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Yunnan Tea Tour

 

July 7th: Kunming to Southern Yunnan

 


Our China Tea Tour is start from Kunming, Yunnan which is a great place for Pu'er Tea. We arrived in Kunming to find our guides and bus awaiting us.

 

 

In Kunming we went straight to lunch to enjoy a mammoth bowl of noodles with various meats and vegetables to cook in it.  This first meal caught my stomach by surprise and I felt a bit uneasy as we went on to explore the Cha Ma Shi headquarters / tea shop.  My stomach and I were still not on good terms at dinner, which was a shame since we had an incredible spread of delicious food to choose from at our restaurant across the street from Cha Ma Shi.

 

 

Our first real day of the tour begin as we piled on the bus for a long trip towards the China / Laos border. The road we took had recently been built to help connect the rural Yunnan Province with the rest of China.  I can't image how / if it was possible to make this trip on the small winding mountain roads and I'm sure this trip would have taken weeks instead of hours had we been forced to use the old roads.

 

 

Apparently puer tea cakes were outlawed by the Ming Dynasty because they were being used as currency.  However the remote nature of the Yunnan Province kept it isolated from the rest of China allowing them to continue to produce these tea cakes.

 

 

The mountains we passed through were mostly cleared of trees and re-planted with terraced crop fields.  It was surprising to see these Hawaii looking mountains with lush tropical growth stripped away for agricultural use.  We also passed a number of hydro electric power plants and huge power lines stretching along the mountain sides.

 

 

For lunch we stopped at a little town where we tried homemade liquor and mangoes grown in the nearby mountains.  Our next stop was the ¡°fertility wells¡± which supposedly give twins to those who drink from it.  Xiao Zhu, Mr. Hu, Glenn and Tim F. each took a drink while the rest of us were unsure about thick algae growing in the wells.  We continued to the Old Puer Village where we were served tea a local tea house and then each presented with a rare purple leaf tea cake.  We switched buses after dinner (clutch died on the first one) and arrived at our hotel in Yunnan Botanical Gardens around midnight.

 

 

July 8th: Yiwu Village

 

We awoke to the sound of fireworks for what I'm assuming was the grand opening of the neighboring shop.  After a sidewalk noodle breakfast we took the bus along a winding road through a tropical rain forest and stopped briefly at a rubber tree orchard on the way to Yiwu.  We then took a bumpy dirt road to see an 800yr old tea tree overlooking a gorgeous lush valley.  On the way back we walked along the Tea Horse Trail which begins in Yiwu village and goes all the way to Tibet.

 

 

Our next stop was He Tian Neng's old tea workshop where we drank tea and saw the stone blocks used to press tea cakes.  Mr. He then took us to his newer workshop where we watched as workers made puer tea cakes by hand using the following method:

 

 

1.Full tea leaves and buds (2 leaves to 1 bud) are picked and collected in baskets.
2.The leaves are spread out on woven trays and dried in the sun for several hours.
3.Once dried the leaves are steamed under low heat for about 30 seconds to bring the moisture back and make the leaves pliable.
4.The moist leaves are wrapped in a cloth and pressed by hand into a disc shape.
5.A heavy stone press is then placed on top of the tea cake and a worker stands on top of this press, rotating his wade in a circular motion for about a minute.
6.In about 10 minutes the stone press is removed and the cloth covered cake is moved to a shelf for drying.
7.After 6hrs or so the cloth is removed from the tea cake and it may be wrapped in tea paper.
8.Puer tea cakes may be used to make tea immediately, however because the leaves have not been cooked they will continue to oxidize over time and will mature into a deep rich flavor in 5-10 years.

 

Yiwu is one of the 6 famous puer tea mountains and home to a puer tea museum which we visited along with the start of the Tea Horse Trail. In the evening we hung out in the small Yiwu Village, had tea and beer in front a shop and fired off roman candles in the street.  Glenn fired an errant shot, narrowly missed Kevin's head, before we retired to our slightly rough accommodations for the night.

 

 

July 9th: Pressing Puer Cakes

 

Today we got the chance to make our own puer tea cakes at a small Cha Ma Shi factory in Youle, another of of the 6 famous puer tea mountains.  After steaming, pressing and wrapping 2 cakes each we really got to experience how naturally simple the whole process is compared to other types of tea which are fried, rolled and processed substantially more.  The only downside I see to puer cakes is the lengthy aging process which is necessary for the deep rich taste to develop.

 

 

From this small tea factory we traveled DaDuGang, the owner of the largest tea plantation in Asia.  Terraced fields of 30yr old tea bushes could be seen in all directions and the view was breathtaking.  In stark contrast to the small factory we'd seen earlier in the day, the DaDuGang factory was filled with massive processing equipment, primarily for green though they make 107 different varieties, which had a very industrial feeling to it.  We had some tea with the owners of DaDuGang while Austin had a long discussion about policies and international tea trade.

 

 

After dinner near the factory we tried to stay in the guest quarters but the conditions were too rough and we took a 2-3hr bus ride to the new Puer City, arriving around midnight.

 

 

July 10th: Puer City

 

In the morning we drove up to Puer Tea Gardens, overlooking Puer City (map) where Austin was interviewed by the media.  We briefly explored the Chinese Tea Institute and their library of dried tea leaves before being whisked off to a tea tasting and more interviews.  On the way out of Puer City we had an eventful lunch where Tim Ferriss was filmed eating a chicken head (our guides ate them without much fanfare) followed by a trip to a Laos furniture shop to see some beautiful tea tables.

 

 

We arrived in Jinggu after a winding drive along a river through lush mountain forests.  In Jinggu we had dinner across from our hotel and Glenn ¡°invented¡± bijou / mango shots which were quite delicious.  After a brief affair with the internet (our first access of the trip) at the local Cha Ma Shi tea factory, Austin, Christine and I enjoyed 70 minutes foot massages to help us wind down for the night.

 

 

July 11th: Jinggu

 

Woke up in the secluded mountain town of Jinggu (map) and drove to the local Cha Ma Chi factory where we watched the pressing of tea cakes and bricks of all types.  We also helped with the pressing of a 50 kilo ¡°Golden Melon¡± for a wedding.  This factory uses tea leaves from organic 500yr old tea trees grown in the surrounded mountains instead of pruned tea bushes which are sprayed with pesticides to ward off bugs.

 

 

In the afternoon there was a large banner reading ¡°Chinese American Friendship Game¡± and a scoreboard was setup along the basketball court.  Austin, Glenn, David, Andy and me took on the factory team in a friendly game which we managed to win 27-18.  We were each rewarded with a large kilo puer cake and enjoyed a beer on the court afterward with the factory players.  We then unwrapped the Golden Melon which was still quite warm and came out nicely.

 

 

At dinner the bijou was flowing along with Glenn's mango juice concoction and we took a few cars to enjoy Saturday night in Jinggu.  The downtown area was alive with activity and we had a great time at a disco (dance club) where our table was right next to the bouncing dance floor.  We have yet to see another non-Chinese person outside of our tour group and our white faces got quite a bit of attention from the locals who wanted to say ¡°cheers¡± with us and drink a beer together.  After returning from the disco in a cab Christine and I decided to take a short walk near the hotel where we saw a slowly moving scooter crash right into the curb behind us in a baffling manner.  He got up in a few minutes and gingerly went on his way.

 

 

July 12th: Old Burma Road

 

In the morning Kevin, Glenn and Tim F. left on a bus to Kunming while the tour continued North along the stone paved, narrow and winding Old Burma Road with spectacular views the entire way.  This was one of the most beautiful areas I've ever been through with lush mountains, waterfalls, hilltop villages and harsh switchbacks.  It's a good thing we had so much to look at as the ride was over 8hrs and 90% of it was bone jarring. I'm sure the shocks on our bus will never be the same.

 

 

We stopped at a rural roadside restaurant where Mr. Hu even helped peal potatoes as they prepared our fresh lunch.  We pulled into the small town of Lincang (map) in the evening and settled in after a filling meal where we cooked veggies and meat in our individual hot bowls.

 

 

July 13th: Lincang

 

We had breakfast around the corner from our hotel before walking through a tea retail area where we learned how to evaluate puer tea cakes by looking at the consistency of the leaves.  For lunch we had some overly fresh fish which wiggled when dropped into the hot bowl, even after being sliced.  My stomach was getting strong by this point and the meal was delicious.

 

 

In the afternoon we picked up one of the servers from the the morning tea house and headed up to a park dedicated to the Yunnan ethnic minorities and their tea traditions.  We saw a garden of transplanted 400-500yr old tea trees and explored this vast (and deserted) park including a hilltop graveyard, a tea pot courtyard, and expansive paths with beautiful views of the mountains and town of Lincang.  The park officials even arranged for two girls to perform a traditional tea ceremony for us where they boiled the water with a small fire, roasted the tea leaves with bamboo paper and bowed as they offered us each a cup.  The sang traditional songs which were quite unique to my ear.

 

 

One of the tea girls came with us to a fancy Thai style restaurant (which she suggested) and even sang us 2 songs on the bus home to thank us for taking her out!  We went for a walk through the streets of Lincang, watching what seemed like the entire city out in the streets watching various acrobatic performances or simple tai chi like group dances.

 

 

July 14th: Dian Hong

 

More lush countryside as we drove north passing through terraced fields of rice and tea.  After checking into our hotel we drove to Dian Hong, a large tea company specializing in black tea.  We toured their museum and enjoyed many cups of tea while Austin talked business and setup a factory tour for us the following day.  Afterwards we went to their tea institute and saw a field with 71 rows of different tea bushes!  It was amazing to see the difference between them, even though they were all ¡°tea¡± and had the serrated edges, many of them looked vastly different.  This research institute has over 200 varietals of tea which they are studying.

 

 

Dian Hong owners took us out for a fancy dinner and afterward we did some more exploring around the city.

 

 

July 15th: Black Tea factory

 

After breakfast we took 4WD Jeeps through a rough winding road to see a Dian Hong black tea factory and enjoy a few cups of strong black tea.  The most unusual feature was the 3rd floor bamboo drying floor where tea was spread out to dry and then dumped through a rectangular hole for processing.

 

 

Afterward we took another breathtaking drive on the way to Da Li.  After browsing two hotels, the third was chosen for us, located right in the heart of the historic old city.  We checked in, had a great meal and walked the bustling streets including the main drag nicknamed ¡°Foreigners Street¡± where we saw our first non Chinese people outside of our group.  The evening was spent at various street side shops as we explored this lively city.

 

 

July 16th: Da Li

 

Our first full day in Da Li (map) began with a short bus ride to watch a festive Bai minority tea ceremony.  We then walked through the narrow old streets of this minority village and purchased handmade tapestries from various street vendors along the way.  Upon returning to our hotel Christine and I decided to do some exploring and found our way to the pagoda at the old city gate which once surrounded the city.  There was an incredible panoramic view of the city, lake and lush mountains with rays of sunlight shining through the clouds.  We took many photos and enjoyed the surreal view.

 

 

For dinner we were treated to a completely vegetarian dinner with 14 dishes to choose from.  This was likely our best meal on the trip as each dish was exquisitely prepared and we had the luxury of not dealing with tiny bones which accompanied our carnivorous meals.  Before dinner we talked with the curator of the Dali museum over tea and I purchased a few puer cakes from the shop.  In the evening we did some shopping along the old city streets and watched a musical performance from the balcony of an ideally located bar.

 

 

July 17th: Xiaguantoucha

 

After an early buffet breakfast we picked up the Da Li museum curator and drove into the mountains towards a Buddhist temple which we then hiked up to.  The head monk graciously served us tea which was processed on the premises and steeped with water from the nearby mountain streams.  We spent some time exploring the grounds of the temple, wandering through the dense forest with Da Li city far below.

 

 

Back on the bus we drove along the waterfront on our way to the famous Xiaguantoucha tea company.  We were given a rare tour of their museum and shown aged puer cakes worth over $10k each!  Xiaguantoucha produces 70k tons of Puer a year, with only 3k of this being exported.  We were told the largest portion of these exported puer cakes are sold to French pharmacies where they are believed to reduce high blood pressure.

 

 

In the evening we walked along the bustling streets of Da Li and found a restaurant down a side alley where we surprisingly ran into three visiting Canadians and enjoyed a delicious meal.  After dinner we had a few drinks along a festive street with tables lining a rushing stream.

 

 

July 18th: Wandering through Da Li

 

Our first day without planned activities, Christine, David, Andy and I decided to go exploring.  We walked a few miles through a residential area to a massive complex of temples and reflecting ponds.  We took a covered motorcycle taxi back to the old city and grabbed some lunch at the supermarket which we ate along the busy pedestrian streets of Da Li.  The rest of the day was spent shopping and lounging along the river street with some tea and mango shakes.  Austin and Xiao Zhu stumbled upon us and we meandered back to our hotel before dinner.  Christine, Xiao Zhu, Austin and I split a bottle of Yunnan dry red wine after dinner (it was ok) and had some delicious street bbq on our way back.  The night life and street food of Da Li will definitely be missed.

 

 

July 19th: Kunming

 

We awoke early for the 6hr bus ride to Kunming, passing through more beautiful countryside as we said goodbye to rural China.  We emerged through a long tunnel into the noticeable smog of the actively growing Kunming city and said farewell to our bus at the Cha Ma Shi tea house where the tour began.  Dinner was a special event as Austin and I celebrated our birthdays with a bijou toasts, a special noodle soup and a huge birthday cake which turned out to be light and delicious.

 

 

After dinner we purchased some tea and teaware from the Cha Ma Shi shop and were presented with two Seven Cups puer tea cakes.  Only 1,000 of these cakes were produced and they are the first ever (that we know of) produced by an American company.

 

 

We then drove to a friend of Mr. Hu's house to peruse a nice selection of Jade and enjoy some puer tea.  Christine, Xiao Zhu and I then walked the active streets of Kunming looking for slippers (no luck) before retiring back to our hotel a bit after midnight.

 

 

July 20th: Flight home

 

In the morning we left for the airport through the hectic streets of Kunming. Our Yunnan Tea Tour is happily ended.


 

 time£º2013-12-19 21:33:25

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