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Tea for Three 

The warmth of springtime offers a perfect excuse to be outdoors. In fact, sometimes the pull of wanting to be outdoors is just too much. It was for the three of us. Texting and calling in ‘well’ to our various workplaces, we met up bright and early the next morning, so as to get a good start. Our destination, a well-known tea farm in New Taipei City, on the outskirts of Wulai.
One hour later, we arrived and were greeted by Mr. Chen, a member of the tea farm community. As he was briefing us on how to pick tea leaves, another assistant was passing out bamboo hats and picking baskets. Then, with Mr. Chen at our side to supervise our tea picking efforts, we were led to one of the farm’s tea fields.

A sudden hush fell over our small group. Collectively, we felt a sense of awe at what we were seeing. There in front of us was a vast field of green as far as the eye could see. Planted were hundreds of green tea bushes, each with its own particular ‘shade of green’ tea leaves. The contrast of an overhead azure sky, warm rays of sunshine upon the tea bushes and the fresh mountain air had an hypnotic effect on us.

Mr. Chen showed us how to carefully pick a maximum of three or four of the smallest leaves – only ones with a light green color. Once we had mastered this procedure, including how to place the leaves into our picking baskets to his satisfaction, we were left on our own. We passed the next couple of hours with casual conversation and even a few songs. But soon it became too hot to continue and so we headed back to the main building. Once there, our picking baskets were emptied onto round flat baskets, where they would remain untouched for hours, so that the full flavor of the tea could come out. Mr. Chen expertly guided us to where large tumbling machines were regulating the different stages of the tea drying process. He explained that there were over fifty different varieties of tea that his farm produced and that the key for these different varieties was in the degree of fermentation and the drying time. Depending on the degree of fermentation the taste of the tea would vary. Additionally, the prerequisite for a good tea is a clean environment free from pesticides, fertilizers, heavy metals, acid rain and other unclean elements. If there is pollution where the tea is growing it will show up in the color of the tea, the aroma and taste. Clean tea will leave a smooth aftertaste in the mouth and be good for the body. There are six principal categories of Chinese tea; green tea, scented tea, compressed tea, white tea, oolong tea and black tea.
Our visit was coming to a close, but there was one more thing that we had to experience – tea tasting. The secret of good tea lies in the water. Mountain or spring water that has been aged has a sweetness to it, while fresh or ‘new’ water has a raw taste. When boiling water for tea if it is boiled too much it will change the flavor of the water. Another ‘secret’ is to carefully watch the water and when little bubbles appear along the sides of the pot, it is time to stop heating the water. As we watched and listened to the tea hostess explain the traditional tea ceremony to us, our sensitivities to the different fragrances of the tea we were served heightened. An atmosphere of calm and serenity prevailed. Our springtime tea farm adventure had come full-circle and we were happy.

Pai Su-yu is a well-known writer and educator, whose interest in different cultures has led to some amazing life adventures.

TEXT: PAI SU-YU

IMAGES: UNSPLASH

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