As many of have seen I am trying to do more videos this year, really bring you in to the tea areas. That being said sometimes the camera cant catch it all. In my last trip to 大谷运, Da Gu Yun, this was the case. In this article I give you some more details of my travels including more information about the tea making and a couple corrects to things I said in the video. (The idea that maybe that big tree was an old tree for example.)
Our story begins with me going up a winding road in a bus with my friend, and partial cameraman, Trevor. The higher we got the more beautiful the view got as the mountain valley got lower and lower and tea fields began to grace the sides of the mountain. We reached the village at about 2:00 and since we werent meeting my friend, Ku, till 3:00 we began to walk around.
Many of the tea pickers were just coming back from the fields at that time. In a lot of small villages the farmers will pick the tea then sell it to a local factory to be made. The day I was there the farmers could make 150 per jin of tea. Prices can depends on the time of year and quality of the pickings. The next day, I was told later by Ku, the price would drop to about 120.
I went to some of these factories to examine the tea they had. In She Xian where Da Gu Yun is located, not Yi Xian as said in the video, they started picking in March. This is very early and it showed in the leaf and flavor. When the buds are too small the flavor is very light and lacks any strong characteristics. When it comes to green tea picking, there is such thing as too early.
We met Ku and walked back to her house to have lunch. A simple lunch of noodles was high enjoye and after lunch Ku took us for a walk and I got to ask her about pesticides.
"Does you family use pesticides?" I asked as we climbed some steps.
"Yes of course"
"For the bugs"
"What would happen if you didn't?"
"Everybody does. My grandparents don't but they are too old to pick tea."
"Why does your uncle?"
"Because of the bugs"
"If he didnt could he still make tea?"
"So why use it?"
"Because of the bugs"
The conversation went in circles like that for a little longer as I tried to ask about the possibility of being organic, but it always seemed to come back to the same answer. "Because of the bugs". (She did mention they only spray in summer) While I thought this was a language barrier problem I would later look at the fields and really think about what she said. Da Gu Yun produces a lot of tea. While it is far from an industrialized farm, the amount of tea trees probably makes organic harder. One of the benefits of a biodiverse field is the other plants can act as a buffer between the bugs, getting eaten instead of the plants. When bugs find a very tea tree dominant field all they can do is eat tea.
We walked around the mountain a bit occasionally stopping to make jokes, take pictures and admire the view. As a New Yorker it has taken me a while to really appreciate nature, this trip being one of the few times I really enjoyed the vastness of nature.
We went back to the house to have a break. Ku had been helping to pick tea all morning and she was tired. I watched her granpa sort tea for a while.
Watching granpa's hands reminded me of an octopus. An octopuses arms can act independently, continuing to grab things even after it is cut off, as if each one has its own brain. Precisely moving from one leaf to another, with out pause or hesitation, picking off the extra leaves as they went, granpa's hands seemed also to have a mind of their own. It was as I filmed Granpa that I couldn't help but notice the peaceful silence. All I could hear was the small stream that ran under Ku's front yard, as her grandfathers hands seamless moved from leaf to leaf.
Trevor and I decided to take a walk. We had an hour till dinner and Ku was too tired to go with us. We picked a road, started walking, and quickly found ourselves in a tea field. We came across this huge bush that didnt look like a tea bush but had the buds and leaves of a tea bush. Upon tasting it it tasted like a tea bush too. While it is in the tea family, I was later told this was the type of tea tree that actually produced tea oil and not the beverage.
Me and Trevor returned in time for dinner and enjoyed a Huizhou style meal. (Huizhou is the old name for this area, lasting for hundreds of years it only changed about 25 years ago). During this meal the uncle came back from picking tea.
A slightly lanky man who wore a army jacket that might have fit his younger and stronger self, he was very friendly and had a very welcoming smile. Ku told me he had been making tea for 25 years. He had taught himself in order to help supply her brother, Ku's dad, tea shop in Shanghai. He had been in the field all day picking tea and ate very quickly before going out to make tea.
He used the semi hand made style of making Mao Feng which is very common and involves a round, washing machine like machine that turns the tea as cooks it. He used a wood to cook the tea which he fed between batches. Every now and then he would put a long stick in the machine and catch some of the turning tea to feel it, checking to see when the tea was done. It wasn't long before he let me try.
What struck me most was how fast the leaves dried before the bud. So much of tea making is about correctly removing moisture from the leaf. It might actually be the most important aspect of making tea. When I touched the tea I noticed the leaves were drying fast and starting to curl while the bud still seemed very damp. It was this examination that led me to better understand the trickiness of tea making; the fines lines that are walked.
After the stir fry step, the tea is baked. This family used a larger oven than I had seen. It worked off of wood again instead of coal probably due to its size. I had seen this oven before in chrysanthemum making. After a baking of about 20 minutes, the tea was ready to be enjoyed.
The next morning we picked tea before heading home. I got to sit in the back of the classic three wheeled farmer scooter-trucks, but unfortunately my camera battery had died leaving me with no footage of this.
In the end I ironically found their latest picked and cheapest teas to be my favorite. The flavor was soft and simple, like peas, but still had some of the Mao Feng savoriness. It is a perfect Mao Feng daily drinker. With it's simple flavor it is also really great for granpa style. And can be bought through the button below.