Seven Cups 2011 Yunnan Tea Tour Day One

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 in Yunnan 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, and an organic garden, blow glass, and are designers, inventors, photographers, and entrepreneurs. Robin Fash-Boyle, a certified Master Wine Sommelier and wine distributor, also from California.  Sirn Bisgaard, a Dane who has lived in Japan for 35 years and studied Cha Dao and is internationally recognized for his mastery. Dr. Zhang Jianghong, 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 has uncovered the lost secret of making Puer Cha Gao, a very refined puer.  Alexis Kaae, the owner of SimplyTea in Denmark, and Mette Trier also from Denmark, who in America would be called a journalist, in Denmark is called a communications officer.  Mette studied Chinese for four years in 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, 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 (!), which we all tasted and agreed it was delicious, with a little bit of a dill flavor, but a little bit too rich to eat much of. (pictures below) After lunch we spent some time with some ancient trees, some with purple and red leaves after a short climb. The trees were between 3 to 5 hundred years old and were on the side of a steep hill that had never been terraced.

We returned to Mr Yang’s factory and made some of our own cakes and tried some Cha Gao. It 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, that has a lightness and complexity that changes as it dissolves, which is done in a small glass pitcher.The color is also very different than other Cha Gao, which is the color you would expect for shu puer, instead it is almost a 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, some times as much as twenty kilos of maocha to produce a single kilo of Cha Gao, plus there are only a few makers in all of Yunnan that know the process, and each has 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 deal bit more expensive than gold.

Though some of the group where very jet lagged, no one’s energy was lacking, 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, and since I have described the process before, I won”t go into it here, but you can fine it on our site. It is a relatively simple process for making sheng puer. For the really top tier puer makers, like Mr. Yang, sheng is all they make. The very best quality maocha always goes to making sheng puer, 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, all signed and treasured.

We drank a lot of great puer, all of which was sheng puer, which 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 looking for the mineral tastes, 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 Di Minority restaurant, 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, 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 and 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 touchier. 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 get work done. Being able to technically be able to 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 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.



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