Somebody told somebody that I might be interested. That’s how, a typical Taipei raining morning, I met Zahira. The gathering of hundreds of cycle riders in a south park of the capital, cheered up by a big crowd of volunteers and the presence of Mr. Ma, the President of Taiwan, doesn’t seem the perfect atmosphere to find an enthusiast of organic tea. But, my will was leaving the city and drive the island in search of tea plantations, taste the brewing and knew how Taiwanese relate to one of their finest products and Zahira’s contact was now in my pocket.
Hualien, Luye and Tainan passed by. And it was the time for a real Sun Moon Lake experience. The geography of this part of Nantou county is mesmerizing. Even though the touristy activities, who can say that Sun Moon lake isn’t a landmark, a place for connection with nature and oneself. I settled down and walked the shore while groups of tourists rush up to do all what they had in their program for the day. As per my schedule, my only rule was finding time for a good tea. At first sight, that place was not the best spot for tasty food and delicate tea, so I ended up sitting in a Ten Ren shop, a branch of a famous tea company, not bad at all, but not as unique as I was looking for. I should meet Zahira in the shop they had nearby the lake; she inspired me energy and a project filled with illusion. Maybe she was what I was searching.
It was not easy to find the tea shop nearby the road, probably because of my lack of understanding. And I must confess that when I found it, it kindly of disappointed me. You know those tinny road side business that in Spain sell just low quality products for tourists. So, I expected to find in the Tea Shop of Lohas, being skeptical is in my genes, I guess. But as soon as I entered, the smooth Spanish guitar made me feel a bit at home. Money, in charge of the tea, and Zahira started to explain me about their project and their lives. 7 people were at the moment involved in a project of organic agriculture that not only target the tea plantations, but a whole way of living according to community based understanding, with meditation as part of the daily routine and an excellent distribution of tasks in the plantations, shops and promotion of their products. Amazing women and men from places as far as Kuala Lumpur, as Money, changed their lives in such a manner that could be an inspiration for many of the lost souls that these days roam in the postmodernity. Actually, it was a pleasure to listen to them. Their knowledge about the soil, the terroir that we say when talking about wines, their poetical way to name each and every harvest of those tea trees that were not watered to provide the real taste of the year over the plants. That was a sincere Lohas (acronym for the words Lifestyles of Health and Sustainability).
Money explained each variety with a sense of pause and slowly unveiled the meaning of the leaves. I got impressed by shaking (zen han) a winter oolong tea that was named after the earthquake, 4 springs was a variety that could be plucked 4 times a year, but my favorite was a black tea with a subtle natural scent of rose, rose red. They told me about their tea meditation activities where they work with youth to teach how through a cup of tea one can dive into himself, starting by the senses and ending up in a real search for the inner silence. And from that we jumped into the wu shi, one of the most fantastic stories about tea I heart in Taiwan. This tea is a green variety that a Taoist master selects every year in a very few plantations to be plugged exactly the summer solstice. They were lucky enough to get into the perfect moment of ripening some part of their plantation in the solstice of 2007. That is not something they wanted to do, but it happened to be there. According to the Taoist tradition, this tea is charged with yang, who has the power to calm down the yin, so it is good for those moody people, unlucky or not healthy ones. Their uniqueness to balance the spiritual energies of the Taiwanese believers make it quite costly (70€ for150 grams). I got totally trapped by the story of a tea that besides all its good properties also could provide you the balance.
In the Tea Shop of Lohas, not a single tea was unpleasant, and it was really difficult to say how much time I spent there tasting. The night overtook us and we prepared some simple, yet yummy, noodles. When I walked back to my scooter, parked in the garden, I kept thinking in their inspirational approach to life, in their courage for changing and how it was imprinted in their products. As if I were in a dream, everything could have evaporated as soon as I start the engine, but I am sure they are still working on it, in a permanent search for a balanced be in the world. And that was their gift to me: reflection and balance.
More information (in Chinese): http://www.howmean-tea.com/