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Tea travels: A trip to XiangHua village, AnXi.

Tea Travels - AnXi, Eastern China.


Although Shanghai is not a tea producing location it is an excellent hub for travel. China is huge but fortunately the great majority of tea production is in the Eastern or Southern part of the country, although this can still mean a 2-3 hour flight and onward travel.


Our first destination on what we hope will become a mini tea travel log is AnXi in Fujian province. If you can picture China, Fujian is a large province half way between Shanghai and Hong Kong on the Eastern seaboard, just across the straits from Taiwan.


Flying from Shanghai takes us to Xiamen, a relaxed city on the coast, with close ties with Taiwan. Up until 2008/9 direct travel was impossible. Since then it has become increasingly convenient.


From Xiamen our journey progresses by local bus to AnXi city. Transport has improved tremendously in the last 5 years, new roads have been built that cut out the mountain passes but nonetheless by UK standards the journey can sometimes make your hair stand on end. Even after all these years, I still sometimes find myself closing my eyes as the bus overtakes on a blind bend, on a road which is precariously propped up on the side of a mountain with a huge river below.


These days the bus journey to the city is only 2-3 hours, from 2014 this will be reduced to just 1 hour. However this is only part of the trip. In the city we transfer to another bus or private mini bus which will take us to Nei AnXi or Inner AnXi, high in the mountains, taking another 6 hours.


With travel anywhere in the world, half of the fun is staring out of the window, watching daily life flash by, children playing, people visiting the local markets and forests spreading across vast tracts of land. And there are the bizarre sights, of men on small motor bikes stacked with any number of items three or more metres high.   

China Tea Travels. A tea trip AnXi, Fujian.
Reaching XiangHua village, by Dorset or UK standards a town, means a welcome break and a chance to stretch the legs. XiangHua village is one of the large hubs for the tea we have come to buy, Tie Guan Yin. Tie Guan Yin is classed as an Oolong tea, a large category or classification of tea that sits between green tea and black tea. For many people oolong captures the best of both green and black types. Translated, Tie Guan Yin means Iron Goddess of Mercy or Iron Bodhisattva.


Tea is still traded in these parts in a very traditional fashion. If you are looking for fair trade tea then these high mountain teas are good examples. Typically each farmer owns their own land and on the whole they process the teas themselves thereby adding value. Teas from these mountains can, in the right conditions, sell for the equivalent of hundreds of pounds sterling or US dollars  per kilo wholesale.


Additional pickers are bought in from the city and low lying areas where often they do not have land suitable for tea cultivation or are part of extended family. The optimum picking time is short, merely weeks and each day limited to a few hours. If the weather is favourable then it is all hands on deck and the farmers themselves often working days on end without sleep.


It is the skill, knowledge and judgement of the farmers that allow them to understand the complexities of the tea market, the process and nature's impact on their harvest.


Wan Ling Tea House sources our tea from one of the highest villages that falls in the XiangHua region. Each day for around one week, Wan Ling and or her sister are visited by families bringing their previous day's harvest. They select single batches which match the quality and price that fits the categories they have for their shops and customers. Batches can range from just a few kilograms up to around 30 kilos.


The landscape, like that of Dorset, is dominated by agriculture. In the case of AnXi the red clay hills rise up, with terraces cut to grow the tea bushes. The hills are criss-crossed by small paths which are used by motorbike and human alike. Often it is local teenagers who zoom along the paths on their 125cc motorbikes loaded with the freshly picked leaves, delivering the harvested leaves to the houses below, which are also the mini tea factories.  


Our stay in the village is very peaceful although the hours are long. We stay with an old family friend in their ancestral home. The old houses are made by a rammed earth technique similar to the popular old West Country cob houses we see around us in Dorset, though typically without the lime plaster, leaving them as a natural finish. The houses are beautiful in their own rustic way, using a four sided design with a central courtyard for the chicken and ducks. Accommodation is on an upper story with the landing opening out over the courtyard.

Traditional rammed earth building in XiangHua village. Tea Travels 2013. AnXi Tie Guan Yin Oolong Tea.
Food in this part of China is wonderful; everything is grown or reared by the family or foraged locally. The mountain forests are home to a wide range of wild mushrooms and bamboo. If you have never tried bamboo I highly recommend it. It is one of those foods that we rarely get a chance to eat in the west. The shoots are highly nutritious, very tasty and there are many varieties and all can be eaten fresh, dried or pickled.


Useful and further resources:

Fujian Facts - An overview from our Tea Facts sections on Anxi, WuYi mountain, FuDing and other well known Fujian tea regions.

Tie Guan Yin Tea Facts - A look at this famous Chinese Oolong.


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