大田 ‘Big Field’, No Fields In Sight

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November 27, 2012 by bethanjthomas

There was an awkward moment a few weeks ago, after arriving in a small town, four and a half hours from Fuzhou called 大田, Datian or ‘Big Field’.

The mountains of Datian

The mountains of Datian

The awkward and ironic thing, was that ‘Big Field’ is so incredibly mountainous, that there are only a few tiny fields amongst the terraces.  The origin of the name is a mystery to locals, who seemed confused that I wanted to know its etymology.  I like to think that a Mandarin or Emperor at some point played a silly joke and it stuck.  But the awkward silences that met my suggestion taught me to keep quiet on the inappropriate name front.

Datian Tea Terraces - not a big field in sight

Datian Tea Terraces – not a big field in sight

Most people outside of Fujian won’t have heard of Datian, and it isn’t a well known tea terroir, but they produce numerous fantastic teas.

With tea fields at over 1200m altitude, tieguanyin bushes grow and ‘Datian high mountain oolong’ teas are produced.  Picked and produced just like Anxi Tieguanyin, they don’t have the famous name but are intensely floral and thirst sapping.

Tasting some High Mountain Oolong with the producers

Tasting some High Mountain Oolong with the producers

At a lower level, Oriental Beauty teas are grown and made in the exact same format as their Taiwan forefather.  Their fruity aroma and apricot colour make them indistinguishable from their far more famous and renowned Taiwan equivalent to all but true connoisseurs.

Datian itself is a fantastic town.  With a small population and clean air, speeding mopeds and screaming children fill the streets.  Minerals have been found in the mountains nearby, and pick up trucks and lorries bustle amongst the fruit and food sellers loaded with rock and stone.

Houses in the hills

Houses in the hills

It saddened me that the teas from this region are not drunk outside of China’s borders.  Farmers here earn a healthy living by selling tea domestically, but their teas lack the fame of Fujian’s other ‘terroir teas’.  As a result, it is unlikely that the tea trade here will ever develop as much as Wuyi or Anxi, potentially to the detriment of Datian.  The town will likely focus of mineral extraction as its main source of revenue – with open cast mining cutting into the beautiful slopes of this region.

The only aspect of Datian that didn’t sit too well with me, was the local delicacy of boiled pig head.  It was given to us as an ‘abuse bouche’ before dinner one night, and presented in simple fashion – half a skull on a plate, plastic gloves to wear whilst sucking the meat from the bone.  Worryingly, the meat itself is really quite tasty, but I think I’ve lost my neanderthal-ic urge of my ancestors as sucking on a skull just ruined it for me…

Local delicacy - pig head

Local delicacy – pig head

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