Thursday, September 18, 2008

Emei Mountain Green Tea

No more do I descend the stairs of time
The sun no longer sets upon the horizon
The jade green tea and I become as one
Embraced into a dance of mental rhyme

What are these thoughts that circle in my mind?
Are those birds that sing beside my ears?
What vision before me boldly appears?
Is it the tea or just my body trying to unwind?

The thoughts I have come from the jade-like brew
And the birds are singing of this green tea I hold
The vision is one of calm and gentle, not so bold
As the tea teases me by telling me it is all true

(Cecil Hill, September 2008)

Emei Mountain famous Zhu Ye Qing green tea

I can think of no better way to continue this tea travel blog than to write about the locally produced bamboo-leaf green tea or Zhu Ye Qing in Chinese. From what I have read on the internet and the information provided by the tea museum (a topic of a later post), Emei Mountain has been producing a fine green tea for thousands of years. It was always known for its pure and mellow light taste. In April 1964, when the government sent its team inspectors to check out the local tea production, the Foreign Minister, Chen Yi, was among the group. As he sat and played chess while drinking tea with the old monk in Wannian Temple, he wondered what kind of tea he was drinking. The old monk told him that it was a product of Emei Mountain but had not been given a name yet. The old guy requested that the Foreign Minister give it a name. The minister thought the tea leaves looked like young bamboo leaves so he called it zhu ye qing or bamboo leaf tea.

This tea can be found all over the place here at the foot of Emei Mountain and in Chengdu. In fact, we found a store specializing in it in Chongqing next to the Great Hall of the People and Three Gorges Museum. Every tea shop has it for sales and occasionally one can buy it from a local producer as we did this week.

A local grower selling her tea on the street in downtown Emei City

The tea leaves float on the top until they are saturated with the hot water, become heavier than the water and then slowly float to the bottom. The leaves look just like the bamboo leaves of Emei Shan. The experience of the tea involves the watching of the floating tea leaves gradually "float" down to the bottom as well as drinking the green tea. The taste is sweet and slightly bitter, unique aroma and has a sweet after taste depending on how strong the tea is. It is a very relaxing tea and, thus, I penned the above poem while drinking the very glass you see in the above photograph. The tea pictured above was very strong as the tea leaves were very light and took a while to start their journey to the bottom.

The Zhu Ye Qing we bought from the local grower above

Our new tea pot set from the local department store. Soon we will be on the road again looking for tea and teapots from their sources

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

The Chinese Tea Adventure Begins

This from the internet:

As legend has it, one day in 2737 B.C. the Chinese Emperor Shen Nung was boiling drinking water over an open fire, believing that those who drank boiled water were healthier. Some leaves from a nearby Camellia sinensis plant floated into the pot. The emperor drank the mixture and declared it gave one "vigor of body, contentment of mind, and determination of purpose."

Of all the legends told about where tea comes from, I like this one the best. Supposedly this guy began to drink the tea leaves in their wild state. Later the first tea plants were cultivated:

"But what people drank then was not cultivated but wild tea. Not until Wu Lizhen, a native of Mingshan County, grew seven tea trees on top of Mengshan Mountain around 53 BC in the Han Dynasty did tea planting begin in human history," said Yang, also an expert on tea cultivation.

Mengshan Mountain is located near Ya'an and is a three-hour bus trip from Emei Mountain where we live. What a great way to start learning about tea by traveling to the location it was first cultivated!

Welcome to Ya'an and the beginning of our Chinese Tea Travels.

The famous Wuwei Flying Horse - symbol for Chinese tourism

Drum and Bell Towers of Ya'an

As one enters the city of Ya'an, one will see the above "symbol of Chinese tourism" with a huge drum and bell towers behind it. These towers are an exciting introduction to the city. Although the bus traveled on into the city for another twenty or so minutes, we caught a taxi back out to these structures to take pictures. They were not well maintained but still impressive.

Misty mountains surrounding Ya'an

A typical tea plantation found in the mountains around Ya'an

The tea plantations are at 580-750 metres above sea level, with more than 70 per cent of the soil featuring acidity desirable for tea growth. The average annual temperature is 15.5 C; the annual rainfall is 1,520 mm; the annual sunshine is 1,035 hours; and the annual frost-free period is 298 days. "These are all favourable conditions for the cultivation of quality tea. "The name of Mengshan itself means 'misty mountain' in Chinese." This according to a local tea expert.

Ya'an is the Hometown of Giant Pandas

Forget about The Giant Panda Breeding Research Base in Chengdu. Ya'an is the place to come to see where the Giant Pandas really live. The first one was actually found in this area of Sichuan. If you are on a tea travel in China, Ya'an offers both tea and Giant Pandas!

Bifeng Gorge

A very wet canyon

The Ancient Town of Shangli

Waterwheel on the river next to Shangli

A scene from Shangli

Buying tea from a local vendor

A Shangli river man

Entrance area to Shangli

Typical Sichuan snack

The famous ancient bridge in Shangli

Ming Dynasty courtyard

White Horse Spring Temple (Bai Ma Chuan)

From the government website:

Just before arriving at White Horse Spring one passes some old walled graveyards that again clearly indicate that there were some substantial families in this area during the Qing dynasty. Nearby an open stone edifice surrounds a spring on the left. In this first pool, one can see the special character of this spring for which it is reknown--the periodic appearance of bubbles and a rise and fall of its waters. Proceeding a little way further on the North Road , one reaches the gate of the White Horse Spring temple area. The gate is a moon gate and has two very old stone lions to guard it. Within the gate one first sees a series of walled pools with stone bridges and many stone tablets. An old x, likely Ming dynasty, has seens from the journey to the West. Stone carvings include a variety of animals on the bridges and dragons overlooking the pools. Of particular note is the stone dragon in the main pool which is carved out of a natural outcrop in the pool. Stairs lead down to the waters and people gather here to watch the bubbles and the rise and fall. Some years ago (1991) there was a rare Wawa fish in this pool, a very primaeval species, that is endgangered. It was thought to have been stolen to eat and there has been no return sightings here since then.

Deeper into the compound, there are several sights of note including a small stone roofed open pavillion which houses an old brass bell. A stone courtyard fronts the main temple building which was built around a large stone outcrop. Out of this outcrop has been carved a godess of mercy. Inside the building there is also a dug well covered by a stone top from which pilgrims and others can dip and drink the healing waters of the spring. On the hillside beside the temple are many old stone stuppas as well as secular qing dynasty tombs.

This is one of my favorite temples. It is old, definitely old. The reason why I like it so much is because of its mountain setting. The lush green of the mountain side lends a relaxed and cool environment for the temple. This would be a great place to sit and relax with some of the local Mengding Mao Feng Green Tea.

Night Fall In Ya'an City

One of the most beautiful bridges I have ever seen. Highly commercial but really magnificent, especially at night. It has a pedestrian walkway down the center with the cars on the side. The covered area has two floors with all kinds of items sold including a few local tea vendors. We did our shopping and them wondered along the river waiting for the lights to come on so I could get my pictures. The lights were turned on at a little after 8 PM.

Buying tea from a tea shop is always interesting and enjoyable. The tea lady or man puts on a show as he or she explains the essence of the tea tasted. It is always fun and relaxing. Here a lady tea seller on the Ya'an Bridge does her thing.

No foreigner ever arrives in China without bringing in interested "others." Here are young lady joins us as we sample the local tea poducts. Actually she was a seller from the shoe store next door. We ended up buying some Mengding Mao Feng from the sales lady.

How about some Tibetan Tea, I asked Sunee? In a great and well lit shop that was obviously well supported by the government we found this TIbetan Tea shop. Tibetan Tea? I thought that the old Tea Horse Trail from Ya'an to Tibet was to transport the local tea to Tibet which did not have its own tea. In fact, from what I have seen, the Tibetan Tea was actually compressed tea similar to Pu'er and transported in brick form.

We bought some of this Tibetan Tea to try a little later. Me thinks it is probably local tea fermented in the Tibetan style. Now where can I get some of that Yak butter the Tibetans put in their tea.

And as a side, I read somewhere on the internet about a Taiwan doctor researching why the Tibetans had such white teeth. Seems he found that at least 50% of Tibets suffered from a disease caused by flouride. Too much flouride caused bones to become calcified. Calcified teeth are super white. Not good though as they tend to fall out all at once or break off. The Tibetan Tea bricks were really heavy in flouride. We shall see. We shall see.