After a long wait for the tea season to begin, on Sunday I made my way south with a friend from Kunming to begin a month in the mountains, staying with tea farmers in Xishuangbanna.
The farmers we’d met last year had turned out to be really nice, honest and down to earth people, and we’d kept in touch with them from time to time during the year since. And so, on Thursday we received a phone call from the farmer in Nannuoshan telling us that on Monday there was a festival to mark the beginning of the tea picking tea season.
A couple of rushed days to pack up our belongings and hand over the flat in kunming back to the landlord, a 11 hour bus journey on Sunday and on Monday we found ourselves picked up on the main road by our friendly farmer Erduo to be whisked up the mountain to be greeted by seemingly endless meals and traditional songs in various people’s houses in the village.
Once again, I was really touched by the openness and hospitality of these village people. We had a long chat with the leader of the village about their wishes for their tea. They realise that they’ve got some great tea here and want to promote the true unblended taste of their mountain (even of subregions within the mountain). I got some feeling for their gratitude for their ancestors and the old trees they’d planted and their realisation that they need to protect and culture these precious trees to hand over to their children.
In the evening, we retired back to Erduo’s house for another meal and as we finished a car pulled up with a group of tea producers from Guangzhou who were also spending some time searching for good tea. Among them were two people we’d met earlier in the year at a tea expo there. We were very happy to meet them again, we’d spent quite a bit of time at their stall drinking tea with them. In fact, theirs was the only great tea we’d drunk there, a haven amidst a sea of mediocrity. They were just calling in for a few hours before continuing their journey. They planned to travel to Lincang and visit a few small villages which, despite being relatively unknown, had some old tea trees and some great tea. They ate dinner and we spent a couple more hours chatting about tea, tea producing and their venture and of course drinking tea, some from Nannuoshan and some Yancha I’d brought along for a bit of variety.
The next morning, after relatively sleepless night of dogs barking until 4am and roosters crowing from 5, we rose early to begin our tea picking. Since Erduo knew we were coming he’d held off on picking his old trees, so when we climbed up the mountain, his trees were ripe with buds and fat leaves. It was nice to see his trees, we’d previously seen many of his plantations, but never actually seen his old trees. His family have been farming tea in Nannuoshan for six generations, and when he was younger and many of his neighbours were cutting their old trees to make plantations he admits that he was too lazy to do much work. Luckily his laziness has paid off, and he still has about 300 old trees, ranging from 3-800 years old.
And so the tea picking begins….