Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Day Trip - Tea Harvesting

On Monday I was able to do another day trip thanks to my awesome husband!  He took care of getting the boys to and from school, feeding them dinner and putting them to bed while still working at the office in between.

My friend and I decided to embrace the China experience starting early at 6:45am with a taxi ride to the subway station.  The subway ride was uneventful and an easy straight shot to the Hongqiao train station.  We chatted the whole way and actually blended in as best as possible with the crowd.  This can better be defined as not being stared at by every single person on the subway.  We then joined a tour group and took the high speed train an hour away to Hongzhou.  After a short bus ride we reached the YangMeiLing tea village where they are known for Long Jing tea.  This tea is a whole leaf green tea that is supposedly one of the most famous green teas in China. Who knew!

We made our way up the side of the mountain/large hill.  I quickly realized that by not working out on a regular basis and fighting an upper chest cold I was really out of shape.  Also add in the lovely "unhealthy" air quality day and none of it helped.  Enough with the excuses! Once we got to the top though "it was worth the climb."

You can vaguely see downtown Hongzhou in the back left of this picture.  It gives you a good idea how hazy the air was this day.  There were no clouds in the sky and the temperature was about 85F degrees.  Notice how the color of the sky is so far from a blue we would see back home.

I never knew where tea came from before this trip.  I just bought the bags of tea at the grocery store.  I grew up with milk and sugar in my tea.  All the bushes you see below are the tea plants.  Each spring for about 5 weeks they pick the small new bud and the two adjoining leaves.  Tea is actually a lot like wine with the growing conditions, regions, elevation, dirt, etc.  There were a few people picking that day.  They work all day long and get about 100rmb for their labor.

As we were walking along one of the paths a group of pickers passed us on their way to work.  That's my friend right behind them.

Once the tea is picked it is roasted by hand.  

After coming back down to the main area we got to taste the "high quality" and "almost high quality" green teas.  The one on the left is the better tea.  You can tell with the consistent shape of the leaves and the color and the way the leaves "dance" after water is poured in the glass.  We had to do a blind taste test with our partner and between the two of us I'm not sure if we really tasted a big difference between them or not.  There are ways to taste tea by slurping and breathing through your nose.  This ended up eliciting childhood like responses and we laughed a ton.  I think the left one was more mild, but for the cost I was fine with the one on the right.  I'm clearly not a tea connoisseur.  I think it may actually be a sacrilege to admit out loud you kind of like Lipton tea, which I made sure to keep to myself until now!  In the tea world the tea bags are basically the bottom of the barrel, the scrap leaf remnants.

Once we were done with picking tea we went to West Lake.  Unfortunately I can't remember all of the stories that went with the creation of the lake and the bronze ox in the middle. I'm sure you can google it if you'd like to know!  There was a path around the lake and a few coffee shops, fountains and stores.

We have been in China now one year.  In that year no matter where we have been, we have never ever seen a squirrel.  This was the very first one.

After West Lake we went to pedestrian street that was very similar to many local markets in Shanghai.  Store after store of the obligatory souvenir trinkets and trash.  We searched high and low for a bar in hopes of a refreshing margarita or glass of wine and a chance to sit down.  No luck after an hour to kill we finally found a store by the meeting point and bought cold waters.  The waters hit the spot and we were ready to head back to the train.  It was a long full day with us getting home at 8pm.  So glad my friend and I were able to share this experience!

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