Day 3 – Yiwu
Following a leisurely lunch, we set about preparing for the afternoon’s activities. Our hosts had an order for 84 taidicha bings which they were due to press. To this we added our request for a few bings of their Dha Shu Cha [big tree tea] and Yesheng Chiao Mu [Wild Arbour] maocha.
Despite their basic living conditions, I was impressed with the cleanliness they practised towards their tea processing activities (although who knows how much our presence affected the proceedings – my guess is that it wasn’t a lot)
We went to the roof and gathered up the maocha that had been wilting in the sun.
The room was swept, the sha qing wok scrubbed and a fire lit. The sha qing wok was interesting for me, basically a huge oversized wok, mounted over a sealed fire. The edges were sealed and the smoke vented out a chimney in the rear to prevent the tea picking up any smell from the wood fire beneath.
Besides being used for sha qing, this also provided the means for producing steam to soften the maocha during the pressing process.
Water was poured into the large wok, then a smaller wok with a hole in the bottom placed upside down over the water and wet rags arranged around the edges to seal the water beneath. As the water boiled, steam was vented up through the hole in the small wok into the waiting tube of maocha.
The bing pressing process was a 3 person operation. One to weigh the maocha into the metal tubes, one to steam the maocha and make sure it is evenly distributed in a the cloth bag, and one to compress the bing by standing on the stone moulds.
The bings (still inside their cloth bags) placed on a rack to cool, before unwrapping several hours later and drying for a few days.
With their order of bings already pressed, I took the opportunity to stamp some neifei for our bings
WIth the pressing of our order of bings complete, we moved on to processing the tea leaves we’d picked in the morning. As the wok was already heated, we just needed to remove the remaining water, scrub it down, and begin the sha qing [lit. kill green] process. This process stops the oxidation of the fresh leaf, and prevents it from turning into a red tea.
The trick, it seems, is to keep the leaves moving constantly, so no leaves ever come in contact with the heat for so long that they get burnt, but still allow enough heat to properly stop the oxidation process. The smell of these crackling fresh leaves cooking was sweet and almost overpowering.
With the sha qing complete, it was time to begin the rou nian [rolling] process. This, if done correctly, breaks the cells within the leaf, releasing oils and giving shape to the dried leaf.
The remaining steps before this tea could be pressed into bings were shai qing – withering in the sun, and picking out the huang pian [yellowed leaves]. Since we planned to leave the next day, they offered to carry out the shai qing themselves over the next day or two and send us the dried leaves for us to pick out the huang pian and press the bings ourselves back in Kunming. Perfect.
With some time left before dinner, I took the opportunity to have a wander around the village and came across this guy sitting in his yard making stone moulds. I was impressed by his speed and skill, able to carve these blocks of stone with an appearance of ease. I subsequently learnt of farmers driving for 5 or more hours to buy these stone presses from Yiwu.
Then, back for dinner. I was disappointed, but touched, to learn that they’d killed one of their chickens for us. They’d prepared a feast. Some in-laws came around for dinner and we ate and chatted until late in the night.
Tomorrow we would leave this peaceful village on our journey to Menghai.