Tea time in Guizhou

By Michael Gold
0 CommentsPrint E-mail Global Times, November 5, 2010
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Guizhou is home to one really big teapot. Photos: Michael Gold 

China hardly suffers for lack of tourist destinations - some worth the journey, crowds and overall mafan, some not. Often the most rewarding spots are far removed, in both mood and geography, from the smoldering people-bombs of the Forbidden City or Great Wall. For the rare few who can spot the south-central province of Guizhou on a map, they've discovered quite the hidden treasure, a wealth of minority traditions, verdant scenery and the odd sightseeing gem that keeps the remote outpost resolutely under-the-radar and off-the-beaten-path, all to the benefit of those who can make it there before it too becomes a casualty of China's rapid modernization.

Checking out some of the local flavor as part of my attendance at the sixth annual International Green Tea Expo held during the last few days of October, I got the sense that Guizhou is currently trying to position itself as a major tea powerhouse along the lines of Yunnan, a far more well-trod province along its western border. Already famous fo Moutai, a brand of baijiu known for its "soy-sauce" flavor, Guizhou is making a play to become the beverage capital of China - and if the Tea Expo is any indication, they won't have much trouble.

Though it wasn't exclusively focused on green or Guizhou-grown tea, the latter certainly stole the show. Such specialty varieties as "naturally sweetened" Tree of Life-brand tea and chestnut-scented "office" tea - allegedly palliative for white-collar stress and maladies - will add to the laundry list of rumored health benefits to the drink, which include basically everything this side of X-ray vision. For those looking to spice up their tea consumption, as well as get the best of Guizhou in a single bottle, try the XX-brand green tea baijiu - but be warned: At 45 percent alcohol per bottle, it's a hangover from hell waiting to happen.

You don't need an expo to find these magic potions, however. Take a trip out to the semi-rural enclave of Meitan, an agricultural community at the receiving end of a recent government subsidy for sustainable tea harvesting. The newly paved roads winding through the serene tea fields ("sea of tea" in the literal translation from Chinese) have turned this once-treacherous route into a pleasant day trip. Checking out one of the rest-stops along the way might get you a free sample or two of "Sparrow's Tongue Tea," so-named for its tiny, delicate leaves. The freshly renovated farmers' villas dotting the road retain their traditional styles (including the deliciously kitschy teapot and teacup window dressing) while simultaneously making a clear case that investing in farmers' quality of life is not only sound social policy, but a good tourism booster as well.

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