Reflections on a Trip to Qimen

Huang Shan is a tea region of scattered mountains and tiny villages nestled within them. Qimen is a prime example of that and last weekend I went to a small village called Li Xi (厉溪)

Li Xi is located about 20 minutes by motorbike from Li Kou, the core region for Qimen.

Li Kou was a town, it had shops and a police station. Li Xi a village. Beautiful and only houses and the occasional make shift convenience store. When I first arrived I began to walk the village in the back of my mind I couldnt help but wonder “How I am I getting back?”

At the end of the village there were some large buildings clearly meant for tourism activities. These buildings were in the ancient Hui Zhou style. The Hui style involved a white exterior and a wooden interior. The roof is constructucted so that the middle is open to let in light.
The floor will have channels to keep in the rain water. Keeping in the water symbolizes keeping in the money.

There is Often a large curved beam called a melaonn beam. This beam is an important weight loading beam but also has astetic purposes. In ancient times there were rules against fluanting wealth and there were regulations on how to have a humble home, sucha as the white walls. Home owners though found ways to have exavagance in otherways. They worked in designs and carvings into the beams and load bearing structures.

I walked around this village not really knowing what I was looking for. It was the off season so no one was making tea and I didnt see any tea making machines in any houses. Even if I did find a family with some machines for making tea, by now their teas would be long sold off. For most tea makers there is no reason to keep teas besides personal drinking.
I eventually came across a tea factory. This factory was actually just one room with some machines pushed to the side for storage. I saw everything from the automatic stir fry machines to the woks for hand frying. This was the local tea factory. Often times in Huang Shan villagers will sell their fresh leaves to a factory instead of making the tea themselves. This is a lot less work for them and fresh leaves are easier to sell than final tea. I stood inside the factory for a while until an old man walked past. I asked if the boss was in and he took me a few doors over to the boss’ house. The boss happily took me to his tea room. When he opened the door I instantly recognized the room. It turns out I was friends with the boss’ son who had a tea shop in Tunxi  and worked with my other good friend Xiao Qiao. I sent a picture to Xiao Qiao and in a few minutes the son, Jason, video called his father. We laughed about it and sat down to have tea.

We sat and chatted for an hour or two and while I was able to get the jist of what he was saying the my Chinese is still lacking and some of the details were lost in translation. Needless to say I learned alot about tea and about village life.

The first thing we talked about was the flavors of Qimen over time. I asked if there was a change in the flavor of Qimen from when he was little to which he said yes and when I asked why his first reasoning was the weather. He said that winters used to be much colder. He remembers when it would regularly snow so much the snow would pile up and come through he door, these days he only gets afew cm. We also talked about the use of cultivars. While he still uses the old cultivars on the upper mountain many have switched to new cultivars which dont have the same flavor. Making has also changed. Outdoor fermentation has been replaced with a controlled fermentation room and the wilting can use a wilting channel. These cut processing time in half but sacrifice some flavor.

We talked for sometime about village life too. He told me that these days were much easier than when he was young. Times were hard when he was young. We didnt really go into details as to why but judging by the he stared off into space when he said this, as if remember days past, you could feel it was true. He then took  me around the village and showed me some of the old houses before he took me back to Li Kou and I caught the last bus back. It was only coming back into Li Kou that I saw where their tea market was. A destination for next time.

While there wasn't as much tea as I wanted, this trip did serve the purpose I intended, getting use to traveling in Qimen. The isolation of Qimen can make traveling there seem like a daunting task and for good reason. Luckly villagers are often friendly enough to take you from town to town, but without being able to drive, going to these villages is a risk. That being said, you cant travel through the mountains of Huang Shan without being a little enchanted.

Cheap buses take you up mountain roads, along slide rivers and wilderness. Small villages, where people are curiously friendly and houses that have stood the test of time. Sitting in the maker's home, in this remote village, I couldnt  help but wonder at the one thing that has carried this new yorker all the way up here, good tea.