Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Trip to the Maojian Tea Plantation

A friend of mine came to China for a visit. I told him when he came to Guilin I would guide him around and introduce him some new teas and take him to a tea plantation. He and his girlfriend spent seven days with me and we had a blast digging through my tea vault for teas he had never tried, and spending hours in my tea shops sipping teas.

One day of the visit, I took him to the Maojian Tea Plantation in Guilin. I often visit the plantation for a stroll. As I have mentioned in previous blogs, it is a fantastic way to spend an afternoon and it always ends up with a tea tasting.

My friend, his girlfriend, and I strolled through the tea fields, taking photos, and watching the tea pickers work their magic. The tea pickers were elderly and one of the couple's grandson was playing next to the fields. He had captured a beautiful iridescent but and had tied a string on it. This is a very traditional toy in China for countryside children. Sometimes they capture butterflies, small birds, dragonflies, or lizards and tie a string on it. The children love watching the insects and birds fly and it keeps them busy so the grandparents can work the fields.

The plantation was germinating new tea seedlings and we got to see how they do it. The tea seeds have to be planted almost immediately upon maturing, or they will either rot, or dry out. Either way, they will not germinate then. They are placed in the soil and the soil is kept damp and black plastic is kept above them to keep the sun from drying them out or overheating them. Once the trees are large enough, they are thinned and then finally, planted. It takes many years for a tree to mature enough to be picked, so they have to be planned well in advance.

We then visited the visitor center where my friend and his girlfriend saw how the freshly picked leaves were fried, shaped, and dried. Afterwards, we chatted with the workers for a while before being invited to play volleyball with them. We had a blast playing and nobody kept score. It was just for fun. It was a fantastic day and one I plan to repeat often.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

A Dear Old Friend Comes Home

Early in 2010 we had a horrible accident in our house. The lid from one of my favorite Shipiao Zini Zisha Teapots decided to take the plunge to the tile floor and a huge chip was the result. The teapot is an old friend and one I could not stop using, although every time I used it, the big chip was hearbreaking. The zisha teapot is used for brewing Yixing Hong Cha, one of my favorite teas.

**Be warned, the next photo is pretty gruesome!**

I had heard, years ago about how, in Japan, they repair pottery using lacquer and so I began my quest to get my lid repaired. After a lot of research I found a man in Japan who does this type of repair and according to the images on his website, he does an incredible job and is quite the artisan. I learned that the lacquer can be done in any color, including the same color as the broken piece, to hide the repair. I decided I did not want to try to hide it. I wanted to celebrate the repair, so I chose matt silver for the repair's color.

The problem was that I could not contact the artist because he could not speak any English, and although my Chinese is decent, it did not help. I have another friend in Japan who deals in pottery and asked him if he would help me contact the artist, which he did, thankfully. He asked that I not name him, because he is too busy to help others contact the artist, so regretfully, I cannot tell you. I am sorry. I sent my poor little lid to the artist and waited. The artist told my friend, who translated for me that the repair could take as long as six months. It took five for my lid.

The repair is very labor and time intensive. First, the lid needed to be cleaned and prepared so that the lacquer would stick. The lacquer, which is made from the sap of the Varnish Tree (Toxicodendron vernicifluum). The lacquer is mixed with sand and a thin layer is applied, which needs at least three days to dry completely. The process is repeated until the chip is filled. Silver powder was applied and when it hardened, another layer of lacquer is applied and when that dried completely it was polished. The whole time my lid was being repaired, I still used my poor lidless teapot and I just dreamed of the day it would be whole.

When the lid arrived, I was so excited! I used the teapot all night. Ah, what joy. The repair is perfect. Other than the fact that it is a different color from the teapot, it is as though the chip never existed. He did a fantastic job. Now, every time I use the teapot, I get a real sence of joy. I know I may put too much sentimentality into my zisha tea ware, but each one has its own history and this one, for example has been in my collection for around twenty years and it has seasoned beautifully. A lot of investment is put into each of my zisha teapots and I get very attached to them.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Huxinting (Mid-lake Pavilion) Tea House

Perhaps one of my favorite places in China, Shanghai's Huxinting Tea House is an oasis of comfort in one of the most bustling metropolises in the world.

The tea house was originally built, during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), as part of the Yuyuan Garden. It is a pavilion located in the middle of a man-made lake, which gives it its name of "Huxinting", which translates as; Mid-lake Pavilion. In 1855, during the reign of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) Emperor Xian Feng, the pavilion was restored and turned into a tea house. It is a two storey structure in classical Chinese architectural style and the atmosphere inside is truly wonderful.

Currently, the tea house is located outside the entrance to the Yuyuan Garden. It is situated between the classic garden, and the Yuyuan Market, which is built with traditional Chinese architectural styles. During the day, the market, garden, and the tea house are packed wall to wall with tourists and it is almost impossible to access the tea house. But, in the evening, the tourists are all gone and all that is left are the locals strolling through the market. It is then that the Huxinting Tea House really shines. The tea house is virtually empty and the atmosphere is so soothing. I like to go to the second floor next to a window and just enjoy the views of the market. No matter what tea your order, you are given a place of traditional Shanghai tea snacks to eat with your tea. They compliment the tea wonderfully. The tea at the tea house is quite good. It is more expensive than if you were to buy the tea in a shop, but you are paying for the atmosphere, use of their tea ware, and the service. It is well worth it in my opinion.
Whenever I visit Shanghai, I make a stop at the Huxinting Tea House. I will generally go the first time by myself and the second evening, I will call some of my local Shanghai friends and invite them for tea. Either way, I settle in for the evening and it is truly joyous.
If you go to Shanghai, please do not miss the tea house, and if you go to the tea house, go in the evening.

To see more photos of the Huxinting Tea House, visit my Flickr photo albums at:

Sunday, May 8, 2011

18 Imperial Dragon Well Tea Trees

Located in Hangzhou, not far from Dragon Well Village are the 18 Imperial Dragon Well Tea Trees. The site is awesome and really worth a visit. The site centers around, as the name implies, the 18 imperial tea trees. According to legend, when the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) Emperor Qianlong came to Hangzhou on one of his many imperial tours, he visited this very spot and picked tea from these 18 trees. It is said that it was he who helped create the flattened leaf that Dragon Well (Longjing) Tea has. While he was there picking tea, he received message that his mother was deathly ill, and so he quickly shoved the leaves he was picking in his sleeve, and flew to Beijing. Upon arriving at his mother's bedside, she smelled the tea aroma eminating from his sleeves and inquired about it. He had forgotten the tea and it has dried and flattened. He brewed it for his mother and she miraculously recovered and all was well. Nobody knows how much of the rumor is true, but that does not take away from the beauty of the site. The site is backed up to a mountain which is covered with tea trees. Dotting the area are tea houses and tea pavilions. There are place, of all description, to brew tea, which they do for visitors. Climbing the paths up the mountain bring you upon simple pavilions to also drink tea. Although the tea from the 18 tea trees goes straight to the government, they do have some wonderful tea to drink and sell, although it is not cheap to purchase. I highly recommend this site to anyone visiting Hangzhou.

For more photos of this site visit our Flickr Photo Album at:

Monday, May 2, 2011

Hangzhou's Dragon Well Tea Plantation

On virtually every single China tour that includes Hangzhou is a stop at the Hangzhou Dragon Well Tea Plantation. Unfortunately, it is a site designed strictly for the selling of fake Dragon Well Tea and souvenirs. I also work in Chinese tourism and I have been there several times on inspection tours. The site is located in the middle of tea fields, but is not connected with them. Although there are some very nice photo opportunities there, that is about all there is. Visitors are dropped off at the entrance and are met by a guide who describes how the tea is picked. They are then shown how the tea is fried before being taken into one of the many tea rooms where they are given tea to drink. After given a sales pitch, the people are lead through a souvenir shop which is the only way to exit the site, and then leave. I found that the tea that is given as a sample is not the same tea you purchase, although you are told it is the same. The tea you are given is much poorer quality. There are a couple of very nice Dragon Well Tea sites in Hangzhou, that should not be missed, like the China National Tea Museum, the 18 Imperial Tea Trees, and the Dragon Well, but this one certainly can be.

For more photos you can check out my Flicker photo album

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Hangzhou's Dragon Well

One of the most famous teas on earth, Dragon Well Tea is named after a water well. Located in Dragon Well Village in China's Hangzhou Province, the Dragon Well got its name from an ancient legend. According to this legend, a benevolant dragon lived in the village's well and ensured that the local tea fields had enough water. The village and the tea they produced was named after the well, in honor of the dragon. Although no longer the main water source for the village, the Dragon Well has been preserved and an entire area dedicated to tea and the well have been built around it.

It is a lovely area. The entrance to the area is quite beautiful. It has meandering paths lined with trees and plants and there is a stream running through it filled with koi fish. It occupies a large area with a mountain and it is dotted with tea pavilions and tea houses nestled amongst ancient trees and ferns. Visitors can bring their own tea and sit in one of the pavilions, or can purchase tea in one of the tea houses. It is a fantastic way to spend an afternoon.

The well itself is surrounded by a beautiful rockery and the well has a beautiful border that was added during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911). There is also a little museum on the site. Few visitors to Hangzhou actually make it to the Dragon Well, but it is very much worth the time.

For more photos you can check out my Flicker photo album

Sunday, April 17, 2011

China National Tea Museum

Located in Hangzhou, Fujian Province, the China National Tea Museum is an incredible place. I've been there a few times and evertime I can't help but drool at their collection of antique tea ware. The China National Tea Museum is the only national tea museum in China. The museum is two storey's tall and consists of many rooms which show the varieties, history, and culture of Chinese tea. The museum's displays are in English and Chinese and are well set up.

The area surrounding the museum is filled with tea pavilions and plantings. It looks like a large park surrounding the museum. After entering the gate, you drive down a little road through tea fields. In the distance you can see the mountains covered with tea trees. The entrance to the museum is surrounded by manicured plants and ponds filled with koi fish. Once inside, you are greeted with a 10 meter high waterfall made of stone with the Chinese character for tea carved in it. The first section of the museum shows the history of tea, from its prehistoric beginnings up until today. This area is filled with antiques and even has some tea seed fossils. I am pretty jealous of that! The second section shows the six types of teas, their different varieties and production areas. The third part shows the processing techniques of different teas and has some examples of tea producing equipment. The last section, and my favorite displays antique tea ware. It is an incredible collection and thousands of years of tea ware are exhibited there. Sadly, none of it is for sale. I asked. Haha. after that, there are a few full size duplicates of tea houses from around China. That area is interesting, but could be much more so if they actually used them to give people tea. The museum also has a shop, with a lot of books and, as you can imagine, I kind of go overboard in there.

The grounds are really incredible. They are beautifully manicured

with paths lined with antique pillar bases from old homes and there are tea pavilions scattered around. Also located on the grounds is the International Tea Culture Exchange Center of China. I snuck in and it has lots of meeting rooms and offices. I need to learn more about that place. Also located on the grounds was a statue of Luyu, the godfather of Chinese tea. He is holding a cup of tea and he looks so incredibly happy. It must have been some tea.

I don't know if everyone would find the museum interesting, and I do feel that they could do more and update it a bit, but all in all, I love the place very much. I never miss it when I go to Hangzhou.

For more photos, check our my Flickr Photo Album:

Friday, April 15, 2011

Liu Sanjie Tea Plantation

Last fall I visited the Liu Sanjie Tea Plantation. It is located in the suburbs of Guilin. Although beautiful, it is little more than a tourist trap aimed at selling tea. The "plantation" is named after Liu Sanjie (Third Sister Liu), a famous legend about a Zhuang Minority girl who lived in Guilin and whose voice was incredibly beautiful. There are movies, TV shows, and performances about it. It is a common name for places in and around Guilin. The plantation is a typical tea site found on most China Tour itineraries. They produce very little tea, and it is mostly for show. The tea they sell was not produced here and it is poor quality tea that is overpriced. Why then am I making a post about it. Well, for two reasons. First, I want to show people the types of fake tea plantations that are out there, and second, it was pretty and I got some nice photos

which I wish to share. I visited the site as a tourist. They had no idea I knew tea and that I worked for a tourism company. I wanted to get an honest feel for the place, as a normal customer would.

When I got off the bus, a guide met me and she started by explaining the tea plantation. We then headed up the hill to look at the tea trees.

They centered around a hill which had a pavilion on top which housed a wok for frying tea. They used it for presentation. She didn't fry any leaves when I was there, because it was not tea season. She then wanted to take me to the shop, but I refused because I

wanted to get some photos. The site is very small. It could be visited in half an hour, but I took much longer because I wanted photos. After I did go to their shop where they showed me the machines they use to make Gaoshan Wulong Tea. Gaoshan Wulong is produced in Taiwan, so the teas they make and sell are fakes. I did drink some tea before leaving. It was very poor quality. Even though I dislike these tourist traps, it was a lovely way to spend an afternoon.

For more photos, check out my Flicker Photo Album:

And here is Liu Sanjie herself!

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Spring Tea in Guilin

If you read my earlier post you will see that I got distracted on my way to the tea plantation near my house by some ancient imperial Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) tombs. It turned my adventures from a few hours, to all day. After I explored the tombs, I went to the plantation to get some photos of women picking tea, tea processing, and the tea fields. I also wanted to purchase some tea for my tea shops and website: http://www.chinese-tea-culture.com/

The visit was a lot of fun. The tea plantation makes Maojian Tea, a type of Green Tea, and some Gui Hong Cha, a type of Chinese Red Tea. They make some incredible teas there. It is kind of an interesting place, because it also accepts tours, but the tourists who visit are only taken to one field and are only given mediocre teas to sample. The get the really good teas, you need to actually know the people there. The tea plantation has a research center, where scientists are always working to try to improve their teas. It is a fun place for me.

I came in through the back way, because of my ancient tomb detour, and took a bunch of photos of row upon row of tea trees. The area is quite large and the tea trees go on as far as the eye can see. I met some old women picking tea from their own personal tea trees and we chatted a while. After a while, I came across a young girl picking tea. We chatted about tea, her work, and tea. She said she was picking some tea for herself, so I asked if she wanted help. We spend about two hours picking tea. When we finished, we headed back to where they process the tea. They have buildings filled with machines for processing tea, but we went to the area where they hand-produce the teas.

The first step in processing the tea is frying. We took our freshly picked tea leaves and fried them to wilt the leaves. The wok's that they are fried in are 200 degrees Celcius and, as you can imagine, painful to use without the proper technique, and I burned my hands. When I finished mine, I watched the other girls fry their leaves, and it was really impressive to see. They certainly had a LOT more experience than me. After frying, the leaves are shaped into curled twists. After shaping, the tea is dried on a basket over the same wok that the leaves were fried in. They are constantly moved to ensure an even drying. Once it was done, the leaves were then left to cool, and bagged. I am quite happy with how my tea turned out. It isn't fantastic, by any stretch, but it looked good and it tasted ok. The experience was wonderful and something I love doing.

After I had my tea, I went to the labs to visit the scientists. They were sampling the new Maojian Green Tea from the spring production and asked me to join in the tasting. That was a fantastic experience. The teas were each incredible and we spent a few hours tasting and talking tea. Tea is tasted in special cups and bowls and each cup has a different tea in it. For the first batch, they were all Maojian, but the leaves each came from different areas of the plantation. Tree location has a lot to do with the teas flavor. The leaves were weighed out on a scale to ensure that each one was perfect. They were then brewed with a timer to ensure they were all brewed identically. The scientists, on tea sampling days, sample so much tea that they do not swallow it all. They spit it into a bucket. It's not too pleasant in my opinion, but wine tastings are done in a similar fashion. I preferred to drink the tea. Each tea was wonderful, but there were definate variance in them. After sampling the Maojian teas, we sampled the local Guihong Tea. I am a big fan of Hong Cha and enjoyed that a lot. I ended up bringing a LOT of tea back with me. The head scientist had them delivered to my shop, so I didn't have to carry it all, thank goodness.

All in all, it was a most wonderful day! I went for the tea and was surprised with history. That's one of the reasons I love China. You never know what surprises are awaiting for you. I've lived in Guilin for almost 8 years and gone to the tea plantation dozens of times, and never saw the tombs.

For more photos, check out my Flickr Photo Album:

Ancient Tombs

On March 27th, I headed out to a local tea plantation to take some photos, drink some tea, and purchase some tea for my tea shops. I was in for more than I bargained for and what was supposed to be a 2 hour tour ended up taking the entire day. I decided to walk to the plantation, since the road to it passes through some villages and stunning landscapes. The villages aren't particularly beautiful, but they're quiet and soothing and the people who live in them are incredibly friendly. I passed a bunch of dogs running around, but saw few people. Most people were working in the fields and the children were in class.

When I was about halfway down the little road, I heard a very strange bird song. I tried to see where it came from and saw, between two buildings, the head of a giant stone statue. I knew immediately what it was. During the Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1911) Dynasties, Guilin was an Imperial city and it had a palace, where princes would oversee the southern part of China. The palace still exists and is near downtown. Located in the countryside, are the tombs where the princes and their family were buried. Only one of the tombs is restored and is open to the public, but the rest are hiding in the countryside. I've tried to find them for years, but they try to keep it a secret because they want to sell tickets for the restored one. Well, for some reason, the tomb that I found had had all the weeds and brush chopped down, so I could see it. I decided to take a detour and visit the tomb.

The tombs have the same basic layout. The tomb complex is surrounded by a wall and the entrance is a huge three-door gate flanked by two stone lions. Inside the gate is what is known as the imperial road. It splits the complex down the middle. On the larger tombs, there are two more roads, one on either side of the imperial road, for government officials and imperial family members. The imperial road is only for use by the Emperor, or Princes. The gate is flanked by pairs of animals, mythological creatures, and government and military officials. The statues are very large and made of solid marble. Occasionally there is a turtle carrying a large stele located in buildings on either side. At the end of the path is a temple for praying and offering sacrifices to the deceased prince. Behind the temple is a large mound, which the tomb is located under. The tomb itself is a two room structure built of bricks. It has two doors. When it is sealed up, it is buried under the burial mond, and no part of it is visible.

All that is left of the tombs now, are the stone statues, stone staircases, shards of roof tiles, and the burial mounds. The outer walls were made of compressed earth and because of the humidity of Guilin, little is left of them other than a slight rise in the ground. You can see where they were, but they are not very high. The buildings had rotted away and collapsed leaving just the roof tiles, which are gone now, except for some shards. I would like to know what happened to the roof tiles because some of them were quite extrordinary, especially the dragons located on the tile ends and on the ridge-line. The imperial road is visible, but the bricks that they were made of are all cracked and broken now. The tomb was surprisingly quiet and desolate. The stone statues are standing on plinths that are three to four feet high, but the ground level has risen since they were constructed, so many of them are actually below the current ground level, and many of the statues are now leaning. The tomb mound has been robbed and the hole where the tomb robbers entered the tomb is still there.

While I was walking around, I saw, in the distance, another tomb, so I high-tailed it over there and started exploring. In all, I found four tombs I had never seen before. The last tomb I visited was gigantic! The layout of the tomb was unique in that it was "L" shaped. Normally, tombs are always in a straight line, but this one was not. It started out like a normal tomb, with a large gate flanked by stone lions, then inside, it went straight for a while, with the path guarded by stone creatures. Then, the road took a 90degree left and kept going, lined by more stone creatures. This tomb had twice the amount of stone statues of the other tombs and the statues were more detailed and much larger. I wish I knew who was buried there. The bottom half of his burial mound was covered with stone rocks, and the temple foundation was very large. I wish I knew more about this tomb. Located near the tomb were fields of tea trees, so I left the tomb, and headed for the tea fields. You can see the fields in the background of the last photo.

To read about my visit to the tea plantation, read my next post.

To be continued....