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Jodet in Taiwan: Part IV

Jodet, a flower in the middle of a tea field.
Jodet, a flower in the middle of a tea field.

The next day was the most exciting tea-adventure of my entire life. Many hours of oolong processing took place in Mr.Chen’s factory, but Lorraine and I also traveled through some dangerously unpaved roads to the most picturesque-perfect tea gardens I have ever seen.

Roads on which you see covered over beautiful crisp fog and neatly trimmed tea bushes in extremely high elevation mountains in Fujian Province. We traveled and traveled, and suddenly, it was as if we were transported into tea-heaven.

I was speechless at how well-maintained these gardens were. It was a dangerous endeavor for us, but for Mr.Chen and his team, this was the norm. Fairly impressive, as I now appreciate tea on a whole other scale.

Tea Heaven
Misty Tea Heaven

Some of the actual processing of the oolongs took place by Mr.Chen’s employees while we were traveling through the tea jungles. Mr.Chen surprised us with the adventure in between the day (since we had spent the majority of the time tasting tea, filming, shooting photos and processing). At times, it was challenging to completely understand what was really taking place in the process, with the language barrier between our translator Rebecca.

Visually from what we witnessed first and foremost was that there were several machines used to create the final process. All those words that I had once studied about tea were finally coming to life: pack rolling, dry racking, kneading, bruising, oxidizing, drying, rolling. Wow.

In my next blog post, I will focus more on the educational aspects of how and what was done in the process of creating the oolong we hand-picked in the gardens. I’m excited about sharing all the great visuals and information, and I hope that those who are reading this can also enjoy the experience and memories I brought back home from Nantou.

~Jodet for Samovarlife

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Jodet In Taiwan: Part III

Mr. Chen, Lorraine, and Jodet sort the leaves for rack drying.

I was not kidding about the Martha Stewart hat, which may I mention, followed me everywhere throughout the entire trip. I felt like an American tourist in the tea gardens of Puli. I wanted to soak all the excitement in; similar to how it feels when you first enter a new museum and you want to learn everything about a particular exhibit… in one hour!

As we entered the gardens, the first thing I received was my own hat and basket. “You have a long day ahead,” said Rebecca to me with a laugh as she pointed us to the bushes.  Floral ladies everywhere, with small razors at the tip of their index fingers surrounded us, quickly picking the best leaves possible in their designated sections.

These ladies are quick. I mean less than 5 seconds a “proper” leaf-kind-of quick. I made my way into the bushes and started picking. I was quickly scolded by one of the only men in the circle, who mentioned to me in Chinese

Tea leaves withering (air drying) under a mesh canopy. (They smelled like apples!)
Tea leaves withering (air drying) under a mesh canopy. (They smelled like apples!)

(Rebecca had to translate) that I was picking them incorrectly. According to Mr. Chen and this man, the proper way to pick leaves is to get them at the edge where the stem meets the leaf and trim them.

It’s important to pick two leafs and a bud. The typhoon had caused the leaves to grow increasingly, and essentially damaged them. This made it more challenging to find a healthy leaf. We spent what seemed liked an entire afternoon picking leaves from one garden to another with these women, as we clicked away at our cameras in the heat.

After we picked the leaves, we went to Mr.Chen’s small factory by the gardens to process the leaves. We set them out on the floor near a mesh netted area where the leaves were left to wither and dry. Ah, the smell of fresh tea leaves. After the leaves dry, we transported them inside the factory where we sorted them and put them on bamboo racks to dry for 20 hours. To think the process it takes to make tea. We wanted to stay awake and anticipate the 20-hour drying period, but we decided to call it a day.

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Jodet’s Tea Trip to Taiwan Part II

Jodet Breathing in the Fragrant Tea Leaf
Jodet Breathing in the Fragrant Tea Leaf

When Lorraine and I first arrived in Taiwan, we were so excited, we were filming and photographing everything. We were ready to engulf ourselves in all of what the tea culture had to offer us, and we did.

At first, we had no idea what we would be doing, since our entire itinerary was in Chinese. We spent the majority of the first day traveling from Taipei to Puli; a four hour drive (on paved roads, of course). By the end of the day, we had visited Mr. Chen’s tea company Bih-lu Tea, met our translator Tinja, and Mr. Chen’s wife Kate and baby daughter.

In the late afternoon, we ended up at a Buddhist Monastery on the top of a mountain for the night. We had a full view of one of the world’s largest and tallest monasteries. It was beautiful.

I of course, almost forgot to mention the highlight of that day—the amount of food we consumed with the commissioners of the monastery along with our team. We even had our very own chef. That day, we found out that Taiwanese people love to eat 12-course meals. We were fine with it.

On that note, the next morning was followed by some great soy milk and sweet bread. It was a lovely experience, as we ate and prepared for our hour-long drive to Mr.Chen’s gardens to start our day picking and processing the beginning stages of tea. That morning, we also met our new translator Rebecca, who was there with us the duration of the trip.

The Beautiful Ladies of Puli. Dressed for Picking Tea.
The Beautiful Ladies of Puli. Dressed for Picking Tea.

A typhoon had damaged the majority of the roads the week before, so it was a wet and semi-dangerous road to travel in. We also had to take a different route since the main bridge to Puli had also collapsed in the damage. It was an interesting experience to say the least.

When we arrived at the gardens in Puli, there were so many women in extremely bright floral printed outfits and similar hats—it was almost as if it was a strategically planned wardrobe coordinated by one of the twenty or so women who surrounded the fields.

It was something I’ve never experienced or seen before, and it made me smile as I entered the tea gardens to join them for the day. I was ready for my own Martha Stewart hat and basket.