Day 3 – Yiwu (2)
Rising early, as may be expected in village life, we took cold showers in the shed at the bottom of the garden and climbed up the Old Tea Horse Road to fill up on a breakfast of spicy rice noodles.
The village seems enmeshed in history and I had to remind myself from time to time that I was really in this famous place of which I had previously read so much.
After breakfast, it was back to the house to grab a bamboo basket, some locally made cloth bags to collect tea in and a few fresh cucumbers from the garden and some fruit to snack on in the mountains. Then we set off for the half-hour trek to reach their tea plantation. Rows of neatly pruned taidicha filled the small hillside that belonged to this family, interspersed with darting tea chickens almost self-sufficient save for a few handfuls of corn thrown for them each day.
Unconcerned with picking the taidicha, we paused here briefly only to take in the scenery before beginning our ascent into the forest in search of some wild tea trees. Those that we found were very different from the images of Wild Arbour trees that I’d previously encountered. Fighting for light amongst much taller trees, it seems these tea trees needed to adopt a much taller, wiry approach to their growth pattern. Luckily, for eager tea gatherers such as us, this thinness also meant that, although too thin to lean a ladder against, it was possible to stand further up the steep hill and bend the tree towards us, bringing the fresh shoots within our grasp.
Continuing further on into the forest we arrived at the family’s Da Shu (Big tree) garden. These trees were planted by the Great Great Grandfather of our kind hostess, and had been continually tended by the family throughout the years. Unfortunately they’d also been pruned for many of these years, so hadn’t been allowed to grow to their full size, though this fact also made it easier for us novice tea pickers, needing sometimes only to climb a log resting upon a fork in the trunk to reach the fresh leaves.
The strategy when picking was to leave at least one fresh leaf on each shoot. This provided the conditions for another shoot to sprout from the base of this leaf, encouraging the growth of the tea plant.
I was impressed with the lightning quick speed with which these farmers could gather leaves. By the time I’d picked a few shoots, they already had a handful of leaves.
On the edges of the garden, where there were less overhead trees shading the tea, I noticed the plants growing purple leaves. I’d previously read of tea plants doing this at high altitudes to reflect more of the lower wavelengths of the light spectrum and protect their tender shoots from the harsh ultra-violet rays, and have also drunk some tea composed entirely of these purple leaves, but had never seen this process in action before.
We stayed and picked for another hour or so and descended down towards our awaiting lunch.
At one point on the track, our friendly host said something and darted into the bushes only to return moments later with a stick surrounded by fresh honeycomb, dripping with the sweetest, most delicious honey I’ve ever tasted. He carved off slices with his knife and we stood and feasted on this sticky treat.