Don’t let the photos of the upcoming week fool you. This is not a tea tour. This is oolong bootcamp. Proper shoes, dress, electronic equipment, notebooks, hats, bug spray, extra vitamins, (and for me… dramamine) is in order.
We officially kicked off the 3rd Annual TOST: Taiwanese Oolong Study Tour (my 2nd time) last night with a welcome ceremony by the TTMA and it fearless tea leaders: Jackson Huang, Norman Shu, Ted Fan, and Thomas Shu. We all introduced ourselves and talked about our passion for tea and why we signed up for this kind of adventure. (Little do these TOST: Rookies know, but the week ahead will be filled with long bus rides, mounds of information and late nights processing tea.) After introductions and a look at the different cultivars we are studying, we headed out to our welcome dinner, which will be one of the many enormous, sometimes lavish meals we will have during the week. Of the 17 of us in the group this year, only 3 of us are TOST: veterans: me, Bob Krul and my pal Ken Rudee, Chairman of STI.
So this lovely Monday morning begins (for me) with a little hotel room yoga, High Mountain Oolong tea and a hot bubble bath. It gets better… Breakfast is next and includes rice, bok choy, eggs, apple banana’s and miso soup. It gets even better…
As we pile into our giant rock-star sized bus, our first stop is: Tzu-Xin Tea Farm in Pouchong Tea District which I believe is managed by the Taipei County Tea Farmers Association. Basically, the association makes sure to promote and educate the public about Pouchong Teas and the benefits of organics in tea. As we arrive, it’s a bit misty and there are sprinkles of rain from the approaching typhoon – which means its time to pull out the umbrella. (Because an umbrella always works in a typhoon, right?)
We were greeted by the friendly and knowledgeable Mr. Yang and spent the morning in the garden learning about proper tea bush propagation and looking at different types of cultivars. One of my favorites (because of the size) is called Buddha’s palm. Did Siddhartha have giant hands? I wonder…
After further exploration and working up an appetite, we were invited to lunch. It was heartwarming to be greated by volunteers of a Buddhist organization working with the Tzu-Xin (mercy heart) Tea Farm who worked to create wonderful vegetarian dishes, many of which were prepared with tea. It was hard to control myself and not go back for 2nds and 3rds! “Mercy Heart” encourages members to promote the benefits of a healthy environment (ie: organic teas) and live a life that is happy, healthy and promotes charity in line with their mission. They support local tea farmers and conversion to organic practices. I loved the spirit, energy and overwhelming generosity of these people.
As we sat and listened to their presentation about how all of this is accomplished, we were greeted with building wind and rain. Yes, the first typhoon was heading our way. The sound of the rain coming down onto the trees and leaves was soothing to me. Yes, the danger of a typhoon loomed, but the magic and mystery of an afternoon exploring tea fields, dining on a glorious vegetarian lunch prepared by Buddhists and sipping organic tea trumps the rain.
That very rain is what caused us to skip our scheduled walk through a converted organic tea garden, but quite frankly, I didn’t mind. I never tire of far away tea gardens. I never tire of meeting new TeaPeople in far away places. And I never take for granted the good fortune that lead me into this weird, wonderful world of tea.
Sip tea, people. And feel the love and happiness from the people who made it… just for you.