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Hoping to draw a line under the awful weather in Anxi, I head hopefully north towards Wuyi Mountain, only to be greeted by.... torrential rain again!
Today's entry is from Wuyi Shan - don't forget to check out the first part of the blog here from Anxi County »
The first day the alarm goes off at 7am, and I poke my head out the window, narrowly escaping a soaking. It is tipping it down, and Mrs. Zhan calls to confirm that we can forget about seeing any tea-picking today. At least my hotel room has fresh, loose-leaf tea provided for free instead of the usual instant coffee!
In all seriousness, rain is annoying for me, but can be devastating for the tea farming industry. The rain and weather has a deep effect on not just the taste and quality of the teas you'll drink this year, but also on the price and economy of the tea farming regions
Tea-pickers are hired in large numbers, and must be kept on standby ready to run out into the fields when the time is right. When it rains, either (a) they don't get paid, or (b) the farm loses money - it's around £20 a day to hire a tea-picker in southern Fujian. Similarly, each tea farm will have anywhere from 3 to 15 highly skilled workers producing the tea. These workers depend highly on this seasonal work, and charge from £35 a day upwards for their skills. If it rains, then again either the farm or the workers lose out.
Some tea farms will still produce tea when it rains. The difference is that they must manually dry the tea leaves in a machine (normally the leaves would dry under the sun in a courtyard, or on the tea-trees). This all adds cost to the process, and produces slightly poorer quality teas.
We take a little tour around the tea farms and Wuyi's scenic area instead. My local guide and expert tea farmer Mrs. Zhan points out where the borders lie between three distinct zones for tea growing.
Zheng Yan is perhaps the most prized tea - it's grown on the same mountain as the original four Da Hong Pao bushes, and considered more 'authentic'. Tea farms here are actually less attractive, though the land is expensive and most zheng yan tea starts at around £200 a kilo.
Ban Yan tea is grown just outside the original zheng yan area. Quality here is still exceptionally good, often because the tea farmers here can't rely so much on their location to sell their tea.
Outside these areas is know as zou bian which literally means "on the edges". Here you find most of the cheap tea that is produced at a lower cost, machine harvested and occasionally of very dubious quality!
Suddenly the rain breaks over lunch, and we get a quick call from a friend nearby who is making tea. We rush over in our cars and arrive just as the tea masters are putting their tea through the dao qing stage. Here, the tea is dried and allowed to slowly wilt and oxidise - the smell is intoxicating, and I get a few funny looks as I walk around hyper-ventilating. Mrs. Zhan gives me a little tour around and then we sit to drink tea with the owner of the farm, Mr. Chen.
We talk a lot about what tea farmers do when they can't make tea. Mr Chen assures me that being a tea farmer is a fantastic life - fresh air, healthy living and assuming the tea harvest goes well, 9 months of the year is spent doing very little! Obviously tea farms need to sell their tea, but for the lucky ones like Mr Chen and Mrs Zhan, the tea and their reputation for quality sells itself.
In the afternoon, we return to Mrs. Zhan's farm and she guides me through the entire process for making the Yan Cha which has made Wuyi Shan famous. In the past, there were up to 15 stages of processing, but modern methods and machinery have reduced this down to around 7-8. I'll go through these all later in another blog post.
The farm also has room called simply "The Tasting Room". We enter here, and after 10 minutes, my head is exploding with information. Along with my good friend Wayne, who runs an upmarket tea store in Fuzhou, Mrs. Zhan serves us tea and then quizzes us on what type it is. And Mrs Zhan is a demanding teacher! We're expected to tell her the specific tastes, how that tea is made, and the ID number of the tea (most teas carry a 3 digit number like 301, 204 etc.).
We taste this year's tea, last year's teas, tea from neighbour's farms and teas pulled out from every stage of processing. We're warned that drinking too much fresh tea is not good for you, it's too 'raw' and damaging to the digestive tract the Chinese medical system, so Mrs Zhan begins to show us how fresh tea is baked in the final stage. This is one of the most delicate stages, and often requires real expertise to bring out the right flavours in the tea.
My head is really starting to spin as the tea leaves are slowly baked in bamboo wicker baskets, their colour changing to the dark chocolate brown we all recognise and again the smell fills the room. Time for dinner and then bed I think.
Once again foiled by the weather, I am planning to head back to Fuzhou - the weather shows no signs of lifting, and I'm beginning to miss my wife and cat and creature comforts of home.
If the weather improves, I'm hoping to travel inland to Nan Ping where wild tea is picked to make Zheng He Gong Fu tea, and then north to Fu An and Ning De for the famous Fujian white teas. Fingers crossed and stay in touch!comments powered by Disqus