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:

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....