In 2007, we led our first Taiwan Tea Tour and took 6 of our customers to see Alishan's Zhang family. Before the trip to Alishan, the six tour members were already quite amazed by Taiwanese food & culture. In Alishan, they were able to experience wonderful Taiwanese hospitality and delicious food in person.
Each morning, Mrs. Lin would cook us breakfast. It was so delicious that we would eat more food than we usually do in the morning. After breakfast, we would take a break and then gather in their living room for tea. On the tea table, one would see crackers, different types of dried fruit and roasted peanuts. Those roasted peanuts were SO GOOD that we couldn't stop eating them!
After many pots of tea and snacks, we got into Mr. Zhang's car to go visit his sister. The moment we settled down into her living room, her husband started to heat the tea water and she disappeared into the back and came out with a huge bowl of crackers and candies. She asked us to have some. Our tour members looked at me with their eyes wide-open, and said, "What do we do?" I taught them to politely say, "No, thank you!" We were already full from breakfast and snacks. Every 10 minutes or so, she would disappear into the back and come back out with more food! Homemade soy milk, steamed buns, pickled peaches that were picked in their backyard....
At around 11am, she asked, "Do you want some instant noodles?" I had to laugh and translated what she said. Everyone simply shook his/her head, so I told her we were not hungry at all. Then she said, "If you don't like instant noodles, we can order some lunch boxes." I translated again and we all had to laugh. One of our tour members asked, " Do you Taiwanese people eat like this all of the time? How is everyone still skinny?" I said, "We do eat a lot of food, but not like this. This is one of the ways that a Taiwanese person shows his or her affection and hospitality. Don't worry. I will make sure they won't give us any lunch boxes." After tea (and some more snacks), we said goodbye and headed to the Jade Mountain National Park.
It was quiet and beautiful, unlike Alishan National Park which is a major tourist destination and is always packed. Farmer Zhang took out a bag with an assortment of snacks from his car and told us we should take a walk. After an hour or so, Farmer Zhang asked us if we were hungry. We all said no, and some tour members said they could skip lunch. After the walk, we went back to the car. Mr. Zhang opened his trunk and took out a butane burner and a big pot and told us it's time for lunch. I didn't know Mrs. Lin had prepared some soup stock and vegetables for us, so all we had to do was to heat up the stock and add noodles. There we were at a parking lot in a national park, cooking noodle soup. It was delicious and we had a lot of fun!
Farmer Zhang is no longer very involved with tea farming and he is lucky that his son-in-law is very interested in tea. It was great to see the next generation taking up tea farming work. I met his son-in-law, Ah-Chon, back in 2005. He was a very polite and quiet young man. Throughout the years, I have seen him stepping up to take over the business. He is very enthusiastic at sharing what he discovers.
Ah-Chon likes to experiment with tea. Last year, he let us taste three teas that were from the same day's harvest, but he applied different roastings to them. It was great to taste teas like that and it was great to watch him talking about them. I love to see that smile and the light in his eyes when he talks about his work.
I love to be in that specific part of Alishan, so tranquil and surrounded by trees and bamboo forests. I love to eat the food from Mrs. Lin and love to drink tea with Mr. Zhang over many conversations about his life philosophy. I love taking walks with the family after dinner when the fireflies are out.... The Zhang family make the place more special and it shows in their smiles.