Waking up at a tea plantation is indescribable. What an experience! My view is that of the tips of the mountains, tea everywhere, and sun!
I hear that my driver and guide are awake already, and are being busy bees too! I walk downstairs and there’s a table with laid out for me, filled with a warm, delicious breakfast. Steamed bread filled with bamboo, cups of warm soy milk and a pancake filled with a spring onion omelette. It’s been freshly delivered I understand. Wow, so good! Plus, I’m hungry, so I end up stuffing myself. Ok, time to get my stuff together and get going!
We leave Alishan again today, but not before we’ve visited some farmers and I’ve been able to capture some of these breathtaking sights. We get in the car and I roll open my window. It’s nice and warm even though we’re on top of the world (read: 1400m altitude), and it’s 8AM. Slowly, we get to the bottom, with occasional stops to see farmers, and taste their tea. I love learning new things too, like techniques. All tea is being dried up, so that they can start processing it. The weather is good, and you can smell tea everywhere. It smells fresh yet complex. I’m trying to archive this smell, I like it. I end up meeting a lot of farmers and everywhere I go I obtain new stories. Everyone has their own method of setting, preparing. They even differ in picking, packaging and harvesting. Good teachers with good teachings. I drink and taste so many different teas, and everyone is so welcoming here.
Then it’s time for me to get my hands dirty; an hour of picking tea alongside the pluckers. Gotta make myself useful once in awhile :) Because I have many more addresses and fields to visit, it’s impossible to be picking for a whole day, so an hour is good to obtain an idea of what plucking is like. And thus it is that during this hour, I am reminded that this is no easy task. The plucker that I am shadowing is exhausted after an hour. The women show me the do’s and don’ts of breaking off the stem. I understand and try to follow instructions closely. Everything is done by hand here, which makes it really precise. After an hour my baskets full. Sounds like a lot, but my fellow pluckers have been walking up and down the mountain with full baskets constantly. I’m slacking. I guess I wouldn’t get employed here, ever.
calzone with chopsticks
I thank my colleagues and get back in the car. My hands smell of tea bushes. Love it. We drive on down, and I’d like to stop Driver at literally each turn. There’s so many beautiful sights here. Too much to see, experience and take in. I can’t though, because time is running out and we still need to lunch with Driver’s son. He works at a massive company and is responsible for the export to Europe from Taiwan, which I could really learn from. He in turn, would like to know about European customs. Perfectly arranged. He has reserved a place for us at an Italian restaurant, or atleast, the most Italian possible thing around this place. Oh. Nice, but wasn’t needed. Eating calzone with chopsticks is impossible, even for Driver and her son. We discuss customs, values and standards for about an hour. I always find this so exciting, and can rattle on about everything I know and have seen. It’s nice to, in turn, learn about the do’s and don’ts of Taiwan; they resemble Japan in a lot of ways, yet are more lenient.
After a nice lunch we drive on to the Dong Ding oolong area. I’ve been looking forward to it all trip long, because I have an inner connection with Oolong. Don’t ask. I don’t even know. Just really like it. We drive to the part where I have an appointment with a tea farmer. When we arrive, I see that they’re busy processing, and we immediately get invited to help and ask any questions we might have. The farmer talks on and on, all while shaking up the tea. He does this every hour, three times consecutively. This takes all the bitterness out of the tea. All the while, he tells us about his tea, company, family and his age (83 wow). He’s in good shape and when I ask him if we can taste some of the harvest, he tells us there’s something we have to do first.
Does he does this with all his customers?
We follow him and after about a 100m I find myself standing in a garden. The garden is filled with banana trees, mango trees amongst other fruits. So naturally, I think to myself ‘oh we’re about to eat some’. But man, I’m way off. We get invited to come into his house instead. Nice, quiet home with a peaceful atmosphere. He tells me that before I’d like to purchase any tea, I gotta sing with him. I’m gobsmacked. There’s a massive tv, files full of karaoke songs, two big boxes and two microphones. He starts to flip through the pages filled with songs and lyrics. Occasionally he shakes his head while I stare on. Should I let him know that I can’t read his language or even sing? Suddenly I hear a shriek. WOOHOO! He has found the song he was looking for! It’s about the history between The Netherlands and Taiwan and he’d like to sing it with me. What should I do or say now? I’m going through all the options I have right now. But.. I really want to taste some of his tea.. So I get up, grab the microphone and give him the other one. He is literally cheering and jumping around. Hahaha. I gotta focus otherwise I might burst out laughing. It’s getting hot in here. Does he does this with all his customers? Or is it just something I attract? I’d like to know. The driver and my guide are our audience. They’re clapping and cheering us along. I’m about 2 inches taller than the farmer which makes this an even funnier sight. The screen turns on and fills up with symbols I can’t read (told you so). Also, the background switches between that of a lady washing a car in her bikini and an aquarium filled with fish. I don’t think this has anything to do with the song, but I guess we will never know.
singing and preparing tea
I make an effort and somehow make it till the end of the song. This is especially down to the fact that I try to divert the attention to him by clapping whenever he sings. Which actually backfires because now he’s so excited that he wants to sing another song. And another. And one more. I decide to stop worrying where this is all going and start enjoying the funny situation I’ve found myself in. Everybody is ready to party! Driver wants to sing a song too, phew. Takes the pressure off me. This does create a small time gap for me and the farmer to taste his tea and discuss it. Sometimes he gets distracted and puts on a new song, all while preparing tea. The voice of Driver echoes through the room while she sings away.
I take a sip of the tea and am blown away. Wow! It’s f*cking good. Jheeze. I look at the farmer but he’s gone to sing a song again. I have no clue how to handle this but I really want to buy his tea. I would like to ask him what he has to offer, prices, stock, harvests.. But he’s passionately singing into a yellow microphone. While plotting my strategy I slowly take a seat at the tea table. They’re busy singing, I’m sure they won’t mind me having some more tea. I set the tea, pour it, taste it and repeat this process a few times. This tea is simply wonderful!
Suddenly it’s quiet, driver has shut down the machine. We have to go. Next tea farm. This is what I love about Asia. Everything takes ages yet is done swiftly. Okay, we’ve got to get going. I quickly ask my guide for the farmers business card, and leave a card and gift for him too. I also receive a sample from him, allowing me to taste the tea again back home and contact him if needed. I did find a moment to ask him about his tea, it was really last minute, but I’m happy I did. Karaoke tea. They’re gonna love this back home.
muddy sneakers in a Michelin star restaurant
After less swinging visits to other farmers in Dong Ding, the time has come to return to Taipei City. It’s gonna take a long time before we’re back and I decide to take a nap and process today. When I open my eyes again, I find myself in the evening rush hour of Taipei. We’re on our way to eat the best dumplings here. They’ve even been crowned with a star for their amazing taste. It’s funny that you can walk into a Michelin star restaurant on muddy sneakers you wore in the mountains a few hours ago. Hihi. Weird. It’s super busy and we’re in a queue, all numbered. No reservations here; you get in with a lot of patience and luck.
beer & food
I see different kinds of people. Youth shopping, businessmen in suits. It makes it worthwhile and much more enjoyable, seeing different people come together at beautiful places and eat. Whether you’re a student, or a successful businessman. It doesn't matter. Even tea buyers in jeans are allowed in. I’ve decided to listen to my heart tonight. Or rather, my stomach. Or eyes. Basically, what i mean to say is, I’m ordering a whole lot of food. Today is a party. Driver asks: "Would you like some beer?" "YES! I’d love to!" Party, told you so. I needed this. The cooled beer bottles are flowing freely, but I do notice that Driver doesn’t drink (good idea, she’s gotta drive) and my guide drinks much less than I do. Anyway, the combination of beer and food is magnificent so I enjoy until my stomach is about to explode. We laugh, eat, drink and have good conversations.
A real feast. I’ve already been accepted into the family I get told, and they’re going to do everything in their power to make the Direct Trade work. This is why I’m here. Building up networks of acquaintances and friends, in order to do business with countries. Mission accomplished! I will be looking for farmers for one more day. As soon as I arrive at the hotel I’ll be putting everything in boxes to mail back home, to the Netherlands. A massive box with all the flavours I’ve encountered upon this journey. I can’t wait to receive them there, and try them again! First stop tomorrow morning: the post office. Okay, goodnight!
This blog is about No.092 - Dong Ding