Mount Lawu, around 30km from Solo city in Central Java, is covered with farmland and tea plantations along its plunging valleys. Women pick the leaves that are just right from the plants, working hard long days outdoors, scrambling up and down the slopes carrying their pickings on a basket on their back.
Along the roads on Mt Lawu, tiny little stands, not much more than a bamboo roof, a table and a few stools, sometimes with tarpolan awnings, sell hot cups of tea. Instead of using the processed tea, which gets sent to the factory before being processed and sold back to locals in shiny silver packets, some of the stalls pick some of the fresh leaves themselves, then fry them up so they are crisp and dry.
Then, for Rp 1,000 (roughly 9 cents), you can get a piping hot glass made up of this super fresh tea, with a far more robust flavour than anything processed in a factory. This is Central Java, land of the supersweet, so it comes served with a little rock of gula Jawa, the local palm sugar. There’s no touch of bitterness in the drink, none of that strong tannin kick. The caramelly local sugar and “bam!” of the fresh tea flavour make this something pretty special. You stand and drink it by the roadside, taking in the brilliant views. Happiness, indeed.