Posts Tagged ‘volunteer’

Biodynamic Organic Black Tea

 

In preparation for our Black Tea workshop** in October, we made Finca Luna Nueva’s first Biodynamic Organic Black Tea last week. (It should really be called a Red tea, but for the sake of simplicity and parlance, we’ll refer to it as Black Tea)

This harvest gave me a chance to put all of my previously learned tea knowledge to the test. Reflecting back on my experiences in Hawaii and Taiwan working on tea farms and in tea factories, and simply listening to the tea plants — as is so important to Biodynamics and the Way of Tea — I put together a simple processing method including indoor withering, hand rolling, de-enzyming, and drying.

When working with such high quality and high vibrational raw material, it’s tough to go wrong. These plants have been propagated from seeds that stem from tea trees ranging between 20 – 40 ft tall here at Finca Luna Nueva. Their root systems tap deep into the riches of the soil, drawing on nutrients and energy not available to younger tea evergreens. Those deep-rooted resources, combined with the intention and benefit received from biodynamic practices, lay the foundation for a materially and spiritually rich tea garden. Que Rico.

We harvested the tea on a mid-afternoon Fruit day during the ascending and waxing phase of the moon according to Stella Natura’s Biodynamic Calendar – 2012. If you’re not following this – don’t worry! We’re just experimenting with lunar cycles and zodiac relationships that will hopefully bear bountiful, healthy, well-keeping harvests.

The tea essentially went through a 19 hour indoor withering period in a room with good circulation, followed by an hour and half of hand rolling to shape, bruise, and coat the leaves with their own juices. Oxidation ensued for three hours. Fixation in an oven brought oxidation to halt, and the tea was dehydrated into a stable state. Considering the climate here, and as I learn more about Biodynamics and the Leaf, I will definitely tweak some small steps in the process, but all in all, we were very pleased with the final product.

Of course, I will almost remember the first infusion: once crisp leaves infusing audibly without, anticipation behind a mask of patience, humid air breathing in and out, aroma developing, profound colouring – earthen orange clay – a moment paying homage, rising to the altar of my lips, steam waving in the immediate environment, smiling satisfaction, what riches…

 

**At the workshop, guests will be able to process their own black tea, learn about cupping vs tasting, become more intimate and personal with Camellia Sinensis, walk the biodynamic tea gardens, and be served in ceremony.

 

TLC

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Interning at Finca Luna Nueva: Day 10

I’m lounging up in a tower right now, some 60 feet high, well above the surrounding jungle canopy at Finca Luna Nueva, a sustainable rainforest eco-tour lodge and organic, biodynamic farm. Volcano Arenal lies to the West, dense jungle to the North, rainbows and lavender sunsets to the East, and the lounge area and pool to the South :) Cicada’s rattle, countless birds call, thunder shreds the skies, and the rhythm of the jungle breathes on in concert. Not a bad panoramic.

 

East facing rainbow from the tower

I’m one of the new interns at Finca Luna Nueva. This farm and eco-lodge offers 3-month internships where young adults can experience life on a biodynamic organic farm within a sustainable rainforest eco-lodge — it’s a good life. The internship program can be focused in areas such as biodynamics, farm work, construction, culinary, and even business. From what I understand, most interns have a hand in at least a few of these areas, blending the experiences together.

 

As for myself, I’ll be focusing on all tea-related aspects of the farm, from planting, harvesting, and processing, to pruning, propagating, and serving in casual ceremony. In just my first 10 days here, I’m already designing a new tea garden to be installed, spraying biodynamic preps on the existing tea garden, I’ve set date for a black-tea workshop in October that I’ll be conducting, and I recently had a skype conversation with my good tea friends in Hawaii which will help me to implement a sustainable harvesting and pruning schedule that lines up with the biodynamic calendar. And that’s not even accounting for all the time I enjoyed putting into the cob-oven project that intern, Kyle, has been spearheading for the last month (which still requires a few weeks of satisfying work).

 

Of course, it’s strange to call this “work” considering were given the opportunity to do something we really want to be doing, in returns for food and shelter. There hasn’t been a day when I felt like I was going to work, in the typical sense of the word. Not only will I do this work completely free of charge, but I’ll gladly do it with a smile on my face giving as much gratititude as I can for being given this opportunity to do what I love. Work-trading/WWOOFing should always at least be mutually beneficial but ideally should end in great friendship. The trick isn’t so much finding what it is you love to do, but cultivating the ability to choose to love whatever it is you find yourself doing. Whether I’m working with tea, or working on a cob-oven, it’s more so a choice to love doing it rather than doing it to see if you love it. In that sense, it’s going to be easy to enjoy any project here at la finca, which also has a lot do with the farm itself; all of the projects are a reflection of the sustainable, organic, eco-friendly, and caring nature of the farm.

 

I’ve traveled to a lot of places now, and had a lot of different work-trade experiences – all of which I’ve loved and learned volumes from — and already I can tell that this internship at Finca Luna Nueva is going to be a very notable experience. As far as internships go, I can’t think of a more conducive environment to learn and thrive in; one without micromanagement, one with an emphasis on self-directed projects, one with easily available resources for a wide variety of jobs, one within the realm of Nature, one with great food and caring staff, one that sets you up within a framework of success and allows for flexibility of content. The list could go on.

 
I still have a lot to cover, from the amazing tea garden that already exists here, to the cob-oven project in more detail, and a day in the life of an intern. But I’ll save those for future posts. For now, I might go enjoy the sunset again and take a dip in the pool before dinner…

 

Can you see Volcano Arenal?

Pura Vida

TLC

Meishan Tea

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.

TLC

Tea Livelihood

Well, my tea escapade continues! I’m going on three weeks here at the tea factory, but I’ll backtrack to the first two weeks for a brief summary of what life has been like in a tea village where I can’t speak the language, and where I stand out so much that locals actually take pictures of me.

Community

Here at the factory, there is a pervasive sense of community. The tea makers’ mother and grandmother live and offer their support here in the factory and out in the fields. There are four generations living in this factory. Both tea makers (Mr. and Mrs. Wang (pronounced more like Woughng, not Wahng, not Wong)) work directly with the laborers in the factory and field. They do everything the workers do, not to mention they feed them and care for them in other personal ways. It’s all quite seamless and natural, on a large scale, but not so large that Mr. and Mrs. Wang don’t take part in every small detail of labor, production, quality control, and distribution. Not to mention they have two young children to care for! I don’t know how they do it all – oh wait, yes I do – they work countless hours every day and night for weeks on end during the harvest. This is the life of a tea maker.

Name

It would seem, not only is my name difficult to pronounce in Japan, but so too here in Taiwan. “Shane” has become a marriage between “Chen,” “Shin,” and a french dog. At least no one is calling me Sean for once. The offspring of that marriage has matured into a sharply pronounced, rising toned, “Sheen.” And if I don’t respond to that, “hello” is often used as a substitute (because that always gets a foreigners attention, right?)

Tea Charades

While I do speak the universal language of Tea, my Taiwanese is limited to searching for words in my pocket phrasebook, which is actually in Mandarin. This has lead to a lot of funny scenarios as one might imagine. I had predicted a lot of handwaving and laughter – and it has been so. About five main words are used to communicate with me, my “name,” “one,” “yes,” “no,” and “hello.” That combined with hand gestures has been all I’ve really needed to get by. It might seem a little arrogant of someone to go to a country – for three months – where they don’t speak the language, but I go with the best of intentions and no one seems to mind, plus I’m studying the language while I’m here of course.

Documentary

Little did I know (because no one could tell me) that a documentary was scheduled for my 3rd day here – and apparently I was to be the highlight of the film. I felt pretty lucky, but the film director told me that she was the lucky one to have such an interesting story to cover. Thinking back, documentaries and books were the only mediums through which I knew anything about tea and tea production, until I began tea farming in Hawaii and taking a tour to Taiwan in 2011. I’m not sure when the documentary will be finished, but I’ll be sure to post it here when it is.

Pictures(?)

I put a question mark after “pictures” because usually when foreigners travel to a foreign land, they’re the ones taking pictures. In my case, however, it’s the locals taking pictures of the foreign white guy working in a tea factory on the mountainside of Taiwan. It’s quite humorous; some people just can’t believe it. Actually, I could hardly believe it in the beginning either; the experience was just so over the top it hadn’t really sunk in during the first two weeks.

Livelihood

One theme that became prominent in my first two weeks was that tea is livelihood for so many people, particularly in a tea village. When you grow up here, you’re sure to be involved in the tea industry in one way or another, which is why so many people find it strange that I would come here to experience that livelihood. I too would think it strange of someone to travel halfway across the world to volunteer in an apple orchard or a wine vineyard in the Okanagan.

We have this fantasy image of farming, harvesting, and making tea, but it’s not nearly as glamorous as it’s made out to be, unless you choose to adopt the perception of glamour even in its rouged-ness. It’s not all green rolling gardens, spring harvests, and fantasy mountains in far off Asia, although those images are real. I myself am guilty of selling and perpetuating that incomplete and ideal tea image because until now, I had not experienced what tea life was really like – and I still have much more to learn. While I’m sure everyone involved in the tea making process is happy on some scale that this infusion can offer a spiritual and relaxing experience to so many around the world, I think more prominently they’re just like you and I, trying to make ends meet and pay the bills through means of work. (that’s a lie; I don’t pay any bills).

Anyway, don’t get me wrong; harvest time can be very sacred and making tea is an ancient tradition and a beautiful art with a rich and cultural history, but it’s also a commercial product at the end of the day, grown unnaturally in massive monocultures to meet the market demand and fast pace of our current times. I’ll elaborate more on that in a future post.

In my next entry, though, I’ll be elaborating on what it takes, physically and mentally, to make Taiwan Oolong Tea during a major harvest.  It’s an amazing process and there are many facets involved that we don’t often hear about in the West.

TLC

Taiwan Tea Life

Tea Life

It’s 4am right now, and we just finished withering and tumbling the last of the raw tea material for the day. It’s oxidizing and waiting for the next step – but I’m going to bed. My bedroom lies next to the baking room and adjacent the withering, tumbling, and oxidizing room. One can only imagine the layers of aroma. Yes, I live in a tea factory – it’s difficult yet rewarding work, and it’s a good life, but not for everyone. For me, if money were of no concern, and I had all the time in the world, this is what I would want to be doing right now.

Anyway, I’m at roughly 3300ft elevation in the small tea village, Taiwan. Here I have dedicated myself to the laborious task of working in a tea factory and out in the fields – and let me tell you, it’s backbreaking, nail grinding, and finger callusing work. I’ve been here for one week now, spending day and night – literally – helping with the various steps of Oolong tea processing. I’ve seen thousands of pounds of raw leaf move through this factory, from the field to the vacuum-sealed bag, and every step in between.

It’s been a real blessing that I be accepted to volunteer here. In just one week, I have volumes of insights and stories to share (and some to withhold). It would seem we are sold an ideal image of tea in the west, but from my intimate experience in this one small tea village, I would like to portray a much more realistic and raw picture, one that is less fantastical as we see it in books and documentaries, but one that nonetheless portrays why Tea is a Beautiful and Spiritual Art.

I’ll be posting new updates slowly for a number of reasons; it will be worth it to address certain facets of tea life in great detail. For now: know that when you are waking up (PST), we are here in the mountains of Taiwan, making tea.

TLC

Back to School – Asentamiento

Better than usual road conditions on a sunny afternoon.

 

Time for some quick work at a local school. Asentimiento is a poor and under funded elementary school located about 25 minutes outside of Arenal. It’s easiest to get there by foot or horseback unless you have a rugged 4×4 to handle car-eating mud pits, pot holes, and downright lack of infrastructure. Lucky for us, Jeff has just the truck.

 

Asentamiento Escuela

 

Today, our major project was the bathroom. After being tiled the previous day, we grouted the tiles and buffered em’ up good. Some new plumbing went in, along with a securely fastened sink and new toilet seat.

Laying the grout

Scott gave the bathroom door a well-needed upgrade and organized some lighting wires in the main classroom.

Friends, Jeff and Allison, have been long time supporters of Asentimiento, donating their time and money to improve and maintain the structure and integrity of the school. Janet and Scott have joined in the effort by doing the same each year to improve the learning environment of the students. Rockon to locals giving back to the community!

 

The Finished Product!

TLC