In mid-summer, farmers in Padma county are busy picking tender leaves from two varieties of cherry-apple trees, which only grow at an altitude of between 3,000 and 3,500 meters, to make "Tibetan snow tea."
Padma, located in Golog Tibetan autonomous prefecture of Northwest China's Qinghai province, is home to these two tree species, Malus transitoria and Malus toringoides. Their leaves are processed to make the special tea that is believed to boast heat-clearing, detoxifying and anti-dyspepsia properties.
In 2015, a tea company was established in Padma, with 18 million yuan (about $2.57 million) invested by many parties including the local government, integrating the planting, producing, processing and marketing of the snow tea. Since then, it has been promoting the brand of "Padma Tibetan Snow Tea" nationwide.
"We have been drinking snow tea since childhood, but never imagined the trees growing beside our houses could be cash cows," said Amzi Kartai, a villager from Dengta township. "As the local tea brand grows in popularity, more locals engage in this business."
"Our company started to try artificial planting in 2014, and now we have our own planting base. Besides, we also purchase the tree leaves from farmers," said Jing Guomei, who heads the company.
"Now the planting area of the base has increased to over 1,200 hectares from some six hectares in the past," she said.
The industry has changed the lives of many residents in the small county.
Before 2015, Karme and her husband were in extreme poverty, with no fixed residence. "We always climbed into the mountains at 8 am with tea and some dried food in our packs, to dig for fritillary bulbs, a major source of income for us. The digging season lasted only about a month and we could earn about 2,000 yuan," she said.
From drinking tea to producing tea, Karme has found herself a stable part-time job in the tea company. She can earn 3,300 yuan a month and nearly 1,000 yuan for her year-end bonus.
In Padma, like Karme, 7,766 poor people have benefited from the poverty-alleviation industry, with each seeing their income increase by over 1,580 yuan per year.
In 2019, the per capita disposable income of rural residents in Padma reached 8,020 yuan, up 11.3 percent year on year. This April, Padma was removed from the country's list of impoverished counties.
According to official statistics, the total output value of Padma's snow tea industry from 2016 to 2019 reached 17.18 million yuan. In 2019, the tea company paid an average dividend of 2,300 yuan to each of the 503 poor households.
Jing said last year the company even invited online celebrities to help them sell tea on a livestreaming platform. "We sold out 5,000 orders, worth 450,000 yuan, in five minutes," she said.
According to the dividend agreement the company reached with the farmers, 134 poor households received part of the revenue, with each person given 1,314 yuan.
"Our next step is to further develop our organic tea industry into a pillar industry in Padma, and our snow tea will continue to lead us to a better life," said Li Funian, deputy head of Padma county.