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Archive → August, 2012

Tea Road Learning Journeys 4: The Wild Tea Trees of Husa, Dehong

I visited Dehong Prefecture (德宏傣族景颇族自治州) (18th June 2004). Mangshi Number One Senior High School is located in the prefectural seat of Mangshi, so it was a good opportunity to pay a visit and meet the teachers and students participating in this project. I also took the opportunity to visit the little know valley of Husa, part of Longchuan County, about three hours journey from Mangshi. Husa is home to the Achang (阿昌族) people, a small community of about 20,000. You can see where Husa is on Google Maps here. With a local school principal as my guide I went into the hills behind the valley to collect wild tea. We also collected some organic home grown tea with one of the villagers. We then treated (roasted dry) the tea (both wild and home grown) and brewed it up using the traditional fire boiling method.

 

The process of picking, roasting and brewing organic home grown tea in Husa. The total process took about two hours. Many thanks to Mr Wang for showing us how.

Tea Road Learning Journeys 3: Tea Road and Southern Silk Road in Mangshi, Dehong Prefecture

A view of Mangshi from the Golden Pagoda on Leiya Rangshan Hill.

Greetings from Mangshi! (14th June 2012) I’m in Mangshi (芒市), Dehong Prefecture. Dehong is a Dai and Jingpo Autonomous Prefecture (德宏傣族景颇族自治州). You can see where Dehong is on Google Maps here. In terms of climate and culture Mangshi is very similar to Jinghong. The Dai culture is very prominent here. Instead of coconut trees, the streets of Mangshi are lined with jack fruit trees (a bit like durian).

Viewing the greeting from Western Australian students with the students from Mangshi Number One Senior High School.

Dehong is on a branch of the Southern Silk Road (南方丝绸之路). The Southern Silk Road is a network of trading routes that is much older than the tea road. It refers to the transport of goods, people and ideas through Southwest China and into Mainland Southeast Asia and India over the last 2500 years (perhaps longer). In terms of tea and the tea road we could say that a minor branch route passed through this region as it made its way to Burma and Assam (and then to India and possibly then to Tibet). Some tea is also grown in Dehong and the Jingpo people do grow some ‘tea trees’ (which I inspected on a previous visit).

The students were very happy to see me. I think the main reason was that my visit meant cancelling the maths class!

Special thanks to the teachers and students for making my visit productive and enjoyable. I will be spending a few more days in Dehong, making a special visit to Longchuan County (龙川县) to visit a school in the small Achang (阿昌族) community of Husa (沪萨). There I hope to see the tradition of ‘baking tea’. Stay tuned!

The Great Golden Pagoda. Constructed between 2004 and 2007. It is the largest Theravada Buddhist pagoda in Yunnan.

 

Tea Road Learning Journeys 2: A Puer Tea Factory

 

I’m in Puer (普洱) (9 – 11 June 2012). You can see where Puer is on Google Maps here. With nine ethnic autonomous counties Puer has a large number of non-Han ethnic groups, including, Ha’ni (哈尼族), Yi (彝族), Lahu (拉祜族), Dai (傣族) and Wa (佤族). Tea is an important part of all local cultures here.

This gentleman is Kong Ming 孔明 (181-284), more well known as Zhuge Liang (诸葛亮), an historical figure now with a legendary status as a statesman and strategist. He is reputed to have brought the tea plant to Puer. He is revered as a Tea God.

Puer is only two hours drive from Jinghong (Xishuangbanna) and although the altitude is several hundred metres higher (at approximately 1,500 metres) it is still relatively sub-tropical. In addition to becoming a major source of puer tea, Puer has historically been well known as the most important trading and distribution centre for puer tea itself. In 1729, during the Qing Dynasty (1644 – 1911), the dynastic government established tea trading office (总茶店). Some of the best puer tea made its way to Beijing as ‘tribute tea’ (贡茶).

Whilst there are also many ancient tea trees in Puer there is also a considerable amount of plantation style tea as can be seen here. The area under plantation style cultivation continues to increase each year.

Yet up until a few years ago Puer tea was not very well known even within China. Then from 1999 up to 2007 there was something of a ‘Puer Tea Rush’. Puer suddenly became very fashionable in eastern China as the middle-classes sought new ways to enjoy their disposable income (this obviously coincides with the proliferation of tea-houses in many cities as well). Like its more famous cousin ‘green tea’ (绿茶), Puer tea is not only pleasant to drink but is also believed to have numerous health benefits (such as reducing cholesterol). The other virtue of Puer is that it is readily stored and the only tea, I believe, that actually ages and improves over time (like wine, but of course, like wine, only good quality Puer will age well and if stored in the right conditions). Like gold, Puer was suddenly seen as a ‘safe’ investment that you could keep and resell at a later date. The price of Puer skyrocketed and whilst times were good a lot of money went into planting new tea plantations, building processing plants, exhibition centres, and so on. Investments were made by all, from the small-time farmer purchasing minivans and equipment to the wealthy urban investor pumping money into ‘get rich quick schemes’, many of which were quite not based on sound financial planning. Then the bubble finally burst in 2007 and many people, big and small, lost a lot of money. Since then the puer tea market has been steadily recovering and prices are on the rise again (especially this year in the wake of a drought and smaller harvest).

Not many schools can claim to have a Confucian temple. Simao Number One Senior High School does. The temple (seen here) is a reconstructed version of the original which was on the exact same site for many hundreds of years. During the recent senior high school examinations (gaokao, 高考) many students made offerings. Needless to say, as the Vice-Principal pointed out, the best way to secure good results is to study hard.

I had three major objectives during this visit to Puer. Firstly, to visit Simao Number One High School (思茅第一中学), one of the participating schools in this ‘tea road learning journeys’ project. Simao Yizhong (the abbreviated title of the school in Chinese) was founded in 1915 and has a distinguished history. Given the subtropical environment the school grounds are lush and green. I was given a tour of the school by the Vice-Principal. Later I also met with the Principal and the teachers who will be facilitating the project from this end. I also had the good fortune to meet three young Australian lasses who are teaching English at the school as part of a ‘Gap Year’ project.

The puer tea markets are always a pleasant place to visit as you will invariably be invited to sample some tea. The pace of life and business in Puer, as in much of Yunnan, is very relaxed.

Secondly, I paid a visit to the Puer Tea Markets. At this time of the year the markets are very busy as the new tea crop continues to be harvested. In addition to the  dozens of permanent tea merchants there are also many tea producers who bring their tea to market for sale.

A collage showing the process of taking loose leaf puer and transforming it into a tea cake. The images here were taken in 2010 in Lijiang during a special puer tea festival.

Thirdly, I inspected a local tea factory (as shown in the video above). I wanted to see the process of taking the loose puer tea leaves (which have been picked, roasted (杀青), rolled and dried) and compressing them into tea cakes. Of course the tea can be consumed in loose form and this is indeed how many local people consume puer tea. The compression into cake form probably came about as a means of safely storing and transporting the tea along what we now call the ‘Ancient Tea Horse Road’. In this regard Puer now markets itself both as the ‘Chinese Tea City’ (中国茶城) and the ‘Origin of Tea and the Start of the Tea Road’ (茶之源,道之始).

There are still sections of tea road around Puer. It is from here that the caravans began the journey of transporting tea across and beyond Yunnan.