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Rare tea gardens - Tian Mu (Peo Hou, Zhejiang Province, China).

With a "see you in China" the call ended. A couple of days later I met Joe Smillie in the lobby of a Shanghai hotel.

Together we were going to travel through China to visit various "organic" tea gardens, whereby he would carry out inspection-work for the Stichting Ekomerk Controle (a Dutch certifying organization for organic agricultural products).

With best of spirits we took a train to Hangzhou the next day. We shared the very hot cabin with a professor from Australia and a young man from America. An interesting discussion developed, which was unexpectedly, but pleasantly, interrupted by a tea-break. Green tea was served in large porcelain mugs, free of charge. Then I knew I was at the right place: "China, homeland of tea".

In Hangzhou we met the exporters and representatives of the Nanjing Institute (a Chinese organization involved in organic agriculture). All in all the total expidition that would visit the tea-garden, Tian Mu, consisted of 10 persons.

A bus-journey of some five hours took us to the tiny village of Pei Hou. On arrival, the "mayor" welcomed us and invited us for a delicious and exotic lunch. Later we saw a small path heading towards a mountain. Looking at the mini bus we realized that at this point the civilized world of planes, trains and busses had stopped to exist. From now on, we had just our feet to take us to our ultimate destination, Tian Mu garden, 1,500 meters above sealevel.

The initial path, through numerous well cultivated rice paddies, was about 2 meters wide. But soon after creeks had to be crossed by stone-to-stone jumping. Butterflies, beautiful flowers and crystal clear water surrounded us all the time and stimulated us to stand the heat, which was about 38 [degrees] C, and to continue walking and climbing.

As a natural reward, just before we reached the garden (after 5 hours) a waterfall crossed our path. Already having a view on the scattered tea bushes, a last refreshing stop was made.

An unexpected welcoming ceremony had been prepared by the manager of the garden, Mr. Mao, his wife and the pluckers. Mr. Mao and his family live at the garden permanently, whilst most of the labor force only stays at the garden during springtime.

One of the unique aspects of this garden is that it only produces Springtea, plucked between end of March and middle of May.

The total output consists of just 6,000 kilos, however, of the finest quality one could imagine.

The Chinese people consider Spring the best season for tea production. Apart from the fact that they like the bright flavored liquors, they have a special appreciation for the tender light green tea leaves. In this garden skilled female hands pluck only two leaves and a bud, whilst for the top quality only the buds are gently taken from the bushes.

Their devotion to fine plucking is pure and natural. As such, it is not surprising that a plucker will be collecting buds for more than a day to enable production of 1 kilo of the very best quality.

After plucking, the tender tea leaves are put in an oval shaped pan.

There is not one machine in the factory. The production process is totally done by hand.

First of all, an oval shaped pan with wood fire underneath is heated. The teamaker will first check with his hands when the correct heat has been reached. Then, a small quantity of fresh tea leaves is put in the pan. The teamaker will roll the leaves between his hands and the pan, regularly takes them up and let them fall again. This ritual is sometimes shortly interrupted to look, smell and feel the tea. After about 10-15 minutes the firing is followed by drying. Inside a tube-shaped basket we see hot ash. On top is a kind of oval shaped lid. A cotton cloth is placed on top of this lid. The freshly fired tea leaves are spread on this cloth. The heat of the ash flowing through the basket will gradually dry the leaves. For regularly drying every 10 minutes the cloth is taken up by the four corners, to slightly shake the tea, then to spread again.

This procedure is repeated over and over until the tea is dry enough to keep its quality.

Soon after we enjoyed this demonstration of traditional Chinese tea-making, the sun vanished behind the mountain.

The next day we would have to walk down the same track as every kilo of Tian Mu tea has to go. Admittedly, to me, it was easier than going up but I was not carrying approx. 25-30 kilos on my shoulder!

Very much in contrast with the traditional production method; but very much in line with the same devotion as we experienced in the garden, we were pleasantly surprised to find that the tea is kept in an air-conditioned store. To further preserve the quality, the tea is packed in so-called "fresco-bags". Top quality green teas, such as Tan Mu, find excellent demand in China itself and, at very high prices too! In fact, until 1991 Tian Mu was totally consumed in China. The first exports were to Europe, where this tea is now gradually being introduced.

Tian Mu, a story of devotion and appreciation, all reason for me to end with "China, homeland of tea".
COPYRIGHT 1992 Lockwood Trade Journal Co., Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1992 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
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Author:Thieme, Karel
Publication:Tea & Coffee Trade Journal
Date:Mar 1, 1992
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