 2004, more than 50% of the staff left, and Guo Yan left to help Ruan Dian Rong start her “Six Famous Mountains” brand in Kunming (六大茶山). The rest as they say, is history.
Now in her fifties, Chen Jie has a 27 year old son who works in the public security bureau. Her younger sister married the boss of Tong Xing Hao. Under Chen Jie’s guidance, Tong Xing hao now makes replica 8592 and 7542, which we greedily slurped & sampled. We also drank a “zao xiang zhuan” (red date brick) made from similar material to Dayi 8592. It did indeed have a distinct red date flavor. Chen Jie explained that prettier grade 3 leaves were used on the surface for appearance, but taste bitter. Grades 9 and 10 are larger leaves added to provide sweetness.
8592 "zao xiang zhuan"
Homage to 7542
I felt like I was in the presence of living history, but Chen Jie was just amused that foreigners had come all this way and were so excited to meet her. She laughed heartily after each sentence, pleased that we appreciated her work.