The air is cool. The mountains look majestic.
As the sun starts is daily journey, the peaks and ridges neatly arrange themselves into distinct layers, separated by a thin stratum of mist. The view explains why the Portuguese called the potato-shaped piece of land Isla Formosa.
You are now entering a tea country. Some of the best tea that is...
The best tea remains being hand-picked. Despite the cost of labout, which can be more than third of the price of the tea, no machine harvesting.
For teh finest tasting tea, only the top three leaves are picked. And these need to be picked at the right time... As teh windeow for picking is short, and many plots around, this is intense and hard work. Moving at a steady pace, raw by row, the field is soon cleared of fragrant, fresh, green leaves...
Come spring, the roads get busy at the early hours of the day. Equipped with baskets, hats and gloves, mounted on scooters or trucks, an army of tea-pickers take to the roads. Just like locust, they descend and decimate the freshest of the leaves.
Although the work is hard and the pace unforgiving, friendly banter fills the local valleys every morning. Laughter and gossip. There is no time for twitter or facebook. There are no selfies.
It is back to the innocent. Pick, weigh, record. Pick some more. Carry to the collection point, where the daily pick is recorded and collected. The job needs to be finished before teh sun gets too harsh.
But sometimes some fun is needed to make the hard work a little bit easier. And an ‘Adoga’, with his oversized camera and nose, surely can bring some more entertainment and something to talk about. Posing for photos soon begins...
The truck, once loaded, makes a trip back to the base, where the freshly picked leaves are dried for a couple of hours. Spread on the ground at first, the fresh mornig pick is being tossed and turned...
Not before long, the leaves are transferred again. This time indoor, to temperature controlled room. The cool air helps to get the best of the hidden flavours.
With the work being interjected with frequent cigarette breaks, the tea master takes a central role in here. He calls the shots. Years of experience and tacit knowledge are his domain. Touch and smell are more accurate than sophisticated measuring equipment.
The best of the local produce can easily reach $300us and is often used as a gift for important occasions.
Subtle layers of flavours come to live once again when brewed. The best of the crop makes it to the famous tea houses of Jioufen (九份). The picturesque mountain town offers some of the best tearooms to enjoy the noble drink the way it should be.
But before the tea there was betel nut. Thin, tall trunks conquered the local landscape for years. Fortunately, tea seems to be winning the battle for the precious, yet unstable, soil. With the many landslides, this is probably good news. Tea bushes can hold the fragile soil and produce some of the most beautiful liquid on earth. Bethel nut, on the other hand, has spread its roots deeply into the society but not the land. Deteriorating the fragile soils, stimulating greed, increasing health cost through spreading cancer and fueling ever more so skimpy dresses of the skinny girls of the roadside. Unregulated and untaxed. Dangerous. And fighting for space with the most noble of beverages.