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Some advice to the reader Botany of the black-tea country Geological features Soil Sites of tea-farms Temperature Rainy season Cultivation and management of tea-plantations Size of farms Mode of packing Chop names Route from the tea-country to the coast Method of transport Distances Time occupied Original cost of tea in the tea-country Expenses of carriage to the coast Sums paid by the foreign merchant Profits of the Chinese Prospect of good tea becoming cheaper Tόng-po's directions for making tea His opinion on its properties and uses.
As this chapter is intended for the man of science and the merchant, it may not contain much of interest to the general reader, who, if he pleases, may pass it over and go on to the next. Having been thus fairly warned, he must not blame me if I bring into it some hard botanical names which are necessary to the elucidation of my subject.
It is generally admitted that nothing can give a botanist a better idea of the climate of a locality than a list of the plants which are indigenous to it. This knowledge, in the absence of thermometrical observations, is oftentimes of great value. Fully impressed with the importance of this subject, I took care to jot down in my note-book the more important species of plants which I observed, either wild or cultivated, in the great black-tea country about Woo-e-shan.
On referring to these memoranda, I find the following species enumerated: the camphor-tree (Laurus camphora), various species of bamboo, the Chinese pine (Pinus sinensis), Cunninghamia lanceolate, the tallow-tree, Vitex trifoliata, Buddlea Lindleyana, Abelia uniflora, a spirζa like Spirζa bella, Hamamelis chinensis, Eurya chinensis, Macartney and other wild roses, brambles and raspberries, Eugenias, Guavas and other myrtaceous plants of a like kind, Gardenia florida and G. radicans, and various species of violets, Lycopods, and ferns. There were, of course, many other genera besides these, but enough have been mentioned to give a fair idea of the vegetation of these wonderful hills.
I have already given some account of the geological features of the Woo-e hills. As it is not unlikely that the success which has attended the cultivation of tea in this part of China may be traced to have had some connection with the peculiar formation and properties of these rocks, I may be excused if I repeat here what I have before said about them.
The rocks consist of clay-slate, in which occur embedded in the form of beds or dykes great masses of quartz rock, while granite of a deep black colour, owing to the mica, which is of a fine deep bluish black, cuts through them in all directions. This granite forms the summit of most of the principal mountains in this part of the country.
Resting on the clay-slate are sandstone conglomerates, formed principally of angular masses of quartz, held together by a calcareous basis, and alternating with these conglomerates there is a fine calcareous granular sandstone in which beds of dolomitic limestone occur.
The soil of the tea-lands about Woo-e-shan seemed to vary considerably. The most common kind was a brownish-yellow adhesive clay. This clay, when minutely examined, is found to contain a considerable portion of vegetable matter mixed with particles of the rocks above enumerated.
In the gardens on the plains at the foot of the hills the soil is of a darker colour, and contains a greater portion of vegetable matter, but generally it is either brownish yellow or reddish yellow. As a general rule the Chinese always prefer land which is moderately rich, provided other circumstances are favourable. For example, some parts of Woo-e-shan are exceedingly sterile, and produce tea of a very inferior quality. On the other hand, a hill in the same group, called Pa-ta-shan, produces the finest teas about Tsong-gan-hien. The earth on this hillside is moderately rich, that is, it contains a considerable portion of vegetable matter mixed with the clay, sand, and particles of rock.
By far the greatest portion of the tea in this part of the country is cultivated on the sloping sides of the hills. I observed a considerable quantity also in gardens on the level land in a more luxuriant state even than that on the hill-sides; but these gardens were always a considerable height above the level of the river, and were consequently well drained. It will be observed, therefore, that the tea-plants on Woo-e-shan and the surrounding country were growing under the following circumstances:
1. The soil was moderately rich, of a reddish colour, well mixed with particles of the rocks of the district.
2. It was kept moist by the peculiar formation of the rocks, and the water which was constantly oozing from their sides.
3. It was well drained, owing to the natural declivities of the hills, or, if on the plains, by being a considerable height above the watercourses.
These seem to be the essential requisites as regards soil, situation, and moisture.
Temperature. With regard to the temperature of the country about Woo-e-shan, I must draw my conclusions from observations which were made at Foo-chow-foo on the one side and Shanghae on the other. At Foo-chow (lat. 25° 30' north), in the month of June and in the beginning of July, the thermometer ranged from 85° to 95° Fahr., and about the middle of the latter month it rose to 100°, which I believe it rarely exceeds. In the winter of 1844-5, during the months of November, December, and January, the maximum shown by the thermometer was 78°, and the minimum 44°. Snow is sometimes seen on the tops of the mountains, but it does not remain for any great length of time.
Shanghae is in latitude 31° 20' north. The variation of temperature here is much greater than at Foo-chow-foo. In the months of June, July, and August the thermometer has frequently marked 105° Fahr. This is not very different from Foo-chow as far as the summer-heat is concerned, but we find a great difference in winter. In the end of October the thermometer frequently sinks as low as the freezing-point, and the cold destroys what remains of the cotton-crop, and those half-tropical productions which are cultivated in the fields. December, January, and February are not unlike the same months in the south of England, the thermometer often falls as low as 12° Fahr., and snow covers the surface of the ground.
With these facts before us, therefore, it will not be very difficult to arrive at a correct estimate of the temperature in the black-tea districts of Fokien. Tsong-gan-hien is in latitude 27° 47' 38" north. Situated as it is almost exactly between these two places, but a little further to the westward, we shall not be far from the truth if we suppose that the variations of temperature are greater there than about Foo-chow, but considerably less than about Shanghae. I have no doubt that, taking the summer and winter months as before, we should find that in June, July, and August the thermometer at Woo-e-shan would frequently rise as high as 100° Fahr., while in the winter months of November, December, and January it would sink to the freezing-point, or even to 28°.
Rains. In all observations connected with the cultivation of tea, there is another matter of great importance to be taken into consideration, and that is the period of the summer rains. Every one at all acquainted with the principles of vegetable physiology must be aware that the practice of constantly plucking the leaves from the tea-bushes must be very injurious to their health. But it so happens that at the period when this operation takes place there is a great deal of moisture in the air, caused by frequent showers, which fall copiously about the time when the monsoon changes from north-east to south-west. The buds burst out again with fresh vigour, and the bushes are soon covered with new leaves. After a careful consideration of this subject, it seems plain to me that, however favourable the climate may be as regards temperature, and however good the soil and situation of the plantations may be, yet without these early summer rains it would not be possible to cultivate the tea-plant with success. This only shows how many things have to be considered before one can assign the true reason for the success of any natural production in one place, or for its failure in another.
Cultivation and management of plantations. In the black-tea districts, as in the green, large quantities of young plants are yearly raised from seeds. These seeds are gathered in the month of October, and kept mixed up with sand and earth during the winter months. In this manner they are kept fresh until spring, when they are sown thickly in some corner of the farm, from which they are afterwards transplanted.1 When about a year old they are from nine inches to a foot in height, and ready for transplanting. They are planted in rows about four feet apart. Five or six plants are put together in each hole, and these little patches are generally about three or four feet from each other in the rows. Sometimes, however, when the soil is poor, as in many parts of Woo-e-shan, they are planted very close in the rows, and have a hedge-like appearance when they are full grown.
The young plantations are always made in spring, and are well watered by the rains which fall at the change of the monsoon in April and May. The damp, moist weather at this season enables the young plants to establish themselves in their new quarters, where they require little labour afterwards, except in keeping the ground free from weeds.
A plantation of tea, when seen at a distance, looks like a little shrubbery of evergreens. As the traveller threads his way amongst the rocky scenery of Woo-e-shan, he is continually coming upon these plantations, which are dotted upon the sides of all the hills. The leaves are of a rich dark green, and afford a pleasing contrast to the strange and often barren scenery which is everywhere around.
The natives are perfectly aware that the practice of plucking the leaves is very prejudicial to the health of the tea-shrubs, and always take care to have the plants in a strong and vigorous condition before they commence gathering. The young plantations are generally allowed to grow unmolested for two or three years, or until they are well established and are producing strong and vigorous shoots: it would be considered very bad management to begin to pluck the leaves until this is the case. Even when the plantations were in full bearing I observed that the natives never took many leaves from the weaker plants, and sometimes passed them altogether, in order that their growth might not be checked.
But, under the best mode of treatment, and with the most congenial soil, the plants ultimately become stunted and unhealthy, and are never profitable when they are old: hence in the best-managed tea-districts the natives yearly remove old plantations and supply their places with fresh ones. The length of time which a plantation will remain in full bearing depends of course on a variety of circumstances, but with the most careful treatment, consistent with profit, the plants will not do much good after they are ten or twelve years old; they are often dug up and the space replanted before that time.
Size of tea farms and mode of packing. The tea-farms about Tsong-gan, Tsin-tsun, and Woo-e-shan are generally small in extent. No single farm which came under my observation could have produced a chop of 600 chests. But what are called chops are not made up by the growers or small farmers, but in the following manner: A tea-merchant from Tsong-gan or Tsin-tsun goes himself or sends his agents to all the small towns, villages, and temples in the district, to purchase teas from the priests and small farmers. When the teas so purchased are taken to his house, they are then mixed together, of course keeping the different qualities as much apart as possible. By this means a chop of 620 or 630 chests is made, and all the tea of this chop is of the same description or class.2 If it was not managed in this way there would be several different kinds of tea in one chop. The large merchant in whose hands it is now has to refire it and pack it for the foreign market.
When the chests are packed the name of the chop is written upon each. Year after year the same chops, or rather chops having the same names, find their way into the hands of the foreign merchant. Some have consequently a higher name and command a higher price than others. It does not follow, however, that the chop of this year, bought from the same man, and bearing the same name as a good one of last year, will be of equal quality. Mr. Shaw informed me that it was by no means unusual for the merchant who prepares and packs the tea to leave his chests unmarked until they are bought by the man who takes them to the port of exportation. This man, knowing the chop names most in request, can probably find a good one to put upon his boxes; at all events he will take good care not to put upon them a name that is not in good repute.
Route of teas from the black-tea country to Canton and Shanghae. My principal object in collecting the information that follows was to ascertain, if possible, the precise amount of charges upon each chest or picul of tea when it arrives at the port whence it is to be exported. If I am able to give this information with any degree of accuracy, we shall then see what amount of profits the Chinese have been in the habit of making by this trade, and whether there is any probability of their being able to lower their prices, and so, with a reduction of our own import duties, to place a healthful and agreeable beverage
That cheers, but not inebriates, "
within the reach of the whole of our population.
I shall, therefore, endeavour to give a description of the route by which the black teas are brought from the country where they are made to the ports of exportation Canton or Shanghae. We have already seen that nearly all the teas grown in the fine districts about Woo-e-shan are brought to the city of Tsong-gan-hien by the merchants who buy them from the small tea-farmers, and that they are there made into chops, and sold to the dealers connected with the foreign tea-trade, the chief part of whom are Canton men.
A chop of tea having been purchased by one of these merchants, a number of coolies are engaged to carry the chests northward, across the Bohea mountains, to Hokow, or rather to the small town of Yuen-shan, a few miles from Hokow, to which it is sent by boat. If the teas are of the common kind, each coolie carries two chests slung over his shoulders on his favourite bamboo. These chests are often much knocked about during the journey over the steep and rugged mountains, as it is frequently necessary to rest them on the ground, which is often wet and dirty. The finest teas, however, as I have already stated, are never allowed to touch the ground, but are carried on the shoulders of the coolies.
The distance from Tsong-gan-hien to Yuen-shan is 220 le, or to Hokow 280 le. A merchant can perform it in his chair in three or four days, but coolies heavily laden with tea-chests require at least five or six days.
In the country about Yuen-shan and Hokow that is, on the northern side of the great mountain range a large quantity of tea is cultivated and manufactured for the foreign market. Thousands of acres were observed under tea-cultivation, but apparently the greater part of this land had been cleared and planted within the last few years. The teas made here, as well as those on the southern side of the Bohea mountains, are brought to Hokow on their way to one of the ports of exportation. What are called Moning or Ning-chow teas, made in a country further to the westward, near to the Poyang lake, are also brought up the river, and pass Hokow on their way to Shanghae.
The town of Hokow or Hohow, as it is commonly called by Canton men is situated in latitude 29° 54' north, and longitude 116° 18' east. It stands on the banks of the river Kin-keang,3 which rises amongst the hills to the north-east of Yuk-shan, and, flowing westward, empties its waters into the Poyang lake. Hokow is a large and flourishing town, abounding in tea-hongs, which are resorted to by merchants from all parts of China. Many of these men make their purchases here, without going further, while others cross the Bohea mountains to Tsong-gan-hien. When China is really opened to foreigners, and when our merchants are able to go into the country to make their own purchases of black teas, Hokow will probably be chosen by them as a central place of residence, from which they can radiate to Woo-e-shan and Ning-chow, as well as to the green-tea country of Mo-yuen, in Hwuy-chow.
The teas, having arrived at Hokow, are put into large flat-bottomed boats, and proceed on their journey either to Canton or to Shanghae. If intended for the Canton market, they proceed down the river in a westerly direction towards the Poyang lake. Ball says that they are "conducted to the towns of Nan-chang-foo and Kan-chew-foo, and then suffer many transshipments on their way to the pass of Ta-moey-ling, in that part of the same chain of mountains which divides Kiang-see from Quan-tung. At this pass the teas are again carried by porters; the journey occupies one day, when they are re-shipped in large vessels, which convey them to Canton. The time occupied in the entire transport from the Bohea country to Canton is about six weeks or two months."4
If intended for the Shanghae market, the teaboats proceed up the river, in an easterly direction, to the town of Yuk-shan. This place is in latitude 28° 45' north, in longitude 118° 28' east, and distant from Hokow 180 le. The stream runs very rapidly, and, upon an average, at least four days are required for this part of the journey. In coming down the river the same distance is easily accomplished in one day.
When the tea-chests arrive at Yuk-shan they are taken from the boats to a warehouse. An engagement is then entered into with coolies, who carry them across the country, in an easterly direction, to Chang-shan, in the same manner as they were brought from Tsong-gan to Hokow. The town of Yuk-shan is at the head of a river which flows west to the Poyang lake, while that of Chang-shan is situated on an important river which falls into the bay of Hang-chow on the east. The distance across the country from one town to the other is about 100 le. Travellers in chairs accomplish it easily in one day, but coolies laden with tea-chests require two or three days.
When the teas arrive at Chang-shan they are put into boats and conveyed down the river. The distance from Chang-shan to Hang-chow is about 800 le, and as it is all down-stream it may be performed in five or six days with perfect ease. At Hang-chow the chests are transshipped from the river boats to those which ply upon the canals, and in the latter are taken on to Shanghae. The distance from Hang-chow-foo to Shanghae is 500 le, and occupies about five days.
We have traced in this manner the route which the black teas travel on their way from Woo-e-shan to Shanghae. The distance travelled and time occupied will stand thus:
Three le are generally supposed to be equal to one English mile, and in that case the exact distance would be, of course, 620 miles. I am inclined, however, to think that there are more than three le to a mile, perhaps four, or in some parts of the country even five. If this is the case we may be possibly nearer the mark if we estimate the whole distance at 400 miles. In calculating the time it will be necessary to allow about four days for time consumed in changing boats, for bad weather, &c. This will make the whole journey occupy 28 days, which is about the average time.
With regard to the next item in my account, namely, the cost and expenses upon these teas, I must confess that I cannot speak with the same confidence of accuracy as I have done on the previous items. Having myself travelled up and down their rivers, and over their mountains, I was in no necessity of depending at all upon Chinese statements having reference to distance or time. Their statements upon all subjects, and especially upon those relating to the interior of their country, must be received with a great degree of caution. I have, however, been favoured with the assistance of Mr. Shaw, of Shanghae, who adds to his abilities as a merchant a knowledge of the Chinese language, which enabled him to give me valuable aid in the item of expense.
In the first place, let us examine the expenses upon what is called good common Congou. By this is meant such tea as was selling in England in December, 1848, at about 8d. per pound. This tea was sold in Shanghae at about 12 taels per picul in 1846, 11 taels in 1847, from 9 to 10 taels in 1848, and 11 taels in July, 1849. These prices included the export duty.
I will suppose this tea to be brought from the town of Tsong-gan-hien by the route which I have already described. The expenses for coolie and boat hire upon it will be nearly as follows:
1740 cash per chest would amount to 2718 cash per picul, which, converted into silver, would be about 1 dollar 80 cents, or 1.359 taels. To this sum must be added the cost of tea in the tea-country, the expenses of the wholesale dealers for inspection, charcoal, and labour in extra firing, the cost of the chest and packing, and custom-house and export duties.
Such tea as that above referred to is sold by the cultivators and small farmers at about 80 cash a catty, which is equal to 4 taels per picul. The following table will show the total amount of these expenses:
If these different items are as correct as I believe them to be, it would appear that the profit upon common teas is very small, so small indeed as to make it a matter of doubt whether they will ever be produced at a reduced rate.
It must be borne in mind, however, that all the expenses just enumerated, excepting the original cost of tea, are as heavy upon the common kinds as upon those of a finer quality, for which much higher prices are paid. Take for example the good and middling Ohows, and finest teas, which sold in Shanghae, December 1846, at from 20 to 28 taels, long price;1 in 1847 at 18 to 26 taels; in 1848 at 14 to 22 tads; and in July 1849 at 16 to 25 taels per picul. Such tea in November 1847 was worth from 1s. to 18. 4d. per lb. in England.
These fine teas are said to be sold by the small farmers to the dealers at, on an average, 160 cash a catty, a sum probably higher than that which is actually paid. But suppose 160 cash per catty is the original cost, the matter would stand thus:
In round numbers, the whole cost of bringing these fine teas to the port of Shanghae is 14 taels. The average price received from the English merchant during these four years appears, from the above prices, to have been about 22 taels, thus showing a clear profit of 8 taels per picul.
Before drawing our conclusions, however, it may be proper to mention that in the years 1846 and 1847 the trade in Shanghae was chiefly carried on by barter, which was managed through some Canton brokers then resident in Shanghae. Under these circumstances, it was difficult for any one not in the brokers' secret to say what was the exact sum paid to the Tsong-gan tea-dealer. It was probably, however, something considerably less than what it appears to have been by the above statements. Again, it is to be remarked that in 1848, when the prices were from 14 to 22 taels, the Chinese complained that they were ruinously low. But the average of even these prices would be 18 taels, thus showing an average profit of 4 taels per picul. Considering that this large trade is in comparatively few hands, even this, the lowest class of profits, must amount to a very large sum. It seems even a question whether the Chinese dealers and brokers could not be amply remunerated by a lower price than any yet quoted.
The above statements would seem to show that it is greatly to the interest of the Chinese merchant to encourage the production of the finer classes of tea, those being the kinds upon which he gets the largest profits.
I have now shown in detail the cost of the different classes of tea in the tea country, the distance which it has to travel before it reaches the seaport towns, and the total expenses upon it when it reaches the hands of the foreign merchant. It forms no part of my plan to say what ought to be a sufficient remuneration for the Chinese tea-dealer or broker;6 but if the above calculations are near the truth, we may still hope to drink our favourite beverage, at least the middling and finer qualities of it, at a price much below that which we now pay.
While I encourage such hopes, let me confer a boon upon my countrywomen, who never look so charming as at the breakfast-table, by a quotation or two from a Chinese author's advice to a nation of tea-drinkers how best to make tea. "Whenever the tea is to be infused for use," says Tung-po, "take water from a running stream, and boil it over a lively fire. It is an old custom to use running water boiled over a lively fire; that from springs in the hills is said to be the best, and river-water the next, while well-water is the worst. A lively fire is a clear and bright charcoal fire.
"When making an infusion, do not boil the water too hastily, as first it begins to sparkle like crabs' eyes, then somewhat like fish's eyes, and lastly it boils up like pearls innumerable, springing and waving about. This is the way to boil the water."
The same author gives the names of six different kinds of tea, all of which are in high repute. As their names are rather flowery, I quote them for the reader's amusement. They are these: the "first spring tea," the "white dew," the "coral dew," the "dewy shoots," the "money shoots," and the "rivulet garden tea."
"Tea," says he, "is of a cooling nature, and, if drunk too freely, will produce exhaustion and lassitude; country people before drinking it add ginger and salt to counteract this cooling property. It is an exceedingly useful plant; cultivate it, and the benefit will be widely spread; drink it, and the animal spirits will be lively and clear. The chief rulers, dukes, and nobility esteem it; the lower people, the poor and beggarly, will not be destitute of it; all use it daily, and like it." Another author upon tea says that "drinking it tends to clear away all impurities, drives off drowsiness, removes or prevents headache, and it is universally in high esteem."
1 Sometimes the seeds are sown in the rows where they are destined to grow, and, of course, are in that case not transplanted.
2 Sometimes a chop or parcel is divided into two packings, consisting generally of 300 chests each. Ball's "Cultivation and Manufacture of Tea."
3 This is the name the river bears near its mouth. Further up it is called in the map Long-shia-tong-ho.
4 Cultivation and Manufacture of Tea.
5 Long price [l. p.] means that the export duty is included.
6 I do not think the small farmer and manipulator is overpaid; the great profits are received by the middlemen.