Day 1: Lucy and Henry's Tea journey continues at Emei Shan's Organic Tea Gardens.
On the first morning of our mountain retreat, we walk to the nearest village in search of a foot path in to the forest. The air is cold, and thick with damp mist - in stark contrast to the 30 degree sunshine we have left below. On arrival at the village, we are greeted cheerfully by a local woman tending her garden. On closer look we see that she is in fact picking tea leaves from the rows of tea bushes in her front garden. When asked if we know how to pick tea – we are happy to reply in the affirmative, and enthusiastically accept the invitation to join her. We spend a beautifully focused hour picking tea, as Mrs Li smiles and chats, telling us that she tends her tea bushes to sell to the local collective.
An hour later we continue our walk, in search of a forest path. We strike gold. To our left a sign welcomes us to the Organic Tea Gardens of Emeishan, and we start on a path that will take us slowly winding through acres of misty tea garden. Rows and rows of tea bushes separated only by wild pine trees, ferns, ravines and dozens of waterfalls. The path winds steeply up hill, hugging the often sheer mountain face. Deft tea pickers expertly navigate the slopes, with baskets on their backs filled to the brim with vibrant green leaves. The air is damp, visibility patchy and the terrain gently rocky. We are quite literally walking through cloud.
A few miles climb in to the walk and a loud roaring sound stops us in our tracks. Thunder? an avalanche? We carry on slowly in trepidation - to find a vast, bellowing, ferociously rolling waterfall. The wild beauty of the mountain astounds us.
As the light fades we slowly descend back to the village, passing banks of wild fiddlehead ferns - which we forage with excitement. As we enter the village, we join the procession of tea pickers returning from a day’s work on the mountain. We are warmly invited to the home of one picker, to enjoy a glass of Emei mountain tea with her family. We gladly accept, inspired by the contagious pride that she takes in the tea of her mountain. The Spring green tea leaves are dropped in to a tall glass tumbler, and just covered with almost boiling water. The leaves are left for a couple of minutes in the shallow water to plump. This first water is drained, and the glass filled two thirds full with fresh hot water. Our host explains that the glass should never filled to the very top, as a sign of modesty. The tea is so fresh it is almost tart – we learn that the leaves will in fact be at their very best 8-10 weeks after picking. I don't speak a word of Mandarin, but the warmth of the gestures, and the familiar ritual of sharing tea remind me what a universal language for hospitality tea is.
We thank our hosts, and head back to our guest house in anticipation of a delicious home cooked dinner (to include our fiddlehead ferns!). As we pass her garden Mrs Li waved us on our way, and warns us to take an umbrella as heavier rain is coming.
Hand-picked and steamed green tea from the humid plains of central Sichuan. Whilst the tradition of steaming green is more usually associated with green teas produced in Japan, the steaming process actually originates in China. The steaming process enhances the fresh grassy flavours of the succulent tea leaves.