Chen Family ~ Wuyi Shan, China
We had the pleasure of traveling through Taiwan and parts of China for the 2016 Spring harvest, meeting farmers and learning more about different cultivars and the tea production process. We started the trip at a Zen & Tea Center in Taiwan, before exploring two of China’s most famous tea regions.
Wuyi Shan, China
After a night in Taipei, we took a short flight to Xiamen and then had a long transfer to Wuyi Shan, arriving around midnight. Our host Cindy took us to her factory, where her family members and staff were processing tea throughout the night. They were in the process of withering (15 hours) and tumbling (5-10 hours) leaves that had been plucked earlier that day.
Cindy's father has three brothers, and the entire extended family lives and breathes tea. Out of approximately 300 Wuyi Shan cultivars, the family grows 80 - each lots of tea is distinguished by cultivar, weather, date and sometimes the tea master. Example: Bai Rui Xiang (Elegant White Fragrance), sunny weather, 23/4, lot #6.
The next morning we went on a beautiful hike through the protected park area in Wuyi Shan. Small plots of tea were planted all along the path, belonging to many different farmers. We saw many ladies plucking tea, and made way for men carrying heavy tea baskets from the tea fields all the way back to the park entrance, where the trucks were waiting to take the tea leaves to the factory.
While we walked, Cindy spoke to us about the differences between tea grown in the valleys versus on sunny platforms. The valley tea has a gentle flavor with a soft aroma and body that comes on gradually. Tea grown on the platforms on the other hand gets a lot more sunshine and has a stronger flavour and more intense fragrance.
Later that afternoon, we drove through tea fields outside of the protected area, stopping at friends' homes to sample their new teas.
The next day, we went to visit Cindy's cousin in the mountains where we drank more tea before embarking on an epic hike to see their lao cong (60+ year old bushes). Only four families live on this particular mountain during the harvest season, because the village is so inconvenient to access.
The plucked leaves for Wuyi Oolong can be quite large (and are sometimes machine harvested nowadays, due to labor costs) with the lower leaves and stems still attached. The top 3 leaves typically become higher grade while the lower leaves will be separated as a lower grade tea, to be sold to hotels and restaurants. The stems are used for pillows.
Phoenix Mountain, China
After a few beautiful days in Wuyi Shan, we headed over to Phoenix Mountain, where Dan Cong tea is grown and produced. Ben Shan is the middle of the mountain and Wu Dong is the village at the very top. The best tea comes from Wu Dong. Tea from Ben Shan can be harvested more often as it's sunnier in the lower elevations. Sometimes farmers only harvest once a year to preserve the quality of the tea leaves.
Many of the farmers have prospered from their tea, and moved to the city centre in Chaozhou now. Very few people live on the mountain, and only return to the family home during harvest time. Similar to Ali Shan, Phoenix Mountain has been deforested for the tea bushes and landslides are unfortunately quite common.
While we drove up the mountain stopping at various factories, the candy aroma of the tea was strong and overpowering. To be honest I got a little nauseous from the drive and the intense aromas!
Our last stop! The wonderful Mary Cotterman showed us around her city, taking us to hidden little tea rooms, noodle shops, temples and of course her pottery studio. She explained the different materials and shapes of traditional teapots and helped us load up on teaware from around the city. We spent the last few days catching up on sleep, doing a little sightseeing and drinking more tea before heading home (or onwards to Japan for others)!
It was a beautiful trip of gentle adventures. The best parts were making new friends, geeking out over old trees and meeting the farmers growing our favourite teas.