Wednesday, December 19, 2007

My Second Tea Tree

I went climbing in the hills again today, and am very proud of myself because I identified my first Wild Tea Tree without the guidance of anyone else. It is a good season for this as There are flowers now (at least this at this altitude and latitude. I don't know about anywhere else.) The fresh leaves smelled a little bit like evergreen with a touch of menthol, but mostly very vegetal, and not much like tea at all! The flowers were a lot smaller than I had originally imagined them. I have a picture of a tea flower in one of my books about Pu-erh where the Tea flower looks to be about the size of a child's fist(with no size reference present), but the flowers I saw were nickel to quarter size. The picture is probably just an enlargement, although it was a picture of a Yunnanese Ancient Tea Tree, which has bigger leaves than the variety in Zhejiang, and the plant I saw was just a bush, while many of the trees pictured in the book were hundreds to tens of hundreds of years old and are full blown trees. Walking in the hills is a great time for thinking things over and having fantasies and I thought about wild tea and how I must roam through all of the mountains looking for wild tea trees, collecting tea leaves and processing my own tea. I bet it would be really hard to make anything worth drinking without a proper drying device. The tea bush I saw brought to mind an article I saw on the Cha Dao blog The Role of Stress in Tea Growth and Manufacture. The author says that Tea Plants subject to stress of various sorts make better tea. I bet the plant I saw today would make great tea as it was totally torn up by insects.

Sorry about the picture quality. The first one is focused on the background, the second one is not great either, but I took them with my cellphone, so c'est la vie.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Flower Tea or Tea Flowers?

Today I went out climbing for the second day in a row. I like to climb the mountains in this region of China (southern Zhejiang province) because although they are not all that high (the highest point in this county is about 4000 ft.) The Yandang 雁荡山 are one of China's most famous mountains, and also the mountains that inspired Xie Lingyun to begin writing nature poetry when he fell from favor in the imperial capital and was banished to the provinces. It was here roving in the Yandang mountains that he established his style of poetry that was later recognised as the origin of Mountains and Rivers Poetry 山水诗, possibly the most well known of Chinese poetry. This area is also one of the most developed in Zhejiang province, and is very noisy with the clamour of industry. Sometimes, if orders require it, little factories right outside my window run all day and all night. So, the mountains just a 10 minute ride from my dwelling in a 3-wheeled motorized taxi, are a welcome respite.

Today, I climbed past the point which I had reached yesterday. There were concrete paths leading up to near the ridge at which point the concrete gave way to old stone paths worn almost flat where it wasn't too steep. The stone continued a ways and then gave out becoming packed earth, very hard, but muddy in places and probably unpleasant in the rainy season. Almost everywhere is terraced fields, especially in eastern provinces. Zhejiang is also the most densely populated province in China. The terraces are largely unused now. With the abundance of industry and the jobs that it creates, many have given up the bitter life of toil that living off the fruits of mountain terraces often entails. I did, however, see one man on my way up who was coming down with a load of pine needles and kindling on a shoulder carrying pole. After passing through the terraced area, I re-entered the forest. In the forest, I passed a few abandoned houses, the one pictured below being the last, and then suddenly came out into a cleared area.

Unfortunately I didn't take pictures of what transpired next. I was happy to find a Taoist Temple with three men seated outside shooting the breeze. There was one old Taoist priest who could only speak the local dialect and two visitors who raised goats near the foot of the mountains. The old man asked if I wanted some water, and I said yes if it wasn't a bother. He brought out three cups of flower tea for his three guests. I expressed my happiness with the flower tea as I find it more thirst quenching than regular tea after perspiring. I was corrected. This was not flower tea, but tea flowers. I have drunk many kinds of flower tea: osmanthus, chrysanthemum, rose, jasmine to name a few, but never tea flower tea. I requested to see a tea tree and was brought to a nearby one on the path I had come on. There were more of the same flowers and the old Taoist explained to me that the best teas were the wild ones made from the leaf tips and that he would make me a pound of it this coming spring. I am not sure I want a whole pound of this poor old man's tea. He might be able to sell the tea, not to mention drink it himself or serve it to his guests. Although this man looks rather old, he has no trouble moving about; but collecting and drying a pound of wild tea could probably take a week or two unless there was an area of more concentrated tea trees. What I would like to do is go back and help him for a couple of days and maybe take home some tea made with my own hands. I already have about 3 ounces of hand picked tea flower tea that he insisted I take home with me (pictured). The flowers are now drying on the porch. I wish I could take a picture of the scent.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

The Legend of Qizi Bing Cha

(Seven Sons Tea Cake)

Translated from The Classics of Pu'er page 54

Legend has it that in present day Kunlu mountain in Kuanhong village, Fengyang town, Pu'er city there once lived a family surnamed Lu who were very poor and grew tea for a living. In this family there were seven sons and one daughter. The oldest son was called Ailao1; the second, Bulang2; the third, Jinuo3; the fourth, Awa4; the fifth, Aini5; the sixth, Lahu6; the seventh, Wuliang7. The daughter was the smallest, she was called Hani.8
The old man Lu hoped his sons would all grow and process tea, that is to say make a living in the tea business. But because of the families poverty, they hadn't the means to buy a piece of land in the mountain forest. The old man became so worried about this that it affected his heart and he became so ill that he could not get out of bed, and was on the verge of death.
On the 49th day, the seventh son Wuliang came to a place in the rain forest far from his home while out to collect medicine for his father. He inadvertently came upon a huge tea tree, and there picked no few leaves for his tea loving father. Little did he suspect that after old man Lu drank the wild tea, he miraculously escaped from the clutches of death, and the next day he got up and was back to work.
After receiving his seventh son Wuliang's rejuvenating wild tea, old man Lu began to think, "we don't have the money to buy a patch of forest on the mountain, but in the old forests in the deep mountains isn't there plenty of that wonderful wild tea?" After this every day he had his sons each go their own route into the deepest mountains to gather tea. The seven brothers followed the Lancang (Mekong) river valley, walking farther and farther as they went.
After a while, each of the seven brothers had his own tea collecting route and area. Each prospered and multiplied on his own land, as not only grandsons and later generations all grew tea, but also influenced the local people to grow tea as well. Thus today we have Ailao mountain, Bulang mountain, Jinuo mountain, Awa mountain, Aini mountain, Lahu mountain, and Wuliang mountain. Old man Lu and his daughter Hani stayed at Kunlu mountain also in the tea trade, the old couple calling the tea their beloved daughter harvested and processed "Daughter Tea."
Because his sons were usually busy with their work, they could only return to Pu'er once a year on their parents birthday. Knowing that their parents loved tea as they loved their very lives, the brothers would always bring their best leaf home for their parents. The road home was long, and the tea leaf was exposed to damp and squeezed and crushed into cakes by the time they reached Pu'er, but the flavor was somehow better than when first processed.
The old couple valued the tea their sons brought twice as much and stored it at home in bamboo shells. When guests came, they would always serve this tea. The guests would always praise the tea endlessly after tasting it and when they asked where the tea came from and what it was called, the old people would proudly point to the bamboo shells and tell the guests, "This was made by our seven sons."
Thenceforth, "Seven sons pay respects on their parents birthday" and "Seven sons tea cake" became tales on everyone's lips in that locale. P'uer sever sons tea cake became more famous with each telling. Many tea men and tea merchants were drawn by the story, and were pointed towards the Lu family. The filial sons in order to enable their father to store and trade tea more easily pressed them into rounds of uniform size with a small depression in the back. The weight was seven taels, five qian. The round shape symbolized the full moon, which implies a harmonious family all united in the same place.9 The hollow in the back represented the home of the seven brothers and their parents. As for the weight of the cakes, the seven taels symbolized the seven brothers, the five qian represented the self out of the seven brothers.10
As a memorial to their tea producing fore bearers, the people of the Lu clan, descendants of the seven brothers built a tower at the east gate of Pu'er in memory of their ancestors, the inventors of Pu'er tea. They called it the eastern tower. It was eighteen stories tall representing eighteen generations of their family. The base of the tower was nine stories, the first story representing the ancestors who first entered the tea business. The next seven stories represented the seven brothers, the ninth represented Hani. The top nine stories represent their sons, grandsons and their descendants generation after generation, flourishing, prosperous and never declining.

1 Each of these names is equivalent to the name of a mountain in Southwestern Yunnan, most of them also a name for a language or small ethnic group or subgroup. The Ailao mountain range is part of the territory of the Hani

2 A language spoken by a total of 37,200 people in "Southwestern Yunnan Province, Xishuangbanna Dai Autonomous Prefecture, and the Simao and Lincang regions. Most live in Menghai and Shuangjiang counties. Some are scattered, living among Va (Wa). Also spoken in Myanmar, Thailand" quoted from the ethnologue report, Bulang

3 13,000 speakers in "South Yunnan, Xishuangbanna Dai Autonomous Prefecture, near Laos and Myanmar borders, 53 kilometers east of Jinghong. Youle Mountains. 40 villages. Over 3,000 square kilometers." quoted from the ethnologue report, Jinuo

4 this is also a mountain range. see the ethnologue report, Awa Awa Mountains, southwest Yunnan as far east as the Lancang (Mekong) River." this is the home of the Wa people in China. Awa is also a dialect of the Wa language.

5 "'Aini' may be the same as the Yani dialect of Hani." the ethnologue report, Aini

6 A larger language the ethnologue report, Lahu

7 A website about wuliang mountain nature preserve in Chinese. There is an English version of this website, but no Wuliang mountain page in English. There is a great page on the Akha/Hani that mentions Wuliang mountain when it says the Akha/Hani "are mainly distributed in the Ailao Shan and Wuliang Shan mountains, and in the mountains and valleys of Mojiang, Babianjiang, and Lancangjiang districts."
There is another story about a man named Wu Liang who invented the Oolong processing method for tea. He lived in Fujian however, not Yunnan. This legend can be found at the end of this article.

Hani is one of the officially recognized 55 ethnic minority peoples in the Peoples Republic of China. it is also a language.

9 The full moon has always represented family for the Chinese, especially in ancient poems where a full moon appearing in a description of a landscape is a metaphor for a person far from home, lonely and missing their family.

10 'Five' sounds like 'myself' in Chinese.
I just found this article about an earthquake in Pu'er this summer. I was suprised that with all of the searching about this term and reading blogs about it I have done since then I might have heard of this before now. Other Pu'er fans probably heard all about this a long time ago. In June I did not have ready access to the internet.
Shanghai Daily Pu'er Earthquake Article

xinhua article

Menghai 2000 Pu'er Qizi Bing

I bought a whole case of year 2000 Menghai gold bud Pu'er Qizi cakes while in Guangzhou on my way back from getting a new passport in Hong Kong. The leaves are of the super special quality level(teji.) The tea Market is huge, I've heard tell the largest in the country, and probably the largest in the world too. It's more of a Tea Section of the city than a marketplace as it consists of several streets of wholesale shops surrounding a market, which is more expensive.

I tried the tea for the third time yesterday, and took some pictures. I brewed it 5 times using the gongfu method and took pictures, but forgot how many more times I brewed it after that. Although pu'er has less caffeine than certain green teas, I did manage to get quite a caffeine kick out of it as I was drinking it by myself.

I was sitting on my large 6th floor balcony pouring and drinking the tea while reading Forgotten Kingdom by Peter Goullart and looking out on the cloudy landscape of a rural village turned urban too quickly, a phenomena quite common now in this country. Although Forgotten Kingdom is not about tea, it is about the the area just north of the Pu'er growing and processing area. Xiaguan, the city just south of Lijiang is the just about the northern limit of the Pu'er growing and processing area.

This is a great tea for a cloudy autumn day. It is a full flavored pu'er, one can taste the age. smells a bit like hay in an old wooded barn in the late winter or early spring, not like new hay. The color is pleasingly brown, and opaque when deep, but becoming very translucent when shallow. The buds can be seen throughout the cake, not just on the outside.

Very pleased with this vintage. here is a picture of the second infusion, the liquor came out the darkest and strongest, which is how I like it.

The day before I took my cake up the mountain to a Taoist temple that my friend runs. He was very busy as he had to preform a service the next day, but he received me graciously as if he had nothing better to do, and we sat and drank first Rensheng wulong (Ginseng Oolong) then my Pu'er and finally a Tie Guanyin which he claimed cost 2,000 RMB or almost 300 US dollars a pound. Maybe I had drank too much tea already, or my palate is not developed enough to discern the more subtle pleasures of the perfect cuppa, but it seemed to me it wasn't as good as the stuff I had tried in Guangzhou (Canton) for a fraction of that. He said my Pu'er was horrible and could only be used as medicine. But then again he doesn't like pu'er at all. I told him his tea was the best I'd ever had.