He reached out to pluck the leaves off of the bush with the speed of a possessed monkey.
"I used to be pretty good at picking leaves when I was young," he said, "then my father started to teach me how to make tea and found that I was good at that too."
My Dong Ding teacher used to be a top producer in the area. He sold so much tea that he was able to retire after less than 20 years of production. Nowadays, he spends his time with his wife making small batches of tea just to keep his skills sharp. He sells tea only when he feels like it and he doesn't tend to take students. Like many other old tea makers, he is quite eccentric, but grounded in his principles: a passion for the craft; a love of the natural environment, and a desire to only associate with those things and people he deems to be "good."
"I'm a retired man and have no need for money. Like the place I live, the food I eat and the tea I drink, I only associate with those that are undefiled." My teacher is straightforward; I'm lucky to be worthy enough this day.
The plucked leaves in his hands go into a plastic bag that he tells me to hold and shake lightly in my hands as we descend the mountain. The tea leaves from soft-stem, wild and qingxin varietal bushes are a part of an experiment he wants me to try.
"This is how people first experienced oxidized teas. Go back to your place and when the leaves in the bag start to change color, put them in a cup and pour hot water over them." He was teaching me about tasting the natural flavor of the leaves. "You will see what tea used to taste like, before people learned how to control the oxidization level and to roast."
The taste is quite strange, green and vegetal, but also very natural and "sweet" in the sense of its purity. The smell of the leaves has a bit of fruity sweetness as well. Amazing how controlling heat and fire can so dramatically change the taste of the brew.