(As unfortunate as the current situation is, it has given us the opportunity to revive some old projects that had fallen by the wayside, like finishing our travel log from our 2018 visit to Yunnan, China!)
This was my first experience visiting a tea-growing land. John and I flew into the city of Jinghong(景洪) early one morning in March. This bright, warm city is the capital of Xishuangbanna(西双版纳), one of China’s southernmost prefectures and the focus of our exploration. We were greeted at the airport by our tea-growing friend Biao San(标三), his daughter Nicole, and grand-daughter, and loaded up into their pickup truck.
We drove out of the city and into the tree covered hills which surround it. Coming from snow covered Vermont, I was struck by the warm air and tropical feel of the place. Stopping for a time at the peak of a tall hill topped with an enormous boulder, we took in the scenery…
This is the homeland of tea, the place the plant was originally discovered by the first tea-drinkers!
Tearing ourselves away from the view, we continued on to the home of Biao San’s family, the village of Ba Meng(叭孟). Nestled high in the hills, the houses here are built on tall stilts to protect against mudslides, and house many farm animals below.
Almost every part of the family here is involved to some extent in the production of tea, as it has been for many generations.
The next morning, we rose early and headed up into the tea fields above the village. Here old tea bushes, many of them over a hundred years old, grow in gnarled rows interspersed with olive trees. Curling vines and thick mosses covered this lush and productive garden. The tea pickers, all locals from the village below, moved through the bushes with extraordinary speed, their conversation occasionally punctuated by a song.
We weren’t just standing around taking photos…we put in a few hours helping with the harvest, getting instructions on the correct way to pluck tea, all the while listening to the songs of the tea harvesters.
Later in the day, we adventured to see the famous Gu Shu, or Old Tree, forests of tea trees. The biggest, oldest trees are too large to harvest from the ground. Pickers climbed nimbly to the top, either on small ladders or standing directly on the branches.
That evening, the freshly picked leaves began their conversion into Puer tea. As the sun set over the horizon, fires were kindled under a row of enormous stone woks. The leaves, which had been spread on large bamboo mats to wither in the afternoon sun, were loaded into the woks by the basketful. We gave it a try, and found it to be hard work! The leaves need to be moved quickly and constantly to prevent burning. The process went long into the night, fueled by music from a boombox and plenty of fresh, fresh tea. The aroma of Puer hung thick in the air.
The next morning the cooked leaves were laid out on bamboo mats to dry in the sun. Before the tea is complete, it is painstakingly hand sorted to remove twigs and stems.
Check out our Ba Meng Mao Cha (Sold out!), Ba Meng Da Shu Mao Cha, and our Ba Meng Da Shu Bing Cha (Discount Code for this Tea – DASHUMEANSBIGTREE), all collected on our 2018 trip! Sipping on a cup of the mao cha (毛茶, loose, unpressed tea), its slightly sweet, slightly fruity smoothness makes it a real joy to drink now. This is balanced with a woody strength which makes me very curious to see how it develops with age.