Quick update here from the tea-mountains of Taiwan. It’s going on two months that I’ve been living here in a tea factory, tending to the leaf, running my hands through volumes of Camellia, both before and during harvests, all through processing, packaging, tea competitions, promoting tea – the works. Nothing has compared to the intensity of the Spring Harvest in my first two weeks, but work has maintained at a steady pace nonetheless. While I have come here to learn all that I can about tea through hands-on experience and volunteerism, I have basically just been involved in the day-to-day workings of a tea-family, at times helping with chores that might at first seem unrelated to tea, and yet, as a family whose livelihood revolves around this brew, everything is interconnected with the leaf in one way or another.
After helping with a short video promoting tea in the Meishan Township area the other morning (different from the documentary made when I first arrived), the producer told me that every township has to make a film promoting their tea. Each township and each community relies on the promotion of tea in order to bring in the revenue necessary to keep their local economy and status stable. This reveals a very strong tie between people of a particular area and the tea in that area. Tea affects everybody, to the extent that people’s livelihoods are completely reliant on it as a commercial product, which indirectly means everyone is reliant on the farming practices conducted here. So as one grows up in a certain township, they drink the tea from their area. Period! This is very different from North America, where we want to drink tea from around the world and where our local economy isn’t reliant on our consumption of any one tea. In areas of Taiwan, you drink, promote, process, grow, and in one way or another, support the local tea culture because your community depends on it. In that sense, you enjoy the tea on a very different level, not necessarily because it’s the tea most suiting to your palate, but because it’s the tea most suiting to the stability of your village, for example. It’s not as if you are forced to enjoy it, but you make sure to enjoy it because it’s a part of your local culture’s identity. And in that sense, you do enjoy it, just very differently from enjoying a tea based on taste and experience alone. When you ask someone here what their favourite tea is, it’s the local tea in their area, not Maccha from Japan, not White tea from Hawaii, not Masala Chai from India, not BaoZhong from Wenshan – it’s Oolong tea from the Meishan Township because that’s where you live. Of course, there are always exceptions: some people don’t even drink tea! Haha, which is fine; I’m just speaking from my own observations in one small village in just one area of one mountain range in all of Taiwan.
*btw, if you watch the tea video linked above, the connection between “My Sunday” and “Meishan Tea” is that when pronounced in Taiwanese, “Meishan Tea” sounds very similar to “My Sunday.” It’s actually pretty catchy.