On my way yet chasing tea. It’s one of the great advantages that comes with my job and the product I am seeking after: tea. The collaborations between countries from every corner of the world. Countries like Sri Lanka, India, Taiwan, Nepal and 70 other tea-producing countries with each their own sort, process, preparation, flavour and culture.

Just spit it out 

That’s how I ended up in China and Japan, just around spring time, to meet farmers, search for the best available tea and find it (hopefully). Let’s take you along with me in this blog, showing you the journey to tea through my eyes, and sharing my most beautiful experiences. Just like the search for tea is a journey, so is making tea. A journey of realisations, insights and especially endless good tea. My first night in China. The land of tea. My hotel is located nearby some tea fields and tea factories in Wuyishan, Fujian. I arranged to meet my friendly tour guide early. We’re going to explore today. After a good night of rest, it’s time for breakfast. I’m already looking forward to what I’m gonna see later. My guide and I eat together. As soon as I sit down, I get offered a warm cup of Nescafé. It may be hard to imagine, but when I catch a whiff of it’s smell, it feels like home. It feels safe. Especially between all the savoury flavours and smells. So I gulp down the drink, and let me tell you, that was a mean cup of warm chocolate. After this, we get served rice soup, which tastes like … rice soup. Internally I’m handing myself notes on how I could improve the taste of the dish, like adding some caster sugar and cinnamon. But, I’ve told myself I would eat everything. So I too, down this rice soup which feels like undrained rice. I will get used to it. All of it. I look down at the table and it's filled with small dishes, filled with different things. I like the sight of this. There’s nuts and veggies, but also these tiny fishes. Go with the flow and eat everything. I also get a fried egg with soy sauce. It all tastes so nice. I manage to finish everything except for the few nuts that escape between my chopsticks. I learn that’s not a massive problem too, as everything you’re not fond of, you can just spit out. Perfect :)

The tea master

After breakfast we get into the car to go explore. First stop is the factory of the family of my guide. The last tea of this season is being processed today and they have been awaiting my arrival. The factory is close by and I rejoice my eyes on the sights in the village. There’s tea bars everywhere, kilometres of roads filled with them. This is a beautiful city. If you were to take away the tea, there’d be no supermarket left, and more important, everyone earns their money here by some form of (production) of tea. Once we arrive at the factory, it’s much smaller than I expected. The tea factories here are not comparable to the ones in Europe, Wuyishan is much smaller, and so are the factories. The families too, also live next to or in the factories, which is also unusual in Europe. In Wuyishan they believe in togetherness of family, and so every member works in the factory. All with the sole purpose to produce the best possible tea. I remark that there is a tea table at the front door, allowing every purchaser to be able to taste the tea before buying. If you’re a wholesale purchaser, there’s an office space upstairs dedicated to tea tasting. Many books have also mentioned that there should be a tea master, the guy with all the wisdom and knowledge about and around tea. He watches and answers: Is the tea ready to be plucked? Should the tea stay in the oven a tiny bit longer? He is the one directing a small number of men what to do. It’s quite a physical task, moving all the leaves from one place to the other, yet a very fast one too, accompanied by quality.

Baking tea

The steps taken in the factory are becoming more clear to me by the minute. It occurs to me that some steps are done based on one’s feeling, instead of the manual. Especially the baking of tea. The leaves are constantly turned around in a gigantic oven, distilled on either wood or coal, to give them the real baked texture. If the tea master however, decided the tea should be baked twice, everyone abides by his advice. So there are some main guidelines as to how to do it, but feelings are greatly considered in the whole process of things. It’s so amazing to be allowed into the whole journey, and witness it with my own eyes. It takes about an hour for us to go through all the steps. I start feeling like I’m just hanging around and watching the whole time, and the itch to get involved is becoming bigger, so I ask the tea master if I would be allowed to participate. Of course I can! I put my camera and bloc note aside, roll up my sleeves and get going. Grand! I’m processing my own tea! Yay!

This blog is about No.026 - Jin Jun Mei en No.011 - Zheng Shan