Zeitzeugen

A while back on a bicycle tour around the Dingshan area whilst [re]searching zisha clay and clay related items near here
Yixing ceramics city signwe came across a lot of “old stuff” as some might call it. I call it Zeitzeugen.

mill stoneNot many of those old mill stones are still in operation these days as heavier machinery took over, so most of them seem to have found their way here somehow. Not all of the stones in the pictures below would have been used to crush clay rocks but some where also popular for food and all other kinds of things that could be crushed with some benefit.

For the occasional private moonlight clay sourcing on HuangLongShan some seem to occupy themselves with mill stones like above might still be used today. Privately. Like on Facebook

2011 Yixing HongCha – homemade

For all of you who ever wanted to know how to make some homemade HongCha I’ll share today how it’s done. Well, in principle at least, improvements pending. 😉
What you need first is to find some tea-plants at the right time of year where you can pick without getting into trouble. Either be it your own plants, wild ones or an abandoned tea field like this one:


and you start picking

and some more

take some water and a big hat, as it can get hot and if you convince your pregnant wife and mom and grandma to pick too

you’ll end up with an respectable amount in no time

Although for simple HongCha less equipment is needed than for various green tea varieties, still a lot of manual work is to be done (if you don’t have any machines or want it handmade anyways).

After you placed the tea you just picked in the sun for a while to soften the leaves, otherwise they’ll break in the next step, you start massaging them gently.

The softer the leaves get, the harder you can squeeze them

and still some more, as grandma said if the back of your hand doesn’t get wet, it’s not enough.

Please mind this way your hands are likely to get very stained and you’ll have to live with brownish-yellow hands for a while. I didn’t mind, but be warned!

When you’re done, it all goes in an airtight vessel and is being left alone in a warm place until the tea itself starts to produce some fermentation heat. You’ll feel the bowl getting warmer to roughly know when its ready.

You can of course vary the time you massage the leaves and the time you ferment them according to your taste and desired outcome. If you like your tea stronger, massage more. If you like it to produce more infusions, massage a bit less. Just experiment a bit to find out what you like.

The batch in the next picture is a bit on the oolong side and produces a lot of infusions.
Out it comes, to dry in the sun

until it looks like this

and then you store it in a fancy jar if you have oneor in a plastic bag in the fridge or wherever you usually like your tea stored. Like on Facebook

chance find

This afternoon we went to visit grandma and buy some fruit in the market and since an acquaintance asked me to see if I could get him a gaiwan I also had a look around the pottery shops nearby. Because they do mostly sell Yixing clay products I had no luck today finding any jindezhen I was looking for, but i saw some beautiful things.

little yixing pots

little yixing potsI placed them on a 10元 note just for size comparison, they are of course not available anywhere near that range. Despite their dirty appearance and imperfections they where locked away in a cabinet and I could not have them on my available fruit budget… or on an impulse buy budget at all for that matter.

In a shop next door I found some pots made more recently:

little yixing pots, new little yixing pots, new little yixing pots, new

unsurprisingly, also over my fruit budget. Like on Facebook

Zisha Clay Factory No.1

Not exactly a pleasant day to go for a walk or to do any sightseeing, but since there was a power-outage all morning we went out anyways to see Zisha Factory No.1

There are 2 entrances to it, both guarded.

and inside it’s almost all occupied by individual shops.

some bigger than others

but also real small studios with potters at work

as well as some older interconnected buildings

More fancy shops with well known owners and there is also a museum. Well, at least that’s what the sign says but its more a collection of pots and objects the artists made who have a shop in the building. Some have rather interesting pots on display, like the one in clay-mill style or the extremely flat fei xiang hu.

some studios do have a bit of clay for the work at hand

Now we asked people and walked around to see if there is any clay stored anywhere or maybe even produced or sold. Guess what, after wading along a muddy road we found it and there is a massive amount of clay!

And the equipment on the next pictures might look familiar if you read my post about Yixing clay a while back. Clay is also made right here.

Now, if you paid close attention to the picture with the little pushcart and if you can read Chinese it might dawn on you already. The clay in there is not high quality clay used for teapots, but to make large flower pots like these:

Sorry to disappoint you, but no old clay is being stashed away in Factory No.1

The artisans we spoke to there had of course already told us that the clay they use is not from inside Factory No.1 but that they have their individual sources and storage.

Because it’s just across the road we also had a quick look in Factory No.4, they too make flower pots and other clay accessories, some of which are rather pretty.

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wild tea

It’s QingMing 2011 and we went out to have some fun. We visited a water-reservoir and walked around enjoying the sunshine. All in all a nice day already, but on our way back I was thinking about tea. To have been at Chái Lín Jūn’s 2011 harvest was already very exiting, and having stashed away some of his pre-qingming BiLuoChun for myself even more, but today … that was something different!

We stopped on the side of the road, just about 10km or so from DingShan and went up a hillside into the forest to see if we get lucky. Guess what, we did!

Did you notice the little plant near the path?

few steps further in a bigger one already, and yes, indeed, they are wild tea plants.

and more… 🙂

We intended to find some wild tea when we entered the forest, but I would have never thought it’d be so easy.

so we started picking of course.

and the leaves we found where fine. Very fine.

It was already past our usual lunchtime and we didn’t have too much time to spend, but within an hour we managed to pick this much.

Back home I had to figure out what to do with all the goodness, and so I gave it a go. My first time homemade tea. In theory I do of course know how it’s done and I have also seen it being done live but doing it myself at home was a first. Now, where to start? Shāqīng of course, to stop the leaves from oxidizing any further. That one is not too hard actually. Just in the dry wok, …..

…. and there we go.

Now after that was done, how to proceed without equipment?

Blow-Hairdryer and a kitchen strainer? … not really. I started to activate my mad MacGyver skills and invented.

I was a bit worried that the sticky-tape will give out some smell and ruin the tea, but luckily those worries where unfounded.

And in a box it went. Not all that much, so this time I can’t share any, but I am already planning to cycle out again in the next few days and pick some more. The result of my first attempt at making green tea closeup looks like this:

I handled the leaves a bit too rough I feel but all in all I’m rather pleased with myself.

THE SMELL, THE AROMA! Not that bad for a first timer.

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Chái Lín Jūn’s 2011 harvest

I finally managed to visit Chái Lín Jūn’s tea-farm just 2 days in of this years harvest.
Here an impression of, no, not the high quality tea they produce there, but of the rubbish that was deemed unfit and discarded during the sorting.

Although the tea trees have of course been planted and are cultivated there on the farm, they are allowed to grow almost as they would in the wild. No cutting for accelerated growth nor shaping for machine harvesting. It makes it a bit harder to pick the tea but that’s well worth it.

For larger versions of all images please click them.

Chái Lín Jūn does not machine harvest nor does he produce autumn tea. The reason for that is quality. Farmers who do produce and offer autumn teas here in China almost all use pesticides, even the so called organic ones. International tea importers are well aware of that and do test samples, but please don’t let me spoil your autumn greens should you like them, as at least on the international market they are fairly save to consume. Anyways, I personally tend to avoid them here.

Once the picking is done, usually in the early afternoon hours, the sorting starts immediately followed by shāqīng also known as kill-green.

For kill green and the first pre-shaping 2 machines are used, the rest of the process is done by hand. A wood fired air-oven is preheated.

The tea looks like this when it comes out the machine that helps squeezing the leaves a little and releasing the tea oils.

From there it goes onto the heated air to be hand-rolled with distinct movements.

I grabbed a handful almost finished tea and took this shot so you can compare and see how it started to curl up, changed its color and the little white hair started to show.

A few minutes later I enjoyed the first glass and as you can see, the little white hair made it all the way in there. MMMmMMMM, so delicious.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zlzQvHrIWWg&rel=0&w=480&h=385]

All tea made pre-qingming (before the 5th) is rather pricey and not much of it is available as Chái Lín Jūn’s farm is not industrial scale….

….however, if someone really really wants to have some of this fine pre-qingming green in their cups email me (as long as it is for personal use in a reasonable limited amount) or check the menu on the right hand side for varieties picked a bit later.

2011 Yixing Tea Harvest

This year the tea harvest started a bit later due to the weather conditions but now finally it’s time.

For one reason or another I still didn’t manage to go visit Chái Lín Jūn’s tea-farm to take some pictures despite them already picking now the second day. 

In between we’ve been here though.

Fruit and other trees are grown between the tea bushes. Still without leaves this time of year but during the hot summer months their shade will protect the tea plants as well as keep them small and leaves tender.

The tea factory that produces from these fields was in Japanese hands before but has been sold back since then I’ve been told.

 

Inside its very roomy and clean.

 

 

Fairly modern equipment is being used to produce the tea.

 

Still handmade, but the temperature controlled and hot-air powered machines give an impressive result.

A whole day of picking with 140 workers on the 30th of March 2011 resulted in this much tea ->

 

Not exactly a lot and no one thinks they made any profit that day, but the quality is very fine indeed.

There was practically no sorting of tea done that first day as everything picked looked like the above.
In the next few days to come volume will increase of course.  Like on Facebook