This is a rare sight where tea-pickers have to climb trees. National Taiwan University Experimental Forest's tea plantation has around 300 Assam tea trees aged over 60 years old. The tallest one is over 10 meters high. The tea leaves that are picked from the trees are not sold. Instead, they are sent to gene banks or used for research.
The tree climber holds the rope in both hands as he smoothly climbs up to the top of the tree. Once he's in position, at a height of six to 10 meters above ground, he begins picking tea leaves. Those watching him below are enthralled.
It's something new. They're so brave. We've lived 70, 80 years and we've never seen anything like this.
When most people think about picking tea leaves, the image that comes to mind is tea pickers bent over at the waist, as the tea leaves grow on bushes about waist-high. However, at National Taiwan University Experimental Forest's tea plantation, the tea leaves grow on Assam tea trees and are picked by tree climbers attached to safety ropes. Many of them have never done anything like this before. Some people even overcame their fear of heights to do this work.
(You're a girl, aren't you afraid of climbing so high?) No. I have a friend who was acrophobic, but overcame her fears after she got used to climbing.
We need to pick the soft shoots that are at the very edge of the treetop. That's scarier, because there's no trunk to step on or use as a fulcrum as you get closer to the edge.
The plantation has around 300 tea trees, and their average age is 60 years old. They were planted after 1956, and more or less left alone to grow wild. The plantation only began picking the leaves around three years ago. The plantation director says the primary duties of these tea trees are to provide material for gene banks and research on local soil conditions to gauge the effects of climate and environmental changes.
We're perhaps the only place in Taiwan with such mature tea trees, and they offer an additional source for comparison.
The original jobs of the tree climbers tasked with picking tea leaves were pruning the trees, monitoring the ecology, or teaching field training and survival education. Being a tree climber requires skills and courage. Every year, they pick about 10 catties worth of tea leaves. The tea leaves are not sold. Instead, they are used for research and industrial development projects.