Monday, March 23, 2009

A trip to Songboling

March 21st, 2009, first day of Spring 

Most Oolong tea from Mingjian in Nantou county comes from this small village, Songboling. There are around 300 tea producers here, producing Taiwan's low elevation (and mostly cheap) Oolongs.  One would imagine that most plantations look like the one on top: big and flat, harvested by machine. But reality is always more complex, especially when there are so many different producers. 

For instance, I also found this wonderful sight of several small terrace plantations below. 

Second surprise: Both harvests I saw on that day were performed by hand! This has a dramatic impact on the production cost. But the impact on flavor and taste is really noticeable and easy to compare: machine cut leaves have a stronger smell and harsher taste, while hand harvested tea smells finer and tastes lighter. 

Most old pickers prefer to sit down to work. Several ladies had their chair attached on their back for more convenience! 
Without the strong and experienced fingers of these Oriental Beauties, our Oolongs wouldn't taste as good! (As several readers requested before, I told these ladies that my tea friends in far away lands really appreciate their work.)
This lady prefers to pick leaves while standing.

Even inside the village, between houses, there are small tea plantations.

The small alleys smell of grassy, just cut leaves that are either withering, heating, drying or steeping.

Every house seems related to tea. Tea is everywhere and in huge quantities. It is everyday tea quality (the summer harvests will be used to make soft drinks), but it's still exhilarating to see so much tea being produced.

The friendly people of Songboling let me enter their homes to take pictures. A young man tells me he is a fourth generation tea maker.  Another shows me how he turns the leaves that are withering on the ground. I visit several factories and sample some teas for comparison purposes. To better appretiate the best teas, it's interesting to know how the most common taste like.

Sungboling is also home to Taiwan's biggest Taoist Shoutian Temple. He is the lord of Somber Heavens. His birthday, on the 3rd day of the 3rd month of the Chinese calendar (March 29 in 2009) is the cause for a big celebration. It's probably no coincidence that this celebration happens during the spring harvests.

On this day, I could already see several early processions. Various deities from the temple were taken on a tour of the land their spirit 'rules'. Many young boys participate in these local traditions. It must feel quite something to carry a deity that protects you and your land. From what I saw, they looked dead serious. I can imagine that this responsibility will make them grow into adults.  
As I leave Songboling, I stop for a last time at the side of the road to take this serene picture of this tea farmer in his tea field. May the tea gods protect him...


david santos said...

Really beautiful posting! Good tea. Good persons. Nice houses and pretty colours. Happy Day!!!!

Anonymous said...

Et tout va pour le mieux dans le meilleur des mondes.

Anonymous said...

Merci stéphane, j'adore ces reportages qui nous plongent dans le 'vrai thé'.

Marilyn Miller said...

The pictures are beautiful. I would love to visit there. Thank you for thanking them.

Jacob Gerber said...

I actually lived there in Mingjian for a year and I have nothing but fond memories of that beautiful beautiful area.