A Hard Night's Work
That evening we ate dinner with the migrant workers (don’t worry, "Food" will be an entire post soon). We were offered MouTai, and while I don’t drink alcohol while I’m tasting tea, I was also worried about what it would do at this altitude. I declined the offer. That evening we watched the rest of the day’s tea processing. Picking and drying are only the first steps to taking care of a tea this good. Processing a morning’s pickings takes an entire 24 hours.
After tea picking, the leaves are withered as much as they can be. At this altitude (4200 ft) the moisture content in the air is incredibly high, and the mist and fog are everywhere. This makes it hard to dry anything: surfaces, clothes, and especially tea. At about 4 pm the tea is often trucked down the mountain side to lower altitudes and sunnier warmer temperatures, where it dries better and faster. The leaves are laid out on the road on tarps to dry.
It’s brought up the mountain at night, about 8 pm, and “racked” on bamboo baskets to air dry until it’s ready for bruising.
Sorting, fluffing (so the leaves don’t stick) and bruising happen from 9 – midnight and from midnight until about 3:30 am the tea is bruised. We had picked tea from 12 – 4 pm and went to bed in our clothes at 9pm.
We woke up, put our shoes on, and at 2:30am we observed the bruising process.
The tea is put in a wicker hopper (one of the largest I’ve ever seen) and rolled for about 5 minutes, taken out, re-racked and stacked in the shape of a bundt cake on the bamboo basket for overnight drying. It is also covered.
Watching Mr Lam process the tea leaves that had been picked that day with focus, precision and respect made me have a great deal of respect for his effort, dedication and his life’s work.