Saturday, October 4, 2008

Wuyi Shan Sept. 30

The bus trip to Wuyi Shan was just as long as I had suspected.  China is a place with lots of mountains, so in certain places taking a plane can save a lot of time.  The train was not an option from Wenzhou, so we took the bus which dropped us off at the resort area at about 10pm Monday the 29th.  Looked at the carvings and had a cup of tea at a random shop.  The wooden carvings (雕根) for sale in Wuyi are mostly amazing, but also expensive.  When we stopped for a break on the bus ride home, my friend went in to a workshop where they are produced.  A product that would be marked with a 20,000-30,000 RMB price tag and sell for about 8,000 RMB in Wuyi Resort area was on offer there for 1,000 RMB. Maybe there was something wrong with it I didn't see.

A local hustler got us a hotel room the first night for 130 RMB. The next night the price doubled. Our hustler was still anxious to help in the morning.  At about 8AM we set off to get discount tickets to the resort area.  Our guide/hustler led us past the gate to the 大王峰 and over to the river.  We started up a narrow path around the fence.   The 'discount tickets' were not tickets at all.  The hustler just wanted to charge us half price to sneak us around the ticket collector.  She was angry and said we were very stubborn when we refused to sneak in.  We did not wind up going to any sights in the tourist area of Wuyi Shan.

We took a taxi to the Big Tea Pot (大茶壶茶叶研究所)and arrived before 9AM.  Kids were screaming and everyone was too busy to pay attention to us.  Don't get me wrong, this place is worth checking out, although most people say its a bit on the expensive side. I regret I didn't go back to the Big Tea Pot at a better time.  I will definitely make a stop there next time.  The proprietor is Liu Feng (刘峰)one of the 'Three Lius' who are famous in Wuyi for their tea processing skills.

Our tea drinking marathon began at about 9AM and lasted through Sept. second.  We made a call to the proprietor of Tianzishenyun, mentioned in posts by Corax on Chadao and by Will (see my previous blog post for links.)  Ms. Yu's husband, Mr. Lu came to pick us up in his truck. Their house is great, we got to see all of the tea making equipment, and most importantly, they were re-roasting their tea. 
 For those of you who have never experienced it, Yancha over a roasting pit (beilu - 焙炉) is one of the most wonderful fragrances one can encounter.  I took a couple of pictures of the room, also mentioned in previous posts with the reed baskets over the concrete roasting pits. 

 We drank a bunch of cheaper teas, including their Yanzhonglan(岩中兰)the high fire version is quite good.  We also had his Baijiguan (白鸡冠.)I wasn't very impressed with the baijiguan.  It looks really cool (yellow leaves with red edges) but it doesn't have the Yanyun (岩韵) which Yancha is famous for.  I heard a few tea sellers say Baijiguan is not very good, but that they can get a good price for it and it sells well to certain customers. Mr. Lu took us for lunch to a small restaurant near his home, which in my opinion was excellent.  The moderate spiciness suited my taste, and did not overpower my palate for the afternoon tea session. We had green vegetables, some sort of eel like fish which lives in the mud, bamboo shoots, and Chinese bacon(腊肉), which for some reason I love.

After lunch, my friend and I went back to Mr. Lu's for an afternoon session.  We had a Gushucha (古树茶 ancient tree tea) which was very good.  They have a couple of versions.  The cheaper version I had before lunch was OK, I finally got them to bring out the 900RMB/kilo high fire version which I drank right after lunch and was impressed by the Chaqi. The old bush teas, including Shuixian are said to have a mossy flavour (青苔 qingtai.) I didn't think moss was the best description, but I think I noticed the flavour they were talking about.  I bought some of the high fire Gushucha and high fire Yanzhonglan, and got samples of the Qingxiang Gushucha, Dahongpao, and Shuixian.  After buying tea, Mr. Lu drove us into the Scenic area to show us some of his tea bushes and then dropped us off at the Wenyou Shudian, also mentioned in the Chadao post.

Mr. Lu went into the bookstore first and bought me a copy of the Record of Famous Bushes of Wuyi Mountain (武夷岩茶名丛录.) Since he is a local, he got the book for the local price (60 yuan as opposed to the 100 yuan cover price.) It is a great book with pictures and descriptions of 70 varietals, and a list of names of 280 varietals from the 1943. I plan to do a post with some names and translations as well as descriptions as soon as I have time.

Apart from this book, there was not much other material about tea.  There is a Chadao magazine, but the selection didn't seem as good as when Corax from Chadao was there.

In the afternoon we waded through a bunch of cheap teas which are not worth mentioning. The one exception was the 石乳 or 'stone milk.' It was tasty, and had an interesting beidixiang which really had a milky fragrance. (kind of like that sometimes found in TGY or Taiwan Oolong like Alishan.) I found a 石钟乳 or 'stone clock milk' varietal in my handy book in the list of names from 1943, but this varietal is not described.  I did see it in other shops, so it is not unheard of.

The restaurant we tried to eat at on Monday night was awful.  They had all sorts of vegetables set out to choose from including all sorts of mushrooms, bee (maybe wasp) larvae, deer, some unidentifiable animals.  After a whole hour of waiting they only managed to bring out 1 dish, which was nasty fresh water shellfish.  Most of the shells were empty, and there was a lot more empty shells than shell-less meats. They tried to bring over some expensive dishes which we hadn't ordered, and eventually we left without eating.  

After we finally had a bowl of noodles, I went back to the hotel to rest for awhile.  My friend went back out immediately to drink more tea, and I just lay about making notes.

Laying by myself in the hotel room I had a very strange experience.  Some of the Huigan 回感 of the myriad teas I had had throughout the day came back to haunt me.  It was very hard to attach each huigan to a specific tea, but very lucid tea flashbacks.  It was like remembering part of a very nice dream I had had days earlier... sometimes the whole dream or the context is hard to recall, but the nice feelings or pleasant emotions of the dream come back.

My friend took came back to the hotel room at about 10pm to get a sample of tea to bring out to another tea shop to see if they could match the flavour at a better price.  We went to 探春 tanchun teashop (in the resort area, right opposite the bus station.)

I went to the factory of the family who runs Tanchun teashop on the third day.  I am not sure what to think of their business practices, but the young woman who runs Tanchun is very knowledgeable.  She told us our tea sample was a mix of Rougui and Beidou varietals.  Rougui has a rough feel to the leaves which are more narrow than Beidou. Beidou is smooth, and the leaves are  wider.  She also told me that all Fenghuang Oolong tea was originally from Wuyishan, and that the bushes were transplanted there during the song dynasty.  Evidence can be found in the 崇安县志 chonganxianzhi.  I am not sure who to believe, as I have also read that all Wuyi Yancha originates in Chaozhou.  I have been suspecting some sort of connection for awhile since so many of the names are so similar.  I'm pretty sure the relationship is not as simple as everyone makes it out to be.


Will said...

Did you go to the second floor of the big teapot place? I guess everything might have been crazier because of the national holiday, but the second floor is calmer than the first.

Will said...

ps - I know what you mean about the tea's aftertaste haunting you... it's happened to me a time or to. But the aroma over the tea roasters there (which you also mentioned) is what really haunts me. A year later, I can still imagine it, and I think it's one reason that I'm obsessed with yan cha.

Will said...

I also wasn't impressed with the bai ji guan at this factory. It wasn't awful, but definitely didn't seem to be worth 3-4000 RMB/jin. I've never had one that really blew me away, and many you see aren't even the right color.

Bret said...

That would be a dream vacation for me. I,d probably get kinda frustrated with what seems to be misinformation, hustlers and people really wanting to sell you the tea,s that your not really interested in. But all in all, a tea lovers paradise. Now if you have found yourself with more tea than you know what to do with, then by all means I,ll releive you of some of it. haha

Will said...

Will - I did go to the second floor of Big Teapot. The first floor was full of people sorting tea leaves, getting rid of stems and huangpian. You couldn't even walk into the first floor. I went at 9AM, they weren't ready for customers. I'll go back next time.
Lots of people told me that Baijiguan wasn't very good to drink... I dunno why. Maybe because it isn't oxidized as much as Yancha should be.

In my journal I used the adjective 'haunting' to describe my feelings on recollection of the scent of the roasting baskets. The fragrance is truly unique, and I would invariably go into shops with tea roasting in them. Anyone who smells it will remember it their whole life.

Bret - It was very frustrating to go during peak tourist season. I hope I don't turn anyone off from going to Wuyi Shan as it is a great place. However, economically, tourism may be even more important than tea to Wuyi Shan, and tourist areas anywhere can be annoying at times.