Roots Revisited For Early Spring Tea Harvest
Mr. and Mrs. Chen were lucky to have chosen April 10 for the harvest of the small plot of Jin Xuan they manage for their childhood friend and tea partner. It was sunny and breezy, perfect weather for harvesting spring tea!
This single day of clear skies and low humidity was followed by the next day's "spring thunder", a distinct storm system that traditionally announces the arrival of "spring rain" — a short season of ongoing rainfall, which can make spring tea harvest a tricky prospect!
You can see in the images above a shade cloth was used for solar withering, which means there was direct sunlight during the harvest hours before noon. I first visited this factory in 1995, when Tony Lin introduced his cousin Mr. Chen during that spring harvest 22 years ago. I've spent many days and nights at the tea factory since then, and learned a great deal about tea making over the last 20 plus years.
Mr. and Mrs. Chen were up at dawn, organizing and participating in the morning harvest, followed by a full day's work of solar withering and gathering the leaves to be stacked on bamboo trays for the long slow process of indoor withering. Mr. Chen related how he shuffled the leaves on each bamboo tray in rotation for hours by himself in the late afternoon before taking a dinner break, and then returning to the factory to continue the processing of the tea leaves with his wife.
Mr. Liu, the owner of the factory and plot of tea showed up late in the evening to check in and lend a hand, and I couldn't help but feel a bit nostalgic over the fact that it was exactly 20 years ago this spring that I spent the night in the factory for the first time. No time for posing or reminiscing though, there was work to do!
Mr. Liu went off to bed by midnight, and I left at 1:30 a.m. to ride some 25 km to my home at the foot of the mountain. Mr. and Mrs. Chen still had a couple hours of work before completing the initial processing of the day's harvest, packing up, and driving home. That meant they probably went to bed near dawn — almost 24 hours after they started their day. I rode home feeling a new level of respect and admiration for my friends who have been doing this for over 30 years. As I rode through the still night air, I tried to think of how many tea farmers I know who still do all of this work themselves. I could only think of the father and son team who make my favorite Dong Ding Oolong. Mr. and Mrs. Chen are my local heroes in this respect.
Andy Kincart, April 14, 2017
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We can see in the photo of the dried leaves above that they were hand-plucked while still very young and tender. This is evident not only by the size of the leaves, but also in the protective fur that is still on the whitish colored leaf buds. It is this stage of leaf growth, along with the heirloom cultivar of tea tree that give Bi Luo Chun its distinctive character among Green Teas — especially when it is from the first flush of spring tea buds!