Puer tea from way off the beaten path

Newsletter Archive Nov. 5, 2021

Four puer cakes on stands laid out on the heavy wooden counter of the tea table at the front of the tea shop.
Four freshly arrived puer cakes are now available at the Tucson teahouse and in the online shop.

New puer teas just arrived, including several new additions to our catalog of sheng puer cakes: Xiaohuzhai 2019, Xinbanzhang 2019, and Jingmaishan (Jingmai Mountain) 2007.

There’s even more new stuff on the site and there’s limited stock of a few old favorites too, including Youleshan 2007, Daxueshan 2012, and the Zao Xiang Fangzhuan (Jujube) 2000 shu puer brick.

This year’s lineup spans Yunnan’s distinct growing areas, from Xishuangbanna in the south, then north to Pu’er, and farther north still to Lincang.

It represents a span of time, too. There are teas from the spring as well as a few teas that were grown in the early 2000s, when Austin and Zhuping were first traveling in Yunnan to source tea.

One of the early trips, in 2005, was to a small community called Xiaohuzhai, near Mengku in the Lincang area. Austin and Zhuping didn’t plan to go there at the outset, rather they took the advice of the local police to get there.

The local authorities suggested they buy tea there, but not because it was a famous origin. To the contrary, Xiaohuzhai was a remote and impoverished place. The local police knew that Xiaohuzhai’s community could benefit from outsiders bringing in cash to buy their tea.

A vehicle traversing the rough mountain road.
Taking the narrow dirt road to Xiaohuzhai in 2005.

To get there, it was a three-day drive from Kunming. The final day’s drive to Xiaohuzhai took two river crossings and a hair-raising ascent on narrow mountain roads. When they arrived, Austin and Zhuping were the first foreign tea buyers to visit the region since World War II.

Xiaohuzhai’s remote and tough country meant bitter poverty for its inhabitants. The community was soon to discover that they had something very valuable, however.

Unlike in many other more accessible villages in the region, where old tea trees were cleared to make room for more profitable crops, Xiaohuzhai’s extreme isolation meant it had no one to sell to and no incentive to cut down these old trees.

Sixteen years later, the Mengku tea region of Xiaohuzhai and the neighboring Bing Dao now produce some of the highest priced sheng puer in Yunnan from their old trees.

The boom of the puer tea market, along with improved infrastructure and poverty alleviation programs, has brought a significant positive change for the livelihood of many Yunnan’s remote communities. Xiaohuzhai is just one excellent example. For our part, we feel especially privileged to share their delicious teas with you.

A crowd of several dozen children lined up in front of a school with a few adults behind them.
Austin, Zhuping, and puer tea maker Hu Haoming visiting the schoolchildren and teachers in Xiaohuzhai in 2005.