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A Tea-Making Heritage
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  • Zhang Yuehua picks leaves from organically grown tea plants in his garden on April 25
  • At home, Zhang gently fries the leaves in an iron cauldron over a hearth which is more than 100 years old
  • Zhang stir-fries tea leaves in the cauldron. Quality tea is produced by means of several dehydration processes
  • Tea leaves are rubbed to help water evaporate from them
  • After the dehydration processes, the tea leaves become shaped into desired forms
  • Tea leaves are baked. Baking is the last procedure in tea making
  • A tea garden at the top of the Mengding Mountain
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By Ma Li

With morning dew still sparkling on the leaf tips of tea plants, Zhang Yuehua, a tea farmer who lives deep in the countryside in southwest China, leaves his home, a century-old dwelling built by his forebears, to pick tea leaves. Picking and making tea keeps him busy every spring season.

The 58-year-old grew up in a tea-planting family in Mengding Mountain of Sichuan Province. At the age of 12, he began to learn traditional tea-making skills from his father. The skills have been passed down in his family for five generations. Zhang has devoted himself to tea making for 40 years. His mastery of the techniques has earned him the title of "outstanding inheritor of Mengding tea-making skills."

An old saying goes, "Cloud-shrouded mountains produce good tea." Mengding Mountain, perennially veiled by clouds and fog, is a major producing area of quality tea in China. Super-fresh leaves plus superb tea-making skills give local tea a distinctive aroma and flavor. After a morning spent picking tea, Zhang airs the tender leaves in a shallow basket. He then stir-fries the leaves picked and aired the previous day in a cauldron, rubs the fried leaves to further dehydrate them, and subsequently bakes them in a container above a charcoal fire. Following that, the refreshingly fragrant tea leaves are ready for their first infusion.

(Photos by Wang Xiang)

Copyedited by Chris Surtees 

Comments to zanjifang@bjreview.com 

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