But that’s not how the day started. It took a bit of effort and luck to get here. First, was a desire to visit an area I’ve never visited before, named Chi Lai (near Li Shan). Second, was a bus that left without me. So I walked across the street from the bus station, rented a scooter, took a picture of a Chi Lai area map, and headed up the mountains to meet A Lan, a tea garden owner to whom I was introduced by the former mayor of the city of Puli (true story). To make a long story short (visit our Middlebury Teahouse for the longer version when I get back), after a day’s journey I made it up to 2010m (6595 ft) and A Lan’s Tea garden. The tea factory was a-bustling, with fresh leaf arriving until dark. It was especially busy because it was a rare sunny day, the best start to the many stages that factor in to the quality of the tea.
In Taiwan, High Mountain Oolong production has evolved into an impressive combination skill with both human hands and machinery. We’ll dive into production details in a future blog post and at our Taiwan Tea Workshop. But now it was getting into early evening, and I had a long journey home…but they wouldn’t let me leave. Much too dangerous, they said. So, with great regret (not really), I had to stay the evening at the tea garden.
This is a first for me…to actually sleep in the factory, above all the noises of the workers and machines (they worked through the night), and next to the famous women and men who pick the leaf (sorry, I put my camera away…and it wasn’t THAT interesting). There became an awareness of a sense of rhythm of the place…turning machinery, music, the aromas of roasting tea, and of course giggling. Then when the sun rose, the preparations began (most notably the taping of the razor blades on their pointer fingers) and everyone gathered to ride down to today’s harvest field. I followed them down on my bike and eagerly watched them start their day. Comparable to the big harvest days of most farms around us in Vermont (apples, blueberries, grapes for wine), but unique in that they are not picking fruit. They are delicately and quickly cutting the new buds from the tree. After they began, the sun started to come out again, so i lingered for a few minutes before hopping on my bike and rolled down the hill back to Puli. For the workers, it was another round of bringing in the harvest, and making the tea that we love to drink. All the individual skill sets involved; the skill of the tea pickers, and factory workers; all guided and directed by the manager. There are many skills to appreciate in this process. We often speak of the Tea Ceremony being an art in making and serving a pot or bowl of tea. Herein lies that which comes before it arrives at our doors: the Art of Tea Making.
We look forward to sharing more of this art with you, perhaps over a cup of tea! (and this tea in particular will be available soon at Stone Leaf!)