He Guanxiang, 49, was delighted to hear that the traditional tea-making techniques of China, so very important in her life, had on Tuesday been listed as a UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage.
For He, tea making is not only a heritage, but is also what has made a better life possible for her and her family.
The tea farmer's family lives at the foot of the tea hill. Looking back from a window, one can see tea trees dyeing the mountain to lively green all year long.
He's home is located in Nanping Village, Suichuan County in east China's Jiangxi Province. The village used to be one of the poorest in the poverty-stricken area of Luoxiao Mountain, and the poverty rate once exceeded 20 percent.
In recent years, this area has found a new way of rural revitalization by improving the quality of tea planting, upgrading tea processing, and integrating tea tourism.
Nanping Village is a typical mountain village, with more than 1,000 villagers scattered in the vast mountains, which are nearly 20 km long and 5 km wide. The boundless mountains once impeded villagers' communication and interaction with the outside world. Even if villagers had enough money to buy a motorcycle, they could not take it home, but had to park it on the main road more than 1,000 meters from their house.
"In the past, we were a poor family of nine who made a living from tea plantations. In the early years, when I went to the town to sell tea, I could only carry them on my shoulders, with two heavy sacks hung on each end of the pole. At the end of the day, my shoulders were worn red and swollen," He said.
Thanks to local poverty reduction efforts, Nanping Village now has paved roads and Internet access, with a cement road going straight to the door of He's home, and tap water flowing directly into her kitchen.
In 2020, Suichuan County invited Chen Zongmao and Liu Zhonghua, academicians of the Chinese Academy of Engineering, to serve as chief scientists for the local Gougunao tea.
"That group of experts took their notebook in the mountains for a long time, writing and drawing a lot of things," He said, recalling the scene when the team of experts walked into the tea farms in Nanping Village.
The experts told tea farmers to stop using pesticides, promising that they have better ways to kill the pests. Soon, "purple streetlights" and "red and yellow boards" were installed in the tea farms.
"Those aren't streetlights and boards," said Chen Shengchang, a staff member of the Suichuan Tea Industry Development Center, adding that the academicians had brought green technology for the prevention and control of diseases and pests in the tea plantations. With predator-friendly LED insect-killing lights and armyworm color boards, the amount of pesticide used during tea planting can be reduced by more than 70 percent.
A tea variety garden has been set up in Nanping, with 43 Chinese and foreign varieties of tea, in order to do breeding research aimed at improving the quality of Gougunao tea.
"With good quality, Gougunao tea sells at a better price. In the past, our annual household income was only 10,000 yuan (about 1,400 U.S. dollars). Now, my family's annual net income from tea-planting is more than 50,000 yuan," He said.
In March 2019, the first fully automated production line of Gougunao tea was put into operation. Deep in the mountains, the tea factory in Nanping integrates tea planting, production, processing, sales, as well as research and development.
In Suichuan, there is a Gougunao tea culture street where tourists can buy products like tea wine, tea ice cream and tea pillows, while in an experience center, various kinds of tea products from Nanping fill up the shelves. There are also several tearooms where customers can take a break with a taste of tea.
"Good mountains nurture good tea, and good tea sells at a good price," said Gu Donghong, manager of the experience store, adding that in the first half of 2022, the store's turnover exceeded 150,000 yuan.
"To make it easier for consumers to trace the source, each box of tea has an ID card," said Gu, who took out her mobile phone and scanned the QR code on the tea packaging. Information about the tea's grade, origin and its growing environment were then shown on her phone.
According to the statistics of Suichuan authorities, in 2021, the tea planting area of the county exceeded 19,000 hectares, and the output of tea was 9,560 tonnes. In 2022, nearly 100,000 people are engaged in tea-related industries, and each household secured an average income increase of more than 4,000 yuan.
"Growing and selling tea not only makes our wallets 'swollen,' but also attracts more tourists to the tea gardens. Now, our village has become a scenic spot," He said.