Arrive in Fuding, Fujian
There is probably no better time to report about our tea trip to Fuding than now while drinking the Royal Pai Mu Tan, which I share with Jonas, my father and his new wife, Xiao Qing (while writing, I notice how unfamiliar it is suddenly to have a stepmother) picked.
When we planned our trip to China, it wasn't actually intended as a business trip, because we primarily wanted to visit my parents and friends. But the knowledge about tea that we gained from Xiao Qing, among others, on this trip in the Fudings tea mountains, is so extensive and valuable that our vacation in China truly turned into a great tea trip.
It was 2 years since I last saw my father and this time we brought him his grandson, whom he was seeing for the first time. The first thing Xiao Qing gave me as “Jian Mian Li” (a first meeting gift) was a small bag Yin Zhen Silver Needle. She said it was the very first harvest of the year and that she and my father picked the tea. I looked at the clear plastic bag and saw the pretty, silvery teen needles of even size lying together, as if someone had neatly arranged them. I stuck my nose in the bag and the fruity smell of the young silver needles was so intense that I immediately felt refreshed. And that although I had traveled more than 24 hours behind me.
On the way to the tea mountains
I asked Xiao Qing if we could also pick tea. She informed me that the tea plantation belongs to her aunt and that, as every year, there were too few helpers to harvest all the young tea leaves from the bushes in time. So we could very much like to pick as much tea as we wanted.
Two days later my father drove us to the tea fields of the plantation in the mountains of Fuding. In the villages on the way there, we saw families everywhere drying their tea leaves in large, round plates woven from bamboo. On the mountain slopes, tea farmers stood in line with their baskets full of tea leaves to sell them to tea merchants. The tea leaves were picked according to the 1 bud system with 1-2 leaves. The starting material for the top quality of Royal Pai Mu Tan (also called King Pai Mu Tan.).
A short time later we would also have sheets for the Royal Pai Mu Tan pick. Had we gone to Fuding 2 weeks earlier, we could have harvested Yin Zhen Silver Needle. Because a few weeks earlier, the now young leaves were all closed buds.
If we had come to Fuding another 2 weeks later than now, then the time of the Royal Pai Mu Tan would have passed and we would only have picked Pai Mu Tan or Shou Mei instead. These consist exclusively of young leaves and no buds.
The harvest of the Royal Pai Mu Tan
We reached the tea plantation, which was about the size of a soccer field, which is located at an angle of 45 ° on the mountainside. There were only 4 people there when we arrived.
Two girls and Xiao Qing's aunt and uncle were busy picking tea in the field. After we had greeted them with shouts, we squeezed between the tea bushes and tried to calm down from the excitement.
As far as my eyes could see we were surrounded by tea bushes with lots of young, juicy leaves and buds. I focused my gaze on the leaves in front of me and began to pick sparrow tongues. This is the name of a bud with a leaf that is not fully open. But harvesting wasn't that easy. Although the tea bushes were overlooked all around with the young buds and leaves, I could no longer make them out directly as soon as I wanted to reach for them. I was very slow to identify the perfect sparrow tongues.
One of the girls came up to me and said that I was taking the "a bud and a leaf" a little too seriously. Now the time would be ripe anyway "A bud and two leaves" to pick. If I took just one leaf, there would be a lot of young leaves on the bushes and that would be a waste. So if I took two leaves instead, I could harvest more tea in a short amount of time. This argument sounded plausible and I imagined the situation of a tea picker. If my wages depended on how much tea I could harvest in a certain time, I would probably take the principle of the sparrow tongues a little less seriously. Unless a client would order it exactly that way and expressly desire this quality.
After two hours of plentiful tea-picking, my thumb and forefinger were covered with the juice that came out of the tea leaves and I was getting slower and slower to make out the tender leaves. In the entire time I had harvested a little more than 200g of fresh tea leaves.
Where it previously seemed very attractive and romantic to be a tea farmer in the green tea mountains of China, reality has now spread. But I began to develop a greater empathy for tea pickers. It's hard work, especially when the scorching heat of sub-tropical summer sets in a few weeks later.
The 200g tea leaves from my harvest would make 50g of dried tea. This fact is the reason that this tea is very expensive. It is picked entirely by hand. No machine is involved, from harvest to bag.
Tea drying on our balcony
After 4 hours the four of us harvested about 1kg of fresh tea leaves. At home, we carefully spread the leaves out on round, braided bamboo surfaces. We put them on our balcony in the afternoon sun. In the next 2 and a half days the weather would be ideal: Sunny but still windy, so perfect for wilting the fresh tea leaves. After about 2 hours in the sun, we put the leaves in the shade. They gave off a wonderful scent that reminded me of white grapes and young roses. This aroma had an extremely positive effect on mine. I felt relaxed, happy and grateful when I inhaled the air in the sewing of the white tea leaves. That was almost magical.
Prepare and enjoy
When Xiao Qing decided that the Royal Pai Mu Tan was ready, we rinsed a gaiwan with hot water and poured about 8g of the tea leaves into it. The dry, fluffy leaves formed a small mountain that even towered over the cup. I put the lid on the cup and gave the gaiwan a quick, vigorous shake. Then I passed the china on to the others to smell the leaves. This was the best time to smell the Pai Mu Tan. The warmth left by the hot water warms the leaves and causes them to release their maximum aroma. Jonas deepened his nose in the gaiwan and sniffed the porcelain lid. He said it was like the scent of orchids in the air. Just wonderful. The scent reminded my father of the smell of a mountain in the spring at 4 a.m.
We brewed the tea leaves with the first infusion, which we then pour out. This is to clean the leaves of dust and small tea crumbs. Another effect is to “wake up” the leaves so that they can develop more of their aroma and flavor. After the first infusion, the floral aroma and softened an intense smell of honeydew melon and limes unfolded.
Now we brewed the tea 80 ° C hot water and let it steep for about 1 minute. White tea needs a longer steeping time than green or black teas.
Each of us got a tiny teacup of the tea we picked ourselves. Immediately after trying it, I was blown away by the sweet taste. He reminded me of white grapes again. Similar to the scent before, only the taste is much more intense. The almost viscous structure of the tea that seemed to fill my mouth completely was also heavenly. The temperature seemed just right because you didn't have to worry about burning your mouth while drinking. The tea just ran through my lips.
We brewed the 8g of tea at least 7 more times. With each infusion we experienced different, exciting aromas. The taste slowly developed from sweet and sour reminiscent of fruits to an intense sweetness that goes towards honey.
In moments like these when we sit together with our loved ones and enjoy tea we have picked ourselves, I ask myself: What more life can you expect?