“三坊七巷”，如今是福州的胜地，全国重点文物保护单位，才四十公顷的面积，大不过故宫。但它却绝对当得上地灵人杰四个字，几百年来不知出过多少人 才，至今还能在那石板路上感到前朝的履痕，古房的簷角里嗅得时间的霉味。到了近代，三坊七巷就更是不得了，里头的邻居全是叱吒风云的人物，戏台上你方归 来，我这头就预好登台亮相。林则徐、沉葆祯、左宗棠、郑孝胥、陈宝琛、严複和冰心，全是这里的街坊。
还有林觉民，他的《与妻诀别书》曾是唯一同时出现在两岸中文课本的名篇。其故居自然也是爱国主义教育基地，陈列了那方有名的手帕複製品。台湾的老兵 来了，眼睛不好使，看不见上头的蝇头小字，可是他们都会背：“吾爱汝至，汝幸而偶我，又何不幸而生今日之中国；吾幸而得汝，又何不幸而生今日之中国，卒不 忍独善其身，嗟夫！纸短情长，所未尽者尚有万千……”一边背他们一边流泪，才二十多岁的大好青年，就此绝命黄花岗。而这座老宅，香港爱国商人李嘉诚本来要 拆干拆淨（他已经买下并且毁了三坊七巷整条老街），只是他要转移资金开发睥睨故宫的北京新东方广场，才留下了拆剩的两进房。中国呀，从来都是一个老人埋没 年青人的国度。
往事太沉重，国事太伤心，我们还是说回茶吧。话说英国本来也和欧陆一样，欢迎咖啡多过茶。直到十八世纪初期，荷兰人在爪哇广植咖啡田，价格远远低过 英国东印度公司行销的摩卡咖啡，抢去后者绝大部分的市场。英国人这才转移焦点专攻茶叶，使得茶叶价格下降，销量大增，成为英国国饮。十九世纪中叶，福州取 代广州，是中国茶叶贸易第一大港。那时候的三坊七巷商埠林集，大茶庄之外，还有洋行银楼栉比鳞次，顿时多了一座座西风洋楼。或许是华洋杂处的缘故吧，福州 才出了这麽多洋务重臣，才有严複这批中国第一代留学生。要等到英国人在锡兰和印度开的茶园成了气候，福州的华景才稍稍色澹。据说，印度茶叶的味道更浓厚， 适合加糖加奶，相比之下，武夷山的茶还是澹了点。
他们的茶寡？福建人可不这麽想。英国人来了又走了，曾经远达澳洲美国的最后一班快船也早已停航。他们为力挽狂澜的中兴名臣而骄傲，也为推倒清廷的殉 难烈士而心碎。但这盅茶，始终是要喝的，并且愈喝愈讲究。今天的福建人喝茶如喝葡萄酒，有赛茶大会。这个尝一口，说得出是哪一座山的名品，那年七月雨水 多；那个试一啖，沉吟半响，探问该不会是卢师傅炒的茶吧？神乎其技，令人叹服。我曾经问过友人，茶味极品是甚麽，他们答曰：“观音韵”。何谓观音韵？只见 炉火香烟嫋然，朋友放下茶杯轻轻摇头说：“说不清，道不明，言语无法形容”。
Tea leaves originated in China and therefore, in all of the world’s languages, the word for tea comes from one of two Chinese dialects. Japanese, Portuguese, Russian, Turkish, and Arabic use the Cantonese word, and German, French, English and Dutch use the word from the Fujian dialect. By looking more closely at the relationships between these langues, you can see the trade map of Chinese tea production. For instance, the boxes that left by sea all came from Fujian, like the English tea.
English people like Fujian tea, and from very early on, they have regarded “Da” tea (Bohea) and Gongfu tea (Congou) as real table treasures. So we can understand how Fuzhou, though it’s a small city which never was a key harbour through history, was entered into the list of trade ports at the end of the Qing dynasty.
The “San Fang Qi Xiang” (literally Three Lanes and Seven Alleys) area is the historical precinct of Fuzhou, protected by the National key Cultural Relics Unit, and with only 40 hectares, is much smaller than the National Palace museum in Beijing. However, this is definitely a remarkable place that produces outstanding people – countless talents have walked here in hundreds of years, and even now one can feel the weight of history on the cobble roads, and detect the perfume of time in old houses. Towards contemporary periods, the people of “San Fang Qi Xiang” are even more renowned. Each period has seen someone famous from San Fang Qi Xiang: Lin Zexu, Chen Baozhen, Zuo Zongshang, Zheng Xiaoxu, Chen Baochen, Yanfu, and Bingxin, are all from this neighbourhood.
There’s also Lin Juemin. His “Goodbye to my wife” was the only text to appear among chosen extracts in text books on both sides of the Straits. His former residence was naturally converted to a centre for patriotic education, where they exhibit a replica of his famous handkerchief. When veterans from Taiwan visit, and deteriorating eyesight prevents them from being able to read the tiny characters, they nonetheless recite from memory: “To my love, you were lucky to meet me, but unlucky to be born in today’s China; I was lucky to meet you, but unlucky to be born in today’s China. We can’t just take care of our own fates after all. I cannot express all of my love on this short piece of paper, there are thousands and tens of thousands more words which I want to say…” sic. They recite and they silently weep for the young bright activist that lost his life at Huanghuagang. As for his old residence, it was purchased and was going to be demolished by Li Ka-Shing, the “patriotic” Hong Kong businessman (Li had already bought and ruined most of the streets in San Fang Qi Xiang), but fortunately saved when Li needed to direct his funds towards development in the New Orient Square of the Imperial Palace. China has always been a place where the elders bury the young.
The past is too heavy, the affairs of the State are too sad, and so we still come back to the teahouse. England used to be like Continental Europe, and preferred coffee to tea. In the early 18th Century, coffee planted by the Dutch in the fields of Java was traded at a price much lower than England’s East India Company’s Moka, and they snatched most of the market from them. The English at this point shifted their focus and specialised in tea, which led to lower prices, increased volumes of sales, and tea becoming England’s national drink. In the mid-19th century, Fuzhou replaced Guangzhou as China’s biggest tea-trading port. This is when the trading port of San Fang Qi Xiang was set up, and apart from the Big Teahouse, there were rows of foreign banks like fish scales, sudden large numbers of Western style buildings. Or perhaps it is because of this ‘East meet West’ quality that Fuzhou produced so many Foreign Ministers under the Qing, and Yan Fu, this first Chinese student to study abroad. Only when the British tea gardens in Ceylon and India became fashionable did the magnificent scenery of Fuzhou become just a little bland. People say that the taste of Indian tea is stronger, more suited for tea and sugar, and in comparison Wuyi Mountain tea appeared as a bit mild.
Is their tea weak? Fujian people do not think so. The British came and went, and the last clippers who used to travel as far as Australia and America also disappeared. They’re proud of the great ministers who brought back vitality 中兴名臣, and heartbroken about the martyrs who fell when fighting against the Manchus. But this cup of tea, you still want to drink it, and the more you drink, the more you care about it. Fujian people today drink tea like others drink wine, and they have great tea competitions. One connoisseur takes one sip and tells you which mountain produced the tea, and whether it was rainy in July of that year; another aficionado savours briefly, pauses, and asks if the tea was dry cooked by a specific Master Lu. Their accuracy and expertise draw much awe and admiration. I once asked a friend, what is the best thing about its flavour, and he replied with a smile: “The charm of the Goddess of Mercy Guanyin” And what is the charm of the Goddess of Mercy? I saw the delicate embers of the cigarette, my friend put down his cup gently and shook his head: “It’s inexplicable, and words cannot describe it”.