Tea Picking Among the Clouds by Saskia Kerkvliet in Lishan, Taiwan

Lishan is a stunning mountainous region in Eastern Central Taiwan which is known for its high elevation oolong tea production. The terrain here is absolutely perfect for growing tea – the mountains are wreathed in these heavy moist clouds which protect the leaves from the full glare of the sunshine and bathe them in a rich fog of nutrients. We were invited by Joseph, one of our favourite tea makers, who is learning the art from his father. His father has been making tea his whole life and still has an evident passion for it, taking great pride in his skill and carefully monitoring the fragrance of his tea leaves as they oxidize in the sunshine. You have to halt this process at just the right moment to get the right balance of oxidation in the tea leaves. We met all of the tea pickers working in the fields – you can’t beat a job out among the clouds listening to the sound of birdsong! They’re paid a really good wage for their labour and in return they pick out only the very best of the leaves from the bushes.

Name:Saskia Kerkvliet
Occupation:

Marketing and Communications at Dachi Tea Co

Preoccupation:

I spend most of my free time wondering how to make a positive impact on the world. While I’m working I spend my energy building our brand philosophy #AHAP (As Human As Possible), which I hope will resonate with people.

Tell us about Taipei:

Taiwan is full of extreme paradoxical contrasts: the East Coast is a bountiful mountainous wilderness, covered in a dense subtropical jungle where all manner of giant spiders, poisonous snakes and beautiful species of birds and butterflies can be seen. The luscious weather and full sunshine makes everything grow in abundance so agriculture is a booming trade and tea plantations are supplied with the very best that Mother Nature has to offer. In contrast the West Coast is a huge suburban concrete sprawl, filled with the hustle and bustle of human activity, where vibrant temples and lively roadside restaurants alike are lit up by the effervescent glow of neon lights. It’s easy to escape to the wilderness from Taipei City, which sits surrounded by mountains within a basin (a relic from the islands turbulent volcanic past). Taipei 101  is always your steadfast point of reference, an icon punctuating the skyline.

A perfect day?

My perfect day is spent escaping the city, by bus, train, motorbike, bicycle or car, and getting lost in the mountains or relaxing by the ocean. There are too many beautiful villages and towns where amazing local restaurants serve up food fresh from the local farms. In the winter, my favourite spot is a wild hotspring in the Yangmingshan National Park just north of the city. After an hour bus journey up the winding mountain paths it is a twenty minute walk through the forests until you reach a spot where a cold waterfall joins a natural hot river in rustic man made rock pools. We cover our skin with the mud hidden beneath the rocks and relax out in the warm water, cooling off in the waterfall when the heat gets too intense. Then round it off with a delicious mountainside dinner before the journey home again.

What is the best thing about Taipei?

Our trip shows the very human side of tea production. This is not just a commodity product that magically appears on your kitchen shelf. At every step along the way there are dedicated people carefully and passionately plying the techniques of an ancient craft to the bounties of nature. These photos exemplify that profound and intimate link between man and nature, a bond which those of us wrapped up in urban lives can all to easily forget. These people invited us to draw the curtain back on their lives and we found a very harmonious and hardworking team. I love the smiles we managed to capture in these shots – the tea pickers were calling out to each other and joking and laughing, probably amused that two blonde-haired blue-eyed white people had shown up.

What is the worst?

The subtropical location of this island makes for a very humid atmosphere, meaning that the temperature is amplified. The searing heat in the summer leaves you sweating out of every pore and the winter is chillier than you’d expect. None of the apartment buildings have central heating, so it’s best to take yourself down to an all you can eat hot pot restaurant to get warm before bedtime!

What would be surprising about Taipei to an outsider?

People aren’t really familiar with Taiwan as a country and it’s political status is a total grey area. People don’t know whether it’s a part of China or not, although most locals will vehemently assert the latter. I think people are most surprised to learn that Taiwan has indigenous tribes, groups who have lived here on this island for around 5000 years or longer. Subsequent arrivals of Hakka and Hoklo people from mainland China formed the first wave of immigrants, followed by a 50 year occupation by the Japanese, and finally the arrival of the Guomindang in the 1950s. But aboriginal tribes represent an aspect of Taiwan’s unique historical identity and it’s amazing to travel around the island and learn about their ancestry and how they lived. Some of their rituals and ceremonies are still going strong, especially among the Amis tribe on the East Coast, and you can watch them holding festivals which have been passed along from generation to generation.

If your city was a person or character who would it be?

If Taipei was a character it would be someone wonderful, friendly, welcoming and humorous, who loads you up with food to eat the minute you set your foot inside the house. Taiwanese people are some of the most generous hosts you could ever wish to meet, eager to show you around their country and leave you with a warm impression.

dachitea.co

Comments
  • http://www.itscarmen.com ≈ CARMEN ≈

    Very cool! I’ve never visited Taipei, but I sure love tea. :]

    // ▲ itsCarmen.com ▲

local_lens_icons

Name:Saskia Kerkvliet

City:Taipei

Favorite place to eat:

James Kitchen, on the infamous food and shopping street, Yong Kang Jie. It serves up traditional home-style dishes with a contemporary twist and the decor is a retro clash of Japanese and Chinese influence. Upstairs you can kneel on a tatami rug or downstairs admire the pretty artistic antiques adorning the walls. It’s very small and always packed out, so it’s always best to book ahead.

Favorite place to drink:

I like Yaoyue Teahouse up in Maokong. A twenty minute gondola ride up the mountains from the zoo in the south east of the city takes you into the Maokong area which is famed for tea production and is littered with beautiful tea houses which serve up food and tea. I can spend hours here with a friend, chatting while the kettle brews and admiring the Taipei skyline from our elevated vantage point.

Favorite shop:

Chengpin Eslite Bookstore is a brilliant chain, but the best store is the one in Songyan. Here they have a whole two floors devoted to Taiwanese products and you can see the amazing things which are being grown, designed and created on this little island. Everything from pineapple cakes to electric scooters, natural luxury bathing products to hand-crafted pottery. It’s a splash of luxury mixed with the vibrant cultural heritage of this nation.

Local Tip:

Don’t get stuck in the tourist honeytrap Shilin night market. Head for the smaller ones instead – my favourite is Ningxia, which has a really local vibe and serves up all kinds of local delicacies. It sounds disgusting but braised pig knuckle is absolutely delicious, I promise!

Must Do:

A trip to the National Palace Museum is an absolute must. Chiang Kai Shek and his Guomindang followers took an extraordinary amount of antique relics from the Summer Palace in Beijing when they fled the country. There’s so much that the Palace Museum has to rotate its displays each month, with vast numbers of items spending most of their lives in storage. It’s a stunning glimpse into China’s ancient past. Nowhere on Earth can you see such a great number of scroll paintings, pottery and jade in one place. Also head to the top floor for lunchtime – they often have performances of traditional Chinese musical instruments to accompany some delicious tea and hearty Asian food.