Last Updated on 11/03/2022 by Desmond
Suppose you are a big fan of Hong Kong movies. In that case, you may ever notice that in many films, when several characters meet, one of them will always say, “a pot of Monkey Picked Tea first?” to start the conversation. And soon, it turns into arguments, even physical altercations; that seems to become a fixed moment. So, what actually is Monkey Picked Tea? Is it really cause conflict if you order it in a teahouse?
The Storys of Monkey Picked Tea
The saying about Monkey Picked tea prevails in Guangdong and Fujian regions, China. As the name, it originally refers to the tea picked by monkeys.
We know that the higher altitude of the mountain, typically the better tea it produces. The Wuyi Mountain in Fujian has been a famous Oolong tea-producing region since the old time. There are also many wild tea trees grown on the intermountain. It was said some tea masters wanted to collect the leaves grown on the sheer cliffs and steep mountains to make the best Oolong, but as human beings, they can’t reach there. Thus, they trained monkeys with flexible bodies and could easily pick those leaves on cliffs.
Of course, it’s just an unwarranted legend.
There is another saying. Due to the high-quality tea trees growing on the rocks between the cliffs, tea masters need to pick them in a rock-climbing way, which looks like a monkey.
Anyways, the legend of Monkey Picked tea adds value to the Fujian Oolong teas. It was said in 1793, an English, Aeneas Anderson, brought this story back to England. At that time, even ordinary teas are a luxury in Western countries, and the story makes tea more charming.
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Then why does Monkey Picked tea often appear in Hong Kong movies, and mostly before the conflict scenes? I have two ideas for this.
First, the Monkey Picked tea pronounces “马骝搣, Ma Lou Mi” in Cantonese. This word is hard to pronounce in Mandarin but easy in Cantonese, and it even gives a humor and sarcasm sense. Take it in the movie’s lines that can highlight a local cultural atmosphere.
Besides, Monkey Picked tea typically refers to top-grade Oolong. Chinese have a traditional custom – try peaceful means before resorting to force. One who suggests sharing a pot of Monkey Picked tea means he wants to resolve the differences peacefully. But in a movie, the plot must go into conflict; it almost becomes a fixed scene in Hong Kong movies.
In summary, Monkey Picked tea doesn’t refer to a specific tea type, even not an authenticated grade. However, under the movie’s impact and the merchants’ advertising, Monkey Picked tea gradually equals high-quality Oolong in people’s minds.
Are There Really Tea Masters Training Monkeys For Tea-picking?
Although Monkey Picked tea is just a legend, and over-marketing by tea merchants. People can’t help but suspect whether there are still tea masters training monkeys for tea-picking nowadays, just for increasing profit.
In China, some jongleurs indeed train monkeys for performances. Will they command their monkey to pick tea leaves? The answer is NO.
Generally, processing 1kg of dried loose-leaf tea requires 3-4kg of fresh leaves. Although many wild tea trees are grown on the cliffs, their amounts are not enough for colossal bulk tea processing. Do not forget, Monkey Picked tea symbolizes top grade Oolong, and top grade Oolong is only made from the bud to the second leaf. Besides, processing tea with the leaves picked from different places, the flavor and texture can not be uniform, and the quality can not reach the top too. The product may not even be as good as the ordinary ones which are processed from the tea plantations.
About The On Sale Monkey Picked Teas
Now you can see many so-called Monkey Picked teas sale on the market. Rightfully so, they are not possibly picked by monkeys. “No monkey being harmed or exploited in the tea processing” noted by all merchants; they don’t want to get in trouble. In fact, according to the previous, you can infer it’s impossible to have so many wild tea trees supply of so-called Monkey Picked tea production.
Merchants describing the Oolong teas with Monkey Picked may want to express its high quality. But those people who don’t know the truth may think it was really produced by exploiting monkeys. So I think it will instead affect the sales.
Thank you for that information Desmond. I too believed the legend that monkeys were actually used to pick Oolong Tea but now know better. I can understand why the thought of it would upset some people because of the inherent dangers of such a harvest on a high and narrow cliff. Thankfully it’s not so.
I’m glad that it releases the concerns you have.