Anji - Huangzhou - TaiPing
After leaving Mr Ye in the am we headed off to Huangzhou and to the tea museum for a browse before heading for dinner on the West Lake. For those of you planning a trip to China the Tea Museum is a great place to visit and learn more about the rich tea history and tea culture of China. I have a definite plan to start my journey with mandarin in the coming months but for now the excellent translation here was very welcome!
Although we did not come from Shanghai this time it is pretty easy to get to Huangzhou from Shanghai on a combination of train and taxi. West lake is of course world famous, famed for romantic legends and stunning scenery it covers an area totaling 2.5 square miles. Enclosed by mountains on three sides and peppered with causeways, natural and manmade islands Mid-lake Pavilions and famous pagodas West Lake is one of the top ten scenic areas in China, listed as a World Cultural Heritage Site by UNESCO in 2011 - visit for yourself and you will see why!
The area around the West Lake is world famous for Long Jing [also known as Dragon Well tea]. We were not here to explore this specific area this year [we will return with a focused trip in 2018], instead we were heading to just outside the city to visit some old friends cultivating organic gardens as part of our focus on organic practice. You can read more about Long Jing & West lake in the text box below.
Leaving the tea museum we headed out to the Southwest of Huangzhou city to visit the organic gardens with our friend Mr Shen. The gardens are 400 mu with 300 mu [1 acre is approximately 6 mu] planted with the Long Jing 13 cultivar. At Comins we visit a variety of gardens and growers of different sizes with the aim of always keeping an open mind - continually searching for people & projects that share our values. After years of travelling around we now get a 'sense' of a place almost as soon as you step out of the car. This 'sense' is then verified as we walk around, ask questions, make observations and of course taste the teas produced. The first impressions here were tranquility, clean air and clean practice. Of course helped by the farming of beautiful tea slopes around a tranquil lake/ The buildings you see on the lake here are deserted as part of the commitment to keeping a clean environment without cars and people and all the things that come along with them.
This picturesque garden - 'Guan Tang' has been certified organic for 5 years & along with the long Jing 13 there are 2 other main varietals planted : Wuliuzao and Cui Feng. As with many gardens in this area and on this trip the season was late this year due to the cold weather and late onset of spring - at the time of our visit the hand picking for the Long Jing production was only just complete leaving the gardens beautifully tranquil. Wild strawberries were growing at the top of the tea fields which were bordered with forests supporting wildlife you could both hear [bird & insect song] and see - we saw frogs, butterflies and insect life. The air here - unlike that around that directly adjacent to the West Lake was clear, clean and fresh - something that we believe you can taste in the tea [this is something we also experienced around Fuding last year with gardens nearer to the city producing a teas with a distinctly 'gritty' edge].
After touring the garden we returned to the hub to taste tea including a local green tea called Qing Ding which means 'green top of the mountain' and of course the pre Qing Ming tea from this garden which was particularly good. Many of your reading this will be familiar with the importance of picking times across all markets : in China you will often hear 'Qing Ming' referenced. Tea leaves picked before the Qingming Festival which is also called the Tomb-Sweeping Day - April 4/5 or after the 'grain rain period' - April 20-May 6 - are considered to be the top grade, while the leaves picked between Qingming Festival and the 'grain rain' period are far less sought after.
Our trip here this year was short this year but extremely worthwhile in terms of discussions around organic cultivation including soil management and of course building relationships, providing feedback on teas and getting to know each other better. We left feeling invigorated by the organic commitment of the team here.
From here we headed off to catch a local bus which would take us to Shexian - one of the main hubs for Mao Feng. This would be a short stop before heading across to Taiping city. After a smooth bus ride with the locals we arrived in Shexian in the early afternoon and headed to the market while we waited for our lift. Most activity at Shexian starts at 4am when the tea farmers come into the market to sell the tea they have processed from the day before. However there was evidence of business that had been done with sacks of Mao Feng being loaded into trucks and a few people hanging around and sorting the remaining leaves they had purchased.
[Photo Credit Howard Boyer]
We had a browse and some fresh pineapple from the fruit truck before heading to a friends house for our first taste of Taiping Houkei - one of the main teas we had come to buy on this trip. Soon enough the time came to leave and we loaded back into the van to head to Taiping City. On arrival in the city we headed straight to the tea market - what an experience - still heaving at 5.30pm at night this market was packed full of small stores and tea farmers with individual bags of Mao Feng, Taiping Houkei and other local specialist teas. I wish I could bottle the atmosphere and buzz here to share with you - I can only recommend that you visit yourself or come with us next time!
The market is alive and awake at this time if year from as early as 4am [just as for the market at Shexian] with farmers needing to sell the tea they have produced that day into a market that has a very short window of opportunity every Spring. We stopped to learn, talk and admire the teas [here you see fully hand made & partially hand made Taiping Houkei - more on this in the next blog] and make contacts for the next day when we would head into the hills to see the manufacture of Taiping Houkei. As usual people were so friendly and welcoming with great interest in our trip and of course we had great interest in their teas and individual stories. As darkness fell farmers started to leave and the market emptied out so we headed for dinner including this amazing lotus root [you need to try this!] before taking the car back to our hotel in the shores of Taiping lake.