| The tea leaves are rolled and pressed to break the cell walls and to wring out the juices inside.[China Daily]
|| The final step in the production process is to "fire" or heat the leaves quickly to dry them and stop the oxidation process.[CHINA DAILY]
The changes to the natural environment are obvious. The color of the soil has turned black, and discarded plastic mulch is not an uncommon sight.
Some farmers even secretly cut down the trees on the mountains to fuel the heaters used to dry the tobacco leaves following harvest.
"After a few visits, I've noticed the river in front of Ma's home has had a dramatic fall in its water level and the water is not clear anymore," Yu says.
To keep Ma's family in the tea business, Yu and Yu's cousin Xing Yiqi volunteer to help them pluck leaves every spring, promise them immediate payment and, most importantly, learn the craft from the family.
"We want to send the message that their craft is not only precious as a tradition but also has high economic value on the market," Xing says.
"We sold 140 kg of tea last year and brought 30 percent of the profits back to improve their farming facilities and living conditions," Xing says. "A virtuous circle based on trust－that's what we try to create, at least starting from this one family."
They say they do not deny the benefits of mechanization of the tea industry, but they just want to preserve this craft for people still curious about the stories behind food and encourage the artisans to pass it down.
"Traditions are never abstract. They are the daily things that we've been doing for generations. Like the root of the tree of culture, if it weakens, the tree won't be healthy enough to blossom and bear fruit. It will still survive but be just as fragile as those floating duckweeds," says one of her customers, He Tingzhen, a guqin (Chinese zither) teacher.
Yu's favorite tea is from a wild tea shrub opposite a waterfall more than 1,000 meters above sea level on the mountain.
Every time she brews it, she recalls the eye-catching clear stream, the breeze in early spring that stirred the green tea buds and brought along the fragrance of the neighboring flowers－and how later uncle Ma happily talked about their new house while rolling the leaves like a tai chi master.
"It's all in this one cup of tea."