In June 2017 I ventured to Zhenghe, Fujian to see the mountains of Southeastern China where White Tea is grown. There's a saying that describes Fujian as 8 parts mountain, 1 part water, and 1 part farmland (八山一水一分田).
Just as the saying promises, all around me were gorgeous, lush, green mountains; lined with tea bushes, bamboo forests and rice terraces; enshrouded in mist. As I entered into this real-life Chinese painting, I thought about about how surreal this experience was, and Zhenghe's mysterious ability to make me feel both in awe and at peace at the same time.
But first, let me take a step back. How did I get here and what was I doing? I had just completed one and a half amazing months backpacking through Sichuan and Yunnan with my good friend Zoe, who had returned to the US. I found a tea farm through the popular farm-volunteer exchange platform, WWOOF, and set up a one week visit. With little idea of what to expect, I felt excited but nervous for my first solo-trip.
When I arrived in Zhenghe to find my gracious host Jane and my very own room, however, my nerves quickly vanished. Prior to this, Zoe and I had been staying in a farm in Sichuan with much lower living standards (as is expected with any farm-stay). There, we often ran out of hot water and she eventually got bitten alive by bed-bugs :/ This was a 5 star hotel in comparison!
After arriving at the Long He Tea Academy (隆合茶书馆), I spent my first day roaming around the premises. I was amazed to see such beautiful architecture combined with the impressive backdrop of the tea mountains. The Academy had 4 main buildings facing a communal courtyard in the middle, as was traditional in ancient China. This brought me back to the dizzying Hutongs of Beijing - the capital's signature alleyways lined with back-to-back courtyard houses (known as Siheyuan, or 四合院).
With a rooftop view of the valley below and the fragrance of fresh white tea lingering in the air, I knew in that moment what it meant to really feel alive.
Getting My Hands Dirty
During my week in Zhenghe, I had the unique opportunity to understand first-hand just how white tea is made. From plucking and withering tea leaves, to applying heat, sorting, making tea cakes and tea tasting, I eagerly participated in each step of the process. Check out my next couple blog posts to see this urban, Hong Kong-raised teawala get her hands dirty (ha!) and learn for yourself how white tea is made.
Capturing the Beauty
Here are some snaps to give you a visual sense of the gorgeous place I called home for a week:
This was our view from the rooftop! On the left hand side you'll notice a sea of bamboo trees, noted for its light green (almost yellow) coloured canopy that resembles large fern leaves. There are so many in the surrounding area that we often ate bamboo shoots in soup (yum!). And in the back, you'll notice the shorter, trimmed bushes, all neatly lined in rows. These are the tea bushes where your drink comes from! Found all over Fujian, individual tea pluckers will wait until the perfect time to harvest these leaves for production.
This is the beautiful drying terrace of the processing facility. After the leaves are plucked, they are placed to wither on these shaded bamboo racks for 72 hours. Just by looking at the sheer number of racks, you can imagine how much tea they produce during busy season (March to May). Because I went in early June though, the racks were empty. Can't wait to go back in Spring 2018 to a room full of tender, young tea leaves!
Thank you so much Jane, the team at Long He Tea Academy, and Master Yang Feng for your warm hospitality and kindness. I had the most incredible time in Zhenghe, which I will cherish forever, and learned so much about white tea. Keep doing what you do so gracefully. Can't wait to visit again next year!
Note: All photos in this post taken by Mona Jhunjhnuwala on June 2017 in Zhenghe, Fujian, China