All the Tea in China: A Ride to the Tea Plantations of Jianou

Jianou is a small city tucked away in the mountains of Fujian province China in the heart of tea and bamboo country. There is also some rice farming in the area but it is tea and bamboo that stokes the fires of the beast. Fujian province as a whole is home to some of the finest tea in the world.

China Tea
A small gazebo stands amid the tea trees. Xiaoqiao, Jianou, China

The main reason I moved to Jianou from my previous home of Anhai was because of the access to the countryside for cycling. While there were many redeeming qualities to living in Anhai, in the end the lack of quality cycling opportunities nearly drove me mad as a hatter. So, when I decided it was necessary to move I fixed my eye firmly on the Chinese countryside. I made calls to three recruiters. On the second call I found Jianou. I had ridden through Jianou last fall while on a bike trip and remember thinking then that it looked like a nice place to live. So, after an interview, a few short negotiations, and a couple of days to consider the offer it was a done deal. I was goin’ down to the country. It felt as though fate had thrown us together.

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A couple enjoying a relaxing morning at the gazebo

So, far the 6 weeks that I have spent here have been great. It took a little while to shake off the inevitable ennui that followed such an exciting adventure as my summer cycling tour, but of late I am bouncing back into form. I have made some good friends with the other foreign teachers that we have here and have made friends with several local people as well. And of course, I have been enjoying the opportunity to get out and ride scenic country roads on a regular basis. I have even been invited to join one of the local bike clubs, and recently I had my first ride with them.

China Tea
The tea trees trace intricate patterns across the hillsides

It was an absolute joy to meet the group early on a weekday morning for a 60k round-trip ride to Xiaoqiao.  It was a fast paced ride through the lovely countryside as we rapidly skirted by many tea plantations stapled to the steep hillsides. We grimaced with the effort of pushing our limits as we trudged to the top of some long steep climbs, and tested our nerve as we raced at speeds in excess of 60 kilometers per hour down the back sides. What a magnificent day. A great ride with new friends. There is little in life to compare to the tremendous vibe of such a simple day.

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Work crew operating a tea leaf harvester high on the steep terraces

When riding in a group like that it is difficult to take many photos. I did get a few, but there were some that it was just not possible to get. Hey, no problem right? I cycled there once, I could easily go back. So, that’s what I did a few days later when I went back to photograph some of the tea terraces that we passed during our ride.

As I mentioned in the opening paragraph, tea from Fujian province is among the best teas in the world. It is also home to the most expensive tea in the world. Just about a 1-hour drive from Jianou is the tourist city of Wuyishan. Wuyishan is home to some startling karst formations but is also home to Da Hong Pao tea which sells for over $1400 for a single gram! That works out to around $10,000 for a pot of tea!! You best not waste a drop. The tea plantation that I visited doesn’t have tea anywhere near as valuable as that, but they are quality teas just the same.

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Filling bags with the tea from the harvester

When I arrived there I wandered around the trails and pathways a while as I sought to get a feel for the place. I grabbed a few early shots checked the light and made some adjustments. As I shot I wandered further from the entrance and soon found myself deeper into the hills. The peace and quiet that I found was a thing to be thoroughly enjoyed. I continued to capture images and soon found myself getting into a groove, carefully composing the images and making adjustments for exposure. The light was mostly very flat and grey with an occasional short lived burst of blue. Not a great light to work with so I deduced that my best bet for some quality shots was to try to convey the mood.

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The harvester up close. There are two people at the front handling the business end of the machine while two others handle the bag as it fills to avoid snags

A short time later, I stumbled upon a crew harvesting leaves from a hillside. I took a couple of photos at a distance and stood back and watched as the group of three men and two women executed their duties smoothly and seamlessly.

Many people that know me probably won’t believe it when I say this, but I do struggle occasionally with shyness. Especially when it comes to bringing my camera into people’s midst to take photos of them as they go about their business. On this day I decided that I would not let that shyness deter me from getting the images that I wanted and I trudged up the steep slippery slope where they working and with a few bumbling words of Chinese to tell them who I was and why I was there I settled in to take a few photos.

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Transferring the tea from the harvester’s collection bag into bags to load onto trucks to bring the tea to the factory for processing

The men and women that I met there were gracious and more than a little bewildered, astounded even, by my presence. They smiled and laughed as I positioned myself among the bushes to try and get the photos I wanted. When I felt that I had accomplished my goal I bid them farewell and with some smiles and a few waves I was on my way again.

This woman worked the end of the row and collected any dropped leaves as the rrest of the crew made another pass
This woman worked the end of the row and collected any dropped leaves as the rest of the crew made another pass

I began to head for my bike to get home for lunch and get ready for a late afternoon class. I stopped for a few more shots on the way, including some of the many tombs that are dug into the hillside. Next it was onto the bike and back to the road for a quick dash home.

China Tea
There were many tombs scattered throughout the hills. Once a year China has a national holiday called Tombsweeping Day where families of the deceased head to burial places like these to clean and maintain them

As I rode toward home I was struck by how great I felt after the mornings adventure. I was smiling ear-to-ear as I raced down a big hill in pursuit of lunch and a hot shower. It was so wonderful to be able to enjoy an adventure in the morning before going to work in the afternoon, and to be able to do it so close to home was he icing on the cake.

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In the shade of the tree for eternity. A pretty peaceful place to lay.


11 Responses to “All the Tea in China: A Ride to the Tea Plantations of Jianou”

  1. Aunt Sylvia

    Really enjoyed your description of your ride and all your photos. Magnificent!

  2. Darlene Marshall

    Amazing photos and great description. You are really making China come alive for us all. And as an avid cyclist, it really strikes a chord with me. Great job, look forward to seeing more.

  3. Bride

    I really enjoyed reading this post. So descriptive and the pictures are absolutely beautiful. Keep them coming.

  4. Mom & Dad

    Beautiful beautiful pics P, so amazing, it must be wonderful to see it in person . We enjoyed your writing, very descriptive & well written, great job as usual. Are you buying some of that cheap tea.LOL

    We love You & miss you lots xoxo

    • Pierre

      Thanks as always folks. Always enjoy getting your comments. As for the tea, I told our program co-ordinator last week that the school should buy us some so that we could enjoy the full experience of local culture. She hasn’t stopped laughing yet lol ;)

  5. Mom & Dad

    Just spent a blustery cold evening looking at all the beautiful pics of China, Vietnam & the Philippines. Great way to pass the time, love the pics & your comments. Love you.

  6. Dave Peach

    Re:Da Hong Pao Tea . I knows i wouldn’t be vexed if I had a mug of that tea and hit a big lop out off Bread and Cheese. ?


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