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Keeping traditional skills alive

By He Na and Sun Li | China Daily | Updated: 2013-08-20 07:52

 Keeping traditional skills alive

Dahongpao tea master Ye Qitong is concerned that traditional tea-blending skills may die out if the younger generation is not taught them. Zou Hong / China Daily

To most people, tea is just a beverage, but to Ye Qitong, a Dahongpao master grower and blender in Wuyishan city, the drink is a work of art that seeps in to the soul.

He says Dahongpao tea is a good friend and he spends a huge amount of his time dealing with it and trying to better understand it.

The 70-year-old is Wuyi Mountain's most famous tea expert and the local farmers and plantation owners all raise their thumbs as a sign of respect when referring to him.

Many other tea experts take advantage of their fame to establish their own companies but, apart from a limited role as a judge at tea competitions, most of Ye's time is spent researching blending techniques and passing on his knowledge to students.

As one of 24 practitioners of traditional blending skills, listed on the National List of Intangible Culture Heritage, Ye's biggest concern is that the number of people who can master traditional Dahongpao tea blending skills and have truly grasped its essence is still too low.

As the masters grow older, Ye is worried that these skills may be lost and the long-lasting aroma of Dahongpao will grow fainter.

"Wuyishan has more than 1,800 tea producers. However, as machinery is now involved in the process, the number of workers has declined and they really just press buttons, so they never learn the traditional skills associated with picking and blending," he said.

"The situation is very worrying, but I am relieved that the recent booming market for Dahongpao tea has prompted a desire among many young people to learn the necessary skills," he said.

He believes that the only way to solve the contradiction is for the local government to establish a platform in the form of a school to stimulate the master blenders and growers to teach more students.

Ji Suying, director of Qiyun Rock Tea Co, has been studying with Ye for five years. She said experience has taught her that it's impossible to grasp all the necessary skills simply by reading a book and that practical experience is also essential.

To realize Ye's ambition of cultivating more skilled workers, Ji's company provides training opportunities for interns from local vocational schools.

"Talent is the great hope of Wuyishan's tea market. Diligent students with a good understanding of tea culture and post-cultivation blending skills are welcome to come to our company," she added.

Ye suggested that to expand the market for Dahongpao tea, the government needs to develop the industry in two ways. First, by updating mechanical tea-making skills to increase both the quality and quality of Dahongpao tea by reducing losses during the production process. Second, greater attention must be paid to the traditional production skills. Only the retention of these skills will ensure that the blend doesn't lose its unique flavor.

"Dahongpao tea is a drink with a life of its own. People can almost taste the history, culture, spirit and moods that consumed the masters that make it," he said.

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