For a weekend, we followed a family friend to his hometown – a village in the mountains of southern Taiwan. The place is famous for the fragrant Taiwanese high mountain tea seen on the menu of many high-end hotels and restaurants around the world. We took the high speed rail from…
Taipei to Jiayi (Chiayi) and had a car to drive us to our destination on the mountain. The road up the mountain is not exactly straight (quite windy) and the drive to the place took about 1.5hr+. Along the way you could also see some roads look rather new because heavy rainfalls or typhoons or earthquakes could cause the mountains to “move” and road gets washed away. But this is a matter of life here. People learn to live with the ever-changing nature and jokingly say the local land god here must have lost his land to his neighbour.
The place we went to is not exactly Alishan. It’s nearby and in the same region as Alishan. To be specific, the villages we visited are Ruili ( 瑞里), Ruefeng (瑞峰) & Taihe (太和).
You’ll also see things that you normally would not see elsewhere. We saw this as we drove up the mountain. At first, we were wondering what were those shiny threads of net-like things reflecting light along the side of the road. Then we realized it was a massive net of spider webs.
We stayed at a B&B owned by our friend’s extended family. Actually the communities here are closely related. Someone of a village here and there around the area are usually related somehow.
The family here has a small tea leaves roasting machine at home. They’d roast the tea in here and shake the contents in there from time to time so the tea leaves are roasted evenly. The whole room was perfumed with tea. It was very nice.
The family also grows quite a few interesting plants in their garden. The bottom two photos show a coffee tree and fresh coffee beans. I’ve never seen a coffee tree and fresh coffee beans until now.
They also grow an interesting bell-shape chili! After having lunch at the place, we went to a nearby tea processing factory to see their facility and saw them drying tea around midday.
The freshly picked tea leaves are evenly spread out in an open area to allow it to air dry. The kind of tea famous here are Oolong tea. But they also grow and make other kinds of tea here.
There are machines instead to dry the leaves further and twist them. The white “balls” are tea leaves that have been removed from the rotovene. There are quite a few different drying and processing equipments in that facility.
Rolling the tea leaves taken out from the white “balls” and rolling them into small “balls”. Then putting and packing them back into that big white ball for it to set.
After that, we took a small road up to a viewing platform in Ruifeng (瑞峰). The tea leaves here haven’t been picked yet. The tea here are called “high mountain tea” because they are from areas around 1,000 to 1,400m above sea level. The platform where I took these photos is around 1,300 meters above sea level.
From there we got a spectacular view of tea plantations around the place.
It was rather cloudy and windy that day so we were pretty much in the clouds. The photo to the right shows something like a sea coast. But it’s actually the top of a few mountains and a sea of clouds.
Later in the afternoon, we drove to a village on another mountain nearby to pick up our friend’s father. A lot of the times people would just point to a village across the mountain valley and say that’s their relative’s place. & you can see the house pretty clearly but you know it’s going to take a while to get there.
We went back to the B&B to have dinner when it was getting dark and tasted different tea at our friend’s relative’s place nearby ’til around 9pm. Most people sleep pretty early here. Life is relatively simple and quiet. You pretty much just follow the nature’s cycle.
We woke up around 7am the next day. The photo above shows the interior of the B&B and a photo documenting a giant rock that fell from a mountain and blocked the road some years ago.
An abandoned house nearby.
You’d not expect to see crabs on mountains but you can find some species of “mountain crabs” here.
There are also giant tadpoles (frog’s baby).
After breakfast, we went to a village a bit further away to visit our friend’s extended family. They also make tea here. A lot of the tea here (and also at the other tea processing “houses” we visited) enter competitions. Winning the competitions means the price of the tea will also be very good. The red boards hanging on the wall are some of the “signs” of their past achievements in tea competitions.
Tea farming and making is a tedious process. A lot of attention is paid to the drying, fermenting, etc. process. The tea leaves have to be “flipped” from time to time in a day to make sure they’re dried evenly throughout and none of it is “cooked” by the sun.
Spreading the tea leaves out and allowing them to dry. Tea leaves here are harvested in autumn, winter and spring (summer is usually not a good season for tea). The best and most expensive tea is harvested in winter.
The tea leaves are moved indoor to a temperature controlled environment for drying and fermentation.
The tea leaves are kept in different “drawers”.
After tasting more tea at the place, on the way back, we saw some amazing scenery.
We stopped by another tea farm to see people harvesting tea leaves. We had to climb the steep and narrow stairs to go to the top of the mountain. It was around noon time and the women picking tea were having a short lunch break.
I walked through the tea farm and tried to pick some tea leaves. It was very hot and the sun could literally burn your skin. But the experience was memorable. Knowing how each tea leaves in our tea pot came from makes one treasure it more.
Thanks to our family friend for bringing us to his hometown and let us experience the art and science of tea making from the very beginning to the end. It was definitely quite different seeing and sipping these tea appearing on the afternoon tea menu of world-class hotels and restaurants, and seeing the amount of work poured into growing, processing roasting, and tasting tea before releasing them for sale. The scenery and lifestyle of tea farmers are also very memorable. It reminds us that life can some times be very simple but satisfying.
After a nice lunch back at the B&B, we said farewell to our family friend and his family. On the way down, we passed by a park (named Yuantan – 圓潭) in a mountain valley. At the entry of the park is a nice place to drink cafe/tea.
You can also follow the hiking route on a map to walk around the park. Apparently it’s quite nice. Unfortunately we didn’t have much time and had to be on our way soon after.