From the Archives | Tea of the Bodhisattva
Experiencing tea in a farm is quite different from sitting with some overly branded tea booth in a trade fair. Fortunately for me, most of my tea experiences have been at farms, in a mountain, sitting on a rickety stool with some farmers, drinking through sometimes hundreds of slightly varying batches of the same tea. In this case, it’s Tieguanyin all the way, as we finally ended up in Siping, the home of Tieguanyin oolong. The clan we went to visit live at Bao Shan, or Treasure Mountain, at elevation approximately 1200 meters. Here, the skies are blue, the birds are chirping, roosters strutting, ducks sunning, and, mosquitoes hovering. In the first hour or so, I must have acquired about 30 bites. That’s the price to pay for being in a rural tea farm, or perhaps I can pass this cost on to my customers? I was accompanied on this part of the trip by Mr. Wing Chi Ip of the renowned Lockcha of Hong Kong, Sebastian Beckwith, my colleague, Ana Dane, a staff member, and David Silverman, a aficionado of tea. We were guided around the mountain by Mr. Yan and one of his proteges or grand nephews, and really, most of these farms were so hidden away few people who even live inside these Anxi mountains have ever known of them. Mr. Yan was the clan patriarch, one of 10 kids of a generational tea farm. His father left during the peak Communist era and arrived into Singapore to do business, selling the tea produced by his vast extended family. Today, about 1/3 of the family remains, and the rest are scattered all over China and Hong Kong selling the tea that the family makes. We arrived into the peak fall tea harvest, and visited some large scale farms as well as tiny family gardens. There was quite a contrast between the well managed famers of scale vs. the family farms that produce in batches less than 50kgs at a time, fired by firewood. Wing Chi was interested in finding anyone at all who would still make Tieguanyin the traditional style: rolled by feet. Most of the farmers shook their head. Are these people crazy to want to stand in the way of mechanization and progress? Wing Chi was convinced that the feet rolled Tieguanyin was really that much better.