Making Puer Tea Cakes, Enjoying Cha Guo, and Dai Minority Restaurants

Ancient Purple Puer Tree


I have a special love for Yunnan.  It is one of the most beautiful places on earth, and one of the most interesting, especially if you are a tea lover, and it is filled with very friendly people who really enjoy life, and feel it is even more enjoyable if they have some guests to enjoy it with. Like all of the people that we come to China with, the group that is traveling with us on the Yunnan Tour is full of extremely interesting people to hang out with, and they are enriching my experience of the journey.

Let me introduce our group. Shelly Monfort and Ken Mollenauer live in the Santa Cruz Mountains of California.  They raise dogs, cats, chickens, have an organic garden, blow glass, and are designers, inventors, photographers, and entrepreneurs. Robin Fash-Boyle is a certified Master Wine Sommelier and wine distributor, and also from California.  Sirn Bisgaard, a Dane who has lived in Japan for 35 years and studied Cha Dao, is internationally recognized for his mastery. Dr. Zhang Jianghong is an anthropology professor at Kunmimg University whose field of study is the puer-making ethnic minorities in Xishuanbanna.  Two Chinese puer tea experts and tea makers: Yang Guang Qing from the Youle mountain area, and Liu Yong Jing, who uncovered the lost secret of making Puer Cha Gao, a very refined puer.  Alexis Kaae is the owner of SimplyTea in Denmark (If you visit the website, it’s entirely in Danish). Mette Trier, whose occupation is a communications officer, is also from Denmark.  The closest match to a communications officer in American terms would be that of a journalist. Mette studied Chinese for four years in both China and Taiwan.  And last, but not least, my brother-in-law, Li Dong, owner of a Cha Ma Shi tea house in Chongqing that specializes in Puer. The conversations on the bus are great, and one of the reason I am so behind on my blog.

Here is a brief run down of what we did on our first day. In the morning we flew from Kunmimg to Jianhong. We dropped off our bags and immediately headed out to the Youle area, one of the Six Famous Mountains of Xishuanbanna in Southern Yunnan. We met up with Yang Guang Qing and Liu Yong Jing at a local restaurant where we had a great country cooked meal, which included tree ant larvae (!). We all sampled and tasted it and agreed it was delicious. It bore a slight resemblance to dill, but it was also a little bit too rich to eat much of (I have pictures of this below). After lunch, we spent some time with some ancient trees after a short climb. Some of trees had purple leaves, others red. These trees were between three hundred to five hundred years of age and were on the side of a steep hill that had never been terraced.

We returned to Mr Yang’s factory where we then made some of our own cakes and tried some Cha Gao. Cha Guo is puer tea that has been concentrated into a small wafer and is dissolved in water. I have had this type of puer before, but Mr. Liu’s technique for making it produces a very different tea. His method produces a tea that has a lightness and complexity that shifts as it dissolves, which is performed in a small glass pitcher. The color is also strikingly different than other Cha Gao. Other Cha Guo is usually the color you would expect to identify for shu puer. Instead, this method generates an almost purple color. All Cha Gao is very expensive because it is labor intensive and and takes quite a bit more leaf to make than it produces. Sometimes as much as twenty kilos of maocha is used to produce a single kilo of Cha Gao. In addition to this, there are only a handful of tea makers in all of Yunnan that actually know the process. Each process will have a different variation. We will never import it because it is too rare to even be known to the FDA, and all of the buyers are in Asia. It is quite a bit more expensive than gold.

Though some of the group where very jet lagged, no one’s energy was lacking. This was perhaps because of the Cha Gao. Next, the group got a lesson in traditional sheng puer making from Yang Guang Qing. We all made our own cakes. Since I have described the process before, I won’t go into it here. I’ve included the link about puer in case you’d like to read more on this topic. It is a relatively simple process for making sheng puer. For the really top tier puer makers, like Mr. Yang, sheng puer is all they make. The very best quality maocha always goes to making sheng puer; this is because it has the best future for aging and gaining in value. The quality of the leaf is everything in puer, and is secondary to the craft of making the tea.  It was very warm and humid in the small factory, so we were drenched in sweat when we finished our cakes and they were all signed and treasured.

We drank a lot of great puer, all of which was sheng puer. It was smooth, rich, and had an amber color that appears to glow. We speculated that the mineral rich tea has an optical brilliance as the light passes through it, and Robin very quickly began searching for the mineral taste, having actually tasted the soil where we had been.

It was a bit late when we returned to Jianghong, and the restaurant we were scheduled to go to for dinner was packed to overflowing, so we had a late dinner. Even so, the food was worth waiting for. It was a Dai Minority restaurant. To imagine something similar, you have to think of Northern Thai country cooking. We didn’t get back to the hotel until late, but we had five star comfort, and good internet service. I uploaded photos and got to sleep late.

I have to warn you early on that the chances are slim that I am going to be able to post much as often as I did on the last tour as I am three days behind already.  The GPS on my iPad isn’t working well, but I will try and get the right areas uploaded so you can see where we have been. I probably will write less in general since the bandwidth out here is also limited, and I probably won’t upload as many photos. I will fill the collections when I get home.

I am finding that writing in our small bus is is much harder now that we are in Yunnan, where the roads snake back and forth constantly and there are plenty of bumps. Touch typing on my iPad becomes even more difficult. It is hard for me to take my eyes off the remarkable scenery. I’m really having too much fun too, which has kept my motivation low to getting any work done. Being able to technically do real time blogging is cool in the beginning, but it is easy for my discipline to falter when I am having a good time. I would much rather be doing something that is worth writing about it, and everything around me, both on and off the bus, continues to grab my attention. I am taking more time off from the group now to write this while everyone else is getting a foot massage…