Thursday, March 16, 2023

Three encounters in a San Hsia tea plantation

A phone call to my farmer, last week, informed me that the first spring harvests of San Hsia BiLuoChun were bout to start! So, I came unannounced on late Tuesday afternoon, so that I would catch the sunset light and maybe some fresh leaves! Unluckily for me, after three days of harvests, this was a day off. I should have been alone in the plantation, but, by coincidence, the old farmer was on his way to inspect the trees, carrying a saw. He used to make the tea, but has transferred this work to his son and wife several years ago already. But he likes to help here and there and is definitely not the kind of guy who would sell the property and cruise around the world with the proceeds!   
So, I decide to follow along and make some small talk about the subject that interests me most, the weather and how it's affecting this year's tea. He confirmed that the winter had been quite cold, long and dry. In the past, thanks to Taiwan's island climate, it was often possible to start harvesting in late February. This year, the harvests have finally begun, but the quantity of leaves is quite limited. He hopes for more rain, for a larger harvest. This rain will usually later in the season. In the meantime, we can enjoy more concentrated aromas in the leaves and more freshness, thanks to the cooler temperatures.
The farmer shows me the easiest path to walk to the top of the plantation. I follow his steps complimenting him on his good shape. It's a steep climb and his breathing barely increases in volume. We reminisce about how we first met, thanks to his other son who was selling tea in a day market in Taipei's HuLin street, near Taipei 101, some 20 years ago... Time has flown for him and for me... 
He's showing me the highest spot of the plantation, still carrying the saw, but not using it. The sun is slowly setting on the plantation and it's already quite dark under these trees. I have to go back to where there's light! This time our paths diverge. He's using a small path that goes around the plantation, but I continue to walk in the plantation in order to take more pictures. 
At the foot of the hill, there's strange spot with few tea trees and several trees with flowers, even a mulberry tree! These flowers fill the air with wonderful perfumes that are absorbed, to some extent, by the BiLuoChun leaves.

Next to this tree, under the plantation, you can see some holes in the soil in the picture below. The soil seems freshly removed and I had noticed several other holes in the plantation. What animal could be living here? I must have scared one such animal by coming so near, because I heard a large noise in the grass and then the feet of a beast running away. Then, I recognized my second encounter. It was a wild, brown large hare or a rabbit. I only caught a glimpse of it as it was sprinting towards the top of the plantation! What a surprise! I had been bitten by a mosquito a few minutes ago, a sure sign that insects are plenty in this environment. But it's the first time I saw hare or a rabbit in a tea plantation!  

I decided to let it go and not run after it. A wise decision with my lack of running practice. But I nevertheless went down Lewis Carroll's rabbit hole. The spring feeling of this late afternoon in this plantation reminded me not just of my first visit here 20 years ago, but it also reminded me of my parents' garden. I had been born in a city and first lived in an apartment, but when I was 3, we moved to a house with a garden in a nearby village in Alsace. As soon as the weather permitted, I would spend my time outside. I had this chance of growing without the Internet! The lush fragrance of lilac would create the same kind of presence than these powerful exotic flowers in this San Hsia plantation. 
What a joy to be able to leave the house after the cold winter. The garden meant freedom and friends with the naughty neighbors who were a little bit older than me and would send me to buy cigarettes for them when I was six! As a early teenagers, my school friends and I would ride our bicycles to play in the middle of the forest, in old trenches from the first or second world war. The intense smells of nature always bring back happy memories. 
Thanks to Proust's book (which I just finished yesterday), I now understand that my childhood garden is what I'm longing for when I visit these plantations. I always go there in excitement, not just for the tea, but also to return to my childhood's favorite playground. The similar feeling and scents are bridges or portals to a distant past that becomes accessible again. It erases time and brings a quiet feeling of eternity, because the past has not ceased to exist. It still lives on, is part of me, and can be summoned with these visits and these tea smells. 
So, my third encounter was with myself! And I realize better now how fortunate I am to have so many different teas with so many different aromas that help unlock so many different memories. My pictures are simply an attempt to catch the beauty of nature and the innocence of my childhood...

And if I can't always take a stroll in a tea plantation, I'll drink some tea!


Anonymous said...

Hi, fantastic blog. I'm not sure if it's been asked before, but what tea is your favorite? Since you say the taste and aroma of the tea are connected to your experiences/memories, I'm guessing it's one where you have had a great time while enjoying tea (or perhaps it is just that good to form its own memory!). I'm curious because I'd like to try someone else's taste for tea once in my life. Anyway, I'm glad your childhood garden seems to bring you some peace and reminiscence. It's always good to have something remind you of who you are and was. The place of my childhood is too far away to visit but sometimes I go there regardless when I close my eyes. And I'm not sure if rabbits like tea leaves but I hope they don't cause a problem for the farmer!


TeaMasters said...

Thanks for your comment!
My favorite tea is the one I'll feel like preparing next! Each moment is different and calls for a particular tea...
I also hope that the rabbits won't become too many, otherwise the farmer might have to act against them... He has to protect his tea plantation...