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:


Petr Novák said...

Hi Shangguan,

You make me jealousy! I want to help to pick spring leaves too...Hope I will try MaoJian picked there from your offer.

Enjoy your day

Alistair said...

I agree with Petr. When tea has a bit of a story attached to how it was found, it always seems to taste better :-) Can you let us know (perhaps post links to the store) when you have some of these lots on sale, please. That's assuming there will actually be enough left over to sell.

Chad said...

I agree with the other two posts. It's nice to get tea when you know exactly where is was picked. I hope you managed to get some hong (red) tea there, since I imagine it will arrive in the U.S. in better condition than the green tea would. I'm definitely excited about being able to buy some of that!