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Tourists find tea and more in Anhui

Pub Date:20-05-06 08:58 Source:China Daily

Leaves must be harvested carefully by hand, but it's the famous trace of orchid that connoisseurs crave.

In the mountains of southern Anhui province, rain is refilling the creeks and bringing waterfalls back to life, with fresh flowers adding color to the black and white residential architecture. Spring has always been favored by tourists.

Many visitors are connoisseurs of tea, which is cultivated on about 167,000 hectares across the province.

Most tourists choose the city of Huangshan to experience living tea culture partly thanks to the fame of Huangshan Mountain, or Yellow Mountain, which is listed as a UNESCO cultural and natural heritage, as well as a World Geopark site.

The city, known as Huizhou in ancient times, is also famous for high-quality tea, such as Huangshan maofeng and Taiping houkui.

Nowadays, with the coronavirus threat, visiting places with tourism resources but few tourists is desirable-a sort of natural social distancing.

One of the places worth a look is Xuancheng city's Jingxian county, which neighbors Huangshan. Tea production has been a pillar industry of the county, whose residents number about 300,000. There are around 50,000 tea farmers.

Tingxi township governs nine villages and has been increasingly busy since the beginning of April, as the tea picking season kicked off. It is the core production area for a local tea brand called Jingxian Lanxiang, or orchid fragrance.

The name is fitting, as the county's mountains are full of orchids. Tea connoisseurs can taste the delicate presence of orchid in the beverage.

Visitors to Tingxi arrive on a winding road bounded by rustling bamboo and a kind of tree crucial for the making of Xuan paper, the best-known handmade paper in China, which originated in Jingxian.

Some of the residents of Tingxi spend every day away on the mountainside, picking tea leaves, while others are busy running more than 170 homestays and restaurants in their own villages, often located beside streams.

Hand-on experience

The abundance of tea not only allows visitors to buy the freshest leaves at attractive prices but also provides opportunities to learn the whole process of tea production, from picking to drying.

Though few, some households allow tourists to experience the whole process themselves.

Other villagers don't offer a handson experience, mainly because the harvest season is so short-only a month-so they have little time and no facilities for visitors. One skilled picker can gather about 2 kilograms of fresh tea leaves in a day's work, and that will yield a mere 500 grams of dried final product. No wonder tea prices continue to climb. For the current harvest, each picker will be paid at least 150 yuan ($21) per day. Most come from other areas for the temporary work.

Traditional lifestyle

If a household doesn't want to hire helpers, the family will be rather busy. Although machines can be applied in the drying process, it is virtually impossible to replace human hands for picking the leaves.

Despite the high cost of labor, producing tea is still more profitable than growing a food staple, such as rice.

Tea's requirement for intense manual labor and its high profitability help to keep most of the villagers home instead of migrating to cities for work, as many rural residents across the country have done.

As a result, the local culture in tea-producing areas is often well-preserved, from traditional snacks to the craft of making bamboo baskets for use in tea picking.

Visitors who stay in the village will get a close look at how farmers work to earn a living.

'Ghost market'

Farmers usually work during the daytime picking tea. They bring the harvest home for further processing at night.

The dried leaves are delivered to a night market in the town. As the market is open from 1 am to 7 am, villagers call it the "ghost market".

Traders include not only local people, but also businesspeople from other parts of the country. Villagers usually bargain for a good price at multiple stalls before concluding a transaction.

There are also villagers who have established their own brands and save the products for sale by themselves.

With a tea-growing history of centuries, communities in the mountainous region have largely relied on the traditional crop to get out of poverty. Many of the villagers use the money to build multiple-story houses.

When the tea harvest is nearly finished-generally in early May-villagers have more time to serve their homestay and restaurant guests. Natural attractions include a hiking trail through the forest that can take two or three hours to complete. Steep as the trail is, safety is not a problem. The route has been taken by local people since ancient times.

Handmade paper

The traditional technique for making Xuan paper by hand has been a big hit among the cultural attractions of Jingxian. The paper originated from the county, which is governed by Xuancheng city, which is known for fine calligraphy and traditional Chinese painting.

The paper is made in Jingxian from the bark of the blue sandalwood tree, a common species of elm, along with a special type of rice straw grown in sandy soil.

In 2009, the traditional method of making Xuan paper was included in UNESCO's Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

Several local companies and workshops are recognized by quality supervision authorities as producing authentic Xuan paper. China Xuan Paper Group is the largest manufacturer, employing more than 1,300 workers and producing about 600 metric tons annually-80 percent of Jingxian's total.

The company runs a large museum devoted to the making of Xuan paper and invites visitors to its plant for close exploration.

Editor:Rita

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