Last week I wrote about “rock teas”, because I had just returned from that region of China. When you ask local farmers where the name comes from, some talk about the fact that the tea must be rocked at a particular stage during the processing. But others draw an analogy between the tea’s smooth flavour, its minerality and strength, and the amazing rocks around which the camellias grow.
In China there is a very famous group of teas called “rock teas”. These semi-oxidised teas come from Wu Yi Shan, a mountain range in the north of Fujian province. The best known is Da Hong Pao. You have to taste it at least once in your life to realise what an exceptional tea this is. It has a rare strength and length in the mouth, yet remains subtle. It is fruity, toasted, woody and sweet at the same time.
Calling all smoked teas connoisseurs! It is here, in a Chinese regional park in the north of Fujian province, that all lapsang souchongs were produced for two hundred years. The origins of this tea date back to the 19th century, when a high-ranking Chinese army officer requisitioned the tea factory that stood here before this one, to house his regiment, leaving the farmer no choice but to dry his tea outside, over burning spruce roots. Which is how smoked tea came about.
For anyone interested in Japan, I recommend reading “In Praise of Shadows” by Junichiro Tanizaki. The author invites us not to view Japan through western eyes, but to take a wider perspective on what we call technical progress. He teaches us, beautifully, to look at the interior of a house. He talks about rays of sunshine that we in the West love to allow into our homes, while in Japan, they filter the light. This gives it a diffuse quality, rather than flooding everything with its intensity. It creates shadows, and gives things and people intimacy and mystery.
There are different ways to start the day. You can get up and get straight down to work, taking refuge in activity. You can also take time to observe nature, to contemplate a corner of our beautiful planet. To admire its beauty, the colours of a sunrise, the singing of a bird, the smell of damp earth. This morning, in Kyoto, I took a few steps out onto the balcony, I sat down on the little bridge that extends out from it, and spent a long time rejoicing in the presence of these beautiful carps.