THE CHINESE TEA GROWERS 459. The tea trees. — Li Yu, with his wife and children, lives in a little brick house in the corner of his tea garden, near Hankow, China. Li's tea trees are five feet high, evenly trimmed, and planted in straight rows. In the spring, when the tender leaves start to grow, Li Tai Tai, his wife, takes some baskets, and, with the children, goes out to pick tea. The chil dren help their mother and they all work busily, picking great basketfuls of tea leaves.
About nine o'clock, one of the boys makes a charcoal fire in a little stove that they brought along with them. Water is boiled in a teakettle, and everybody has a drink of tea. At dinner time, they stop work and have some boiled rice and another drink of tea.
All the day long the family picks tea.
The next morning they spread it out on trays in the sun to dry, and again they pick. This goes on day after day. Every body picks, little and big, old and young, except the baby, who plays in the sun, and Li Yu, who is busy cultivating the tea plants with a spade and a rake. The tea farm, like the silk farm in Japan, is too small to feed a horse; so the tea grower must do his own digging.
460. Tea drinking.—There are so many people in China that the ground is full of germs, and the water in the wells has disease germs in it. However, the people learned long ago that when the water is boiled it is safe to drink. Then they found that tea makes hot water taste better. Now you see why the Chinese learned to drink tea.
461. Curing tea.—When the tea leaves are almost dry, they are put into tubs. Then the whole family tramples them with bare feet until the leaves are all broken from the little twigs. The leaves are next piled up for a day in a big pile in a warm room. Li Yu himself watches to see that the precious leaves do not get too hot, nor too cool. The leaves must be heated just so, if the tea is to have a fine flavor and to bring a high price. Next, Li Tai Tai, the mother, and Koo Mai Chee, the eldest daughter, take the leaves and roll them between their fingers to make them curl up. The leaves are then placed over a charcoal fire and dried. They are now put into boxes, for the tea is ready to sell.
As Li Yu's family have worked every day for three weeks, they now take a holiday. Li Kai (the biggest boy) and his father and his grandfather fly kites all the morning. Nearly everybody in China flies kites when there is a holiday. Kites
in China are made in fancy shapes. Li Kai flies a kite that looks like a bat, his father's kite looks like an eagle, and the old grandfather's kite is shaped like a man. In the afternoon, all the family dress up in their bright-colored clothes and go to town. The little boys and 'girls have a jolly time buying toys and looking at peep shows and shadow pictures. The Chinese amused themselves in this way long, long before we had movies.
The next morning, Li Yu ties a box of tea on each end of a pole, balances the pole across his shoulders, and trudges off to a town two miles away to sell his tea. In a month it has gone by an English steam boat down the Yangtze River to Shanghai.
In another month an ocean steamer has carried it to San Francisco. In yet an other month a woman is buying it at a grocery store in a town in Pennsylvania, or perhaps in Ohio. She has asked for the best tea, and the grocer has just given her some of Li Yu's tea. He has charged her a high price because it is the best tea in the store. But what the woman gets is not really the best tea made; the Chinese keep that at home for their own use.
462. Tea in other Yu is not satisfied with the price his tea brings. It is not nearly as good as the price his father used to get. This is because in India the English also have learned how to grow tea. Instead of doing the work all by hand, they use machines to sort and cure the tea. Instead of having little tea gardens, as the Chinese and Japanese do, the English have large farms, or plan tations, in Ceylon and on the slopes of the Himalaya Mountains near Calcutta. Hundreds and thousands of the people of India work in these English 'tea planta tions and use the English machinery. The English can raise tea so cheaply that the Chinese have sent people down to Ceylon to learn the new way of doing it. They want to learn a better way, even though their fathers and grandfathers and great-grandfathers have been growing and curing tea by hand ever since long, long before Columbus discovered America.
Tea trees will grow in our own Cotton Belt, and some people have grown a little tea in South Carolina. But tea-growing is so much work that no one is planting any more tea trees in this country. Instead of growing it here we buy it from Ceylon, India, China, and Japan, and pay for it with our cotton, petroleum, and lumber, things which are easier for us to produce than is tea.