In Guanshan urban area down Xiqiao Mountain is a tea business street. Different from other wide and flat streets, it is paved with bluestone boards stepping along hill terrain, which makes it look like an inclined ladder, suitable for walking rather than driving. The upside of the street connects with "Yun Ti Chu Sui", winding through the forest and col until Biyun Village on the top of the mountain, where you can even touch the cloud.
Those bluestone boards, which may be more than ten feet in length and one foot in thickness, have witnessed people coming and going, rain erosion and wind invasion during past hundreds of years. Some of them are worn out into blunt corners and smooth surface; while some of them are slightly inclined, with holes inside that make noise when you step on it. And on the stone have left so many footprints and so much perspiration of so many pedestrians!
The street is called "tea business street" because it used to be a distribution center of tea trading. According to ancient local chronicles, Cao Song, a poet of Late Tang Dynasty (from Shucheng, Anhui Province), was looking for his teacher Jiadao when he visited Guangzhou. Impressed by the spectacular scenery of Xiqiao Mountain, he decided to reside at Huanghualong Cave of Huangqi Peak at the east of the mountain (current Jade Rock of Biyu Cave). He brought tea germplasms from Guzhu Mountain of Zhejiang Province and taught local people about the cultivation method, turning Xiqiao Mountain into the first tea producing area of Lingnan region. Since then, Xiqiao Mountain had been named as "Tea Mountain". After Cao Song left this place, to show appreciation, local people built the Tea Deity Temples respectively in Yuncun Village and at the foot of the mountain.
The Tea of Xiqiao Mountain reached its prime during Ming Dynasty. It is stated in Xiqiao Mountain Chronicle by Zhou Xuexin that "there are thousands of households who earn a living by selling tea". Xiqiao Tea was then "No.1 in the Eastern Guangdong and claimed by Wuding Marquis as the best tea in the world". The Ming Poet Liu Shiqi from Shunde wrote in his poem,"Standing under the lily magnolia, I am thinking of Lutong, who had deep friendship with Jianyi and well understood each other. Flowers are in bloom like the full moon, before drinking seven cups of tea as Lutong did, I've already been taken to heaven. Fragrant of tea coming out from the cup, listening to the wind makes me carefree. People always say Yimeng and Wuyi Mountain are great, but I think they cannot rival Xiqiao Mountain at the tea season". He thought Xiqiao Tea was better than Yimeng Tea and Wuyi Tea.
At that time, there were species like Baiyun tea, Raw tea and Kukui tea. Kukui tea is also known as Yunwu tea or Ziya tea. The tea tree can be more than ten feet with leaves that are thick and big as people's palm. Mostly they grow in the deep and misty valley. At the early spring, after it has purple sprouts, tea-plucking girls then begin working and the whole valley reverberates with songs about tea. Ming Poet Qu Huainian from Gaoming County provided a vivid description of youthful tea-plucking girls in his Tea Plucking Girls in Working, "younger girls with shoulder-length hair and elder sisters with silk girdle crossing front chest, bare branches sending forth a delicate fragrance which is slight as misty, girls smiling beside tea trees. The sun shines through tree leaves along with gentle breeze, and yellow tips are shorter after raining. Slim fingers picking tea leaves, even the inclined baskets in front of them are full of affections. Grass at the riverside shows different degrees of green, attracting pedestrians to stop and ask for direction. Girls blush before speaking a word, only their checks can tell the emotions caused by the alternation of seasons."
After being picked, the tea leaves will go through baking or sunning process and then they will be carried to the tea business street for submission or selling. Various shops sit on both sides of the street, full of the good smell of tea. Once there was tea market, so many tea businessmen took ferries from Guangzhou or Foshan to purchase tea that the street were almost blocked. In the 18th day of Guangxu reign in Qing Dynasty (1892), the product of Xiqiao tea had already reduced dramatically, but the export volume was still as large as up to 65,000 dan (Guangdong Chronicle).
Later, most of the tea fields were sold and became graveyard. No more than 1% of the tea trees were saved. Therefore, the product significantly decreased and the tea business street fell into decay. At the late Qing and early Republican China, the business area moved to the riverbank and the then tea business street became residential district, making it in name only.
Now, when you walk on the tea business street, stepping on those stone boards, you can still imagine the prosperous scenary in the past. Being bathed in the mountain wind, you can still smell the fragrance of tea.