Holiday mountain trip springs a tea surprise
Mossy rocks, burbling brooks, baskets of freshly picked tea leaves.
It was a serene scene on May 1, or May Day in honor of workers, when a group of tea lovers had a temporary rest on their way down the Wuyi Mountain in Fujian Province. They had just picked some fresh leaves from wild tea trees on rocky ground more than 1,000 meters above sea level. My wife and I were members of the group, which comprised nearly 20 people from around the country, including three girls aged from 5 to 7.
As my wife and I sat on a rock, soaking our feet in a brook, she suddenly asked: “Is there a bottle of mineral water in your bag?”
“Sure,” I said. “But why?”
“I heard that someone has run out of drinking water,” she replied. I then immediately threw the bottle to a fellow traveler in need of clean water to cook his instant rice.
At this time, almost all of us found we were short of drinking water. A morning’s work in the sunny wild tea garden had left us with parched lips and little water to go around.
All of a sudden, we heard a voice from the other side of the brook: “You can drink from the brook!” Following the sound, I saw Brother Liu prostrating himself to sip the gurgling mountain spring. He was a local tea farmer and a guide for our group.
Reading the doubt in our questioning eyes, he said: “It’s safe to drink. Bottled water is too heavy. I never bring it when I climb the mountain.” Quickly some of us followed suit, while others filled their empty bottles with the brook water, which flows along densely forested mountain valleys.
It was the first time in my life to drink from an “untreated” mountain spring. When we finally arrived at a tea collection tent after an hour’s walk downhill, everyone was safe and sound — no one “suffered” a stomachache as had been feared as a possible result of drinking “untreated” spring water. Even the kids who drank the spring water were alive and kicking.
At the makeshift tea collection tent, we found another valley brook. I took a kettle and filled it with the brook water. Then we boiled the water on a portable gas stove before pouring it into a tea bowl containing earlier-made black tea leaves. For most of us, it was the first time to enjoy tea made with “untreated” mountain spring water.
That reminded me of “Tea Classics” written by Lu Yu (AD 733-804), a tea expert in the Tang Dynasty (AD 618-907) who is dubbed China’s “tea saint” for his contribution to the study of tea culture. According to his experiment and classification, mountain spring water is the best for making tea, followed by river and well water. As for tea trees, wild ones are the best, especially those grown in rocky places.
The Wuyi Secret Land tea garden in which we worked on May Day morning is part of a high-mountain wild tea plantation spanning about 1,000 mu (66 hectares), where no fertilizer or pesticides are used. At such a high altitude, the most tender buds were rarely prone to insect attacks. Even the insect-bitten holes on some full-blown leaves were signs of natural and healthy growth of wild tea trees.
In a world where water is often polluted, how fortunate we were to have found a “secret land” with the best water and best leaves for making tea.
To be sure, the wild tea garden we explored belongs to some “less-developed” villages — “less-developed” because of less industrialization. But isn’t it a paradox that industrialization, especially if overdone, can pollute the environment, depriving us of clean water that’s the very source of health and happiness?
On March 22, President Xi Jinping inspected the ecological growth of tea in the Wuyi Mountain area. He expressed the hope that the tea business should play a pivotal force in rural revitalization in the days to come.
Indeed, as the origin of the world’s black tea, the Wuyi Mountain area has much to be proud of, not least in its abundant tea trees growing on rocky places. It’s also the starting point of an ancient tea route that transported local tea all the way to Russia. The route, covering 14,000 kilometers, is being revived under the joint effort between China, Mongolia and Russia.
Spreading along the route being revived will not only be baskets or boxes of high mountain tea from the Wuyi area, but also a way of life that puts environmental health in the first place.
“Tea saint” Lu said tea is best for those who live a disciplined and frugal life. As I understand, Lu meant to refer to those disciplined against wanton material pleasures and oriented toward harmony between man and nature. According to a latest report from Xinhua news agency, President Xi once interpreted cha, the Chinese character for tea, as a symbol of man existing among grass and woods.
Over the past few decades, industrial development and urbanization have boosted economic growth in many places in China and the world at large, but in some cases environment has been polluted to various extents.
That we could drink safely from natural mountain springs in our May Day trip was not just a “natural gift.” It was also the result of decades of strictest environmental protection of the mountain area.