Tea and People. People Who Pick Tea Leaves

At present I visit neighboring villages almost every day in order to buy tea
leaves. I would like to tell you about the people who live there. They pick tea from
trees and then we drink the tea, made from leaves and buds, picked by these people.
We should know the faces of our heroes.
28 March

When I was at the very beginning of my tea way, one man told me, that the taste of tea and its effect depend on the two people: the first is the one who has picked it and made this tea, while the second one is a person, who brews it. I’m absolutely sure that human factor is the major factor of everything in our life and specifically it’s true with tea. As I see it, with tea it’s particularly noticeable.

Bagged Lipton is absolutely characterless. That’s why it’s cheap. The tea, called «сhinese tea», that can be found in tea clubs and small shops, is very individualized. It’s unique… We either trust the person who sells this tea, interacting with him or her, or defer to the opinion and recommendations of the people, whom we consider to be real tea experts and tea gurus. In fact, every participant of the tea process is important: the man, who picks tea leaves from trees; the one, who cooks it, who fries and dries it; the person who sells it; the people, with whom you drink it and the person who has gathered everyone together at the tea table; the one who is brewing the tea now and the one, you’re thinking about… And you, of course. Your thoughts and emotions, your mood and state of mind, silence and melody playing inside — everything is of importance here.

Freshly plucked tea is on trays for the first-time withering.

Usually, when we buy tea, we know almost nothing about the place, where it was grown; we don’t know who and when picked it; and we have no idea of how, where and who produced it. Very often along with tea (and sometimes instead of tea) we buy beautiful stories about its origin. Tea is often steeped in legends and myths. In many cases the authors of these beautiful stories are the people, who sell tea, and this is their way to justify the price. Placebo effect is often used in tea marketing. I plan to write an article about tea value and price later. Our project has been created in order to tell the truth about the process of tea production and about the origin of our tea. Without legends and myths. Honesty and openness are the creed of our project.

The final drying of tea in the sun.

Who picks tea for us? At present we buy tea leaves in Ban Payasi and Ban Komen, the two small villages of Phfon minority. Ban Komen is famous for its grove with big old Puerh trees. Raw tea from here is the most popular and therefore the most expensive. We usually come to this village at lunch time, and every our visit is a real event in tranquil rural life. People of this village usually manage to pick enough leaves before lunch time. As a rule they give us from 3 to 8 kilos of tea.

People who pick tea are mainly women of all ages. They often work on tea plantations with children, sometimes with little babies. During our visits the work stops and everyone brings harvested tea to the centre of the village.

Inhabitants of these villages are common people, kind and not rich. In every village we are met by children. There are many children here, no problems with birthrate to be seen. According to Laos handbook, the average age of Lao people is 18 years; to put this in perspective, in Thailand it is 30 years. Laos is very different from its neighbors, Thailand and Vietnam. Children are particularly welcoming, they are the happiest people. Villagers begin to participate in picking tea leaves in early childhood.

One day, visiting Ban Komen, I heard a drum beating loudly. Being entranced by the rhythm, I moved in the direction of the place, where this sound came from. It turned out to be a party in one of the houses: three guys were celebrating something, drinking beer and singing songs. The drummer was one of them: he was tapping a rhythm on some empty barrel. He was playing his drum with love, and this was so heartwarming…

Tam-tara-dam, tam-tara-dam-dam-dam…

A very nice thing about Laos is the greeting «Sabaidee!» No matter where we are, when we meet local people and when our eyes meet for at least a second, they smile sincerely and say «Sabaidee!» It’s difficult to translate this word and to describe this feeling… This is a greeting, always with a kind smile; saying this, a person wishes you happiness. Very often, when Sasha and I go somewhere by motorcycle and pass the villages, people smile and we hear «Sabaidee!» again and again. And of course children are particularly enthusiastic.

Sabaidee!

What do these people think about money? Of course, everyone needs it. But here, in Laos, attitude to money is not the same as in Russia, China or Vietnam. It happens very often in China or in Vietnam, that people who sell things at markets try to cheat and to fool in order to get more money. It’s never the same here, in Phongsali: no «mistakes» in counting and you get your change. You don’t have this unpleasant feeling, that you are constantly estimated as an opportunity to cheat and to make money. We are in a remote Lao province, maybe this is the reason. Perhaps in the capital or in Luang Prabang the situation is different. There is no theft in Phongsali: for example it’s ok to leave an expensive photo camera or a laptop on a counter, and you can leave the door of your room in a guesthouse unlocked. No need to worry, nothing will be stolen. Maybe it’s because the town is very small and everybody knows each other, while strangers are mostly tourists from Europe. By the way, local people don’t like to leave their houses, they do not travel much, and this is another characteristic of these people.

People here are very calm and kind-hearted. There is no hustle and bustle, not like in China or Vietnam. I saw a cutline under a photo with Lao people in one guidebook that said «Sitting quietly and doing nothing». This can be a motto, describing the rhythm of life here. Reading about Laos, I came across another saying, that is a good description of the Lao feel: «The Vietnamese grow rice; Thai people prefer to watch rice growing; while people in Laos listen how rice is growing…» This doesn’t mean people in Laos are lazy. No, they are not. But they are never in a hurry. Maybe this is the influence of Buddhism?…

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