Written by Felicity
And a route to good tea when you’re away from home.
Using single garden tea to connect to nature is very easy - tea is just a dried leaf afterall, that also comes from bushes growing in some of the most awe-inspiring places in the natural world. These bushes grow 1,000m up in lush mountain parks like Li Shan, Ali Shan and Shanlinxi in Tawian; in the shadow of volcanoes like Mt Fuji in Shizuoka in Japan and even in crevices in craggy mountainsides like red, rocky Wuyishan in Fujian. The bushes are fed by some of the biggest and most important rivers, like the Brahmaputra whose banks are lined with the gardens of Assam in Northeast India.
The tea gardens of Shizuoka in the shadow of and sharing soils with the great Mt.-Fuji
Like all plants, tea bushes rely on and in turn support the other nature in their growing area. They’re also looked after and cultivated by communities who have habits, cultures, ways of working and ways of life that are inseparable from their place and their nature. That why when we come to drink it, tea gives us the taste of its place – tastes of nature that are pure and distinct.
If you make tea in a glass teapot or use a gaiwan or tea bowl or any vessel where you can easily see the leaves, you’ve probably noticed the leaves and perhaps even watched them unfurl while you’re waiting for the tea to become ready. This noticing is a neat reminder of the plant that gives us tea, and the simplicity of the drink. Making and drinking tea in nature wherever you are though can make this connection and the enjoyment from a simple leaf even clearer, more obvious and, I think, more enjoyable.
What you'll need to make tea outside:
Stove: I use the Soto Amicus with just a smallest gas canister. In a sheltered spot, it boiled 500ml of water in a few minutes; it’s very small, less than 100g to carry and it has a built in igniter – so no need for matches; it's very easy to set up and use. There are lots of stoves like this one - try your local outdoors shop or lots of online stores.
Kettle or Pan: To boil my water, I used the pan that my Amicus came with and it worked perfectly well once I’d found a slate to use as a lid to help the water boil faster. It’s not vital, but I have my eye on this for the next trip!
Teapot & Cups: I carried our One Cup Tea-iere and an insulated cup (like this one). I don’t usually recommend drinking tea in cups that keep the heat in because while you’re waiting for the tea to cool so it's ready to drink, the top notes and aromatics tend to dissipate. When drinking tea outside though, it cools so quickly that even in a heatproof cup, it’s cool enough to drink it before the aromatics are lost – I’d avoid metal cups without insulation as they’ll draw the heat away from the infusion too quickly.
Water: If you can’t access filtered or spring water just pop a charcoal filter like this one into your water bottle – it’ll remove lots of the impurities from the water. Add the water to your bottle the night before or first thing in the morning as it takes 4-8hrs for the charcoal to do its thing.
Tea: The options are endless here – I loved testing the unexpected connection I’d once made between Anxi in Fujian in China, home of Iron Buddha oolong tea, and Scotland, but there are so many links between tea, nature and place you might want to tap into – there’s also a lot to be said for just selecting your favourite tea and savouring it outside.
Taste and place connections I’d like to try:
- Are the ocean breeze characteristics of Gyokuro and Sencha enhanced when the teas are enjoyed on a beach?
- How does the rich earthiness of Puerh change when it's prepared in a forest?
- Will I get a better sense of the taste of the lush mountainous home of Ali Shan by drinking it in another lush, mountainous place?
Why Iron Buddha in Scotland?
When I visited Anxi County a few autumns ago, it was a damp and cool October day. The drive up from Xiamen was less than two hours but the roads were steep and endlessly snaking. We were rewarded with far stretching views of the tea gardens and the area – it looked wonderfully green for miles, rounded small hills rising up all with rows upon rows of neat tea bushes, broken only by the occasional turquoise lake. By the time we arrived at Dazhai Garden, we were, I think, all happy to be able to walk the final stretch to up to the small factory and lunch table. It was noticeably cooler (we’d gone up more than 500m); the air was fresh and I was surprised to see the stony path flanked by homemade wooden beehives and slopes of what looked to me like Scots pine. While the places are certainly not identical (they are separated by thousands of miles), walking up that path in Anxi, I had an overwhelming sense of Scotland. Likely, it was a simple as the combination of the trees and the light rain, but since then I’ve always associated Iron Buddha tea with Scotland. I’ve thought that the flavour of Iron Buddha suits my experience of rural Scotland too – refreshing but not cloying or overly sweet, a mineral or wet stone undertone; it’s green but with a edge.
It did not disappoint. Not only was the simple joy of making a fresh, good cup of tea a welcome break from hiking and an opportunity to stop and take in more of the place, but the water in this part of Scotland is very soft – the Iron Buddha felt almost velvety to drink; it’s florality was nicely obvious but still with a green, fresh character, and slight earthy finish.