April 13th, 2015 - Ken
So... Terrace Bloom is now officially up and running. We have wholesale customers, we have our own online marketplace, and as soon as I finish writing this... we will have a blog! I thought I would use this inaugural post to emphasize the overwhelming awesomeness of our partners who produce our teas.
All Terrace Bloom teas come from Yunnan China through a jolly, wonderful couple who's English names are Samuel and Phoebe. Samuel is a short, rather round Chinese man in his late 30's who is always smiling, laughing, and playing jokes on either his wife or his two young sons. He’s a lot of fun to be around, and something unique about him is that he's from a minority group called the Hani.
(Terrace Bloom founders Sam and Ken with Samuel and Phoebe at their wedding)
If anybody's not really sure what a minority group is, they are culturally and racially distinct sub-groups of Chinese people who have their own separate language and customs. They mostly live in their traditional villages with others from the same minority, but many have now migrated to China's bigger cities searching for better paying jobs. Something I find really interesting about minority groups is that they exist across borders in countries like Vietnam, Laos, Thailand, and Myanmar; yet groups from the same minority will typically maintain their common language and customs. The way I view them, it's like they've lived in their villages for hundreds and even thousands of years. And while different countries in the area have risen, fallen, and shifted their boundaries, these minority groups have continued their way of life, largely unaffected.
While this continuity is pretty amazing and sort of honorable, it has also left them behind in many regards. Education, technology, and modernization has revolutionized daily life in most of these regions, yet very few of those benefits have found their way into the minority villages. While the world advanced around them, life in these communities has basically stayed the same.
What that means today is that minority villagers earn very little money and live in very basic or even downright primitive homes where they are very susceptible to diseases. They are also lacking in quality healthcare, education, and most unfortunately; the opportunities to change any of these circumstances. This situation has inspired large numbers of minority villagers to migrate into the cities to look for work, and in some cases they have children whom they can't afford to bring along. Unfortunately that has led to families having no choice but to split up, with the parents leaving their children behind with friends or family, or in very sad cases abandoning them entirely. But while the parents may have been skilled and respected in their home village, in the cities they discover that they are just common migrant workers with few connections, poor education, no pertinent skills, and large cultural differences.
This is where Samuel and Phoebe have jumped in and are making a huge impact. Samuel's father was the teacher in their village and he greatly encouraged Samuel's schooling. Samuel worked very, very hard to overcome barriers and get a quality education despite being a rural villager. He was the first from his hometown to receive a college degree, eventually going on to earn an MBA as well.
While his education opened up many opportunities and could have led him away from the villages, in his heart he wanted to help his fellow minority people. He also recognized the value in the amazing teas which have been a part of Yunnan culture for thousands of years, and for which he was very passionate. Samuel began building connections with numerous villages where the people produced top-quality whole-leaf teas, but had very limited connections through which to sell them.
(Samuel with one of his tea farmers and her son)
Today, Samuel and his equally fun-loving, smiley wife Phoebe have direct connections with the humble villagers who grow the best teas in Yunnan, entirely by hand. While Samuel's main focus is tea, he also purchases other village goods like pottery, handmade paper, wood carvings, and clothing. All of these economic partnerships help the villagers to make a better living using their traditional skills without having to leave their homes or split up their families. Samuel and Phoebe have also helped many minority villagers who still wanted to move to the city by teaching them valuable skills such as tea artistry. In China, the tea ceremony is a traditional art-form where each delicate movement is distinct and important. There are good jobs available in the city for people with a good knowledge of tea who also have this skill set.
Beyond helping the minority villagers financially, Samuel has also helped to start schools and orphanages, and has even started his own farm in nearby Myanmar where he employs the local people and helps educate their children at a school he started for them.
To summarize all of this, Samuel and Phoebe get the best teas possible from people who are truly benefiting from this partnership. They are making a big difference in the lives of hundreds of village farmers, and we are so happy and blessed to be working alongside them!