Originating in the highlands of Fujian province, Monkey Picked Oolong Tea is a premium product in the segment. It is said that in the ancient days only monkeys could help farmers pick the tea leaves because the plants were growing on steep cliffs. Thus we have the name “Monkey Picked Oolong Tea”.
Wang Shuide is a descendant of a Monkey Picked Oolong Tea making family. He has 55 years of experience in making this precious Oolong tea and is able to appraise the quality of teas with just a look. Although his forefathers didn’t receive much education, they had built up the family business with a motto of “Be good people, make quality tea”.
Wang says it’s just folklore that monkeys were trained to pick tea leaves for the farmers. The reality however is that farmers have to bend over the tea trees to carefully select the best leaves and buds to pick — action that may look like a monkey grabbing food with its paws.
There is a saying in Wang’s hometown: “Making tea is the harmonious combination of the right time, the right place and the right person.” A rainy spring in February and March is the most appropriate time and seedlings should be planted on highlands above 600-meter altitude. Also, good planting skills for the farmers are essential.
Tea-leaf picking and processing both require skillful work, and one can’t afford any mistake during the process, says Wang.
He says his family has at least 200 sets of bamboo tea making tools to ensure that processing can be done smoothly while temperature and humidity are controlled strictly.
“Tea making requires very large space … at least 100 square meters. And a large open space to air-dry the fresh tea leaf.”
The entire processing should be done within 20 hours. During the hours, tea makers should take shifts to monitor the whole process.
Wang started learning tea making from his father and other relatives when he quit school at the age of 13. After years of apprenticing, he took over the business.
The work is labor intensive, and Wang says fewer young people are willing to endure the hard work nowadays to learn the skill.
Wang’s family had 15 members at one time. They had no choice but to make a living on tea making because they lived on the highlands, he says.
But now his elder son has refused to return to the farmland after getting a college degree, Wang says.
Meanwhile, a younger son is also showing little interest in taking over the farm, Wang says, adding that he is trying to persuade the lad to change his mind.
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Feb. 3.
Translation by Myssie You
[Chinese version 中文版]
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