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South Yunnan tea mountains


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It was a great time. Enjoyed seeing the whole process of how this tea is made.


Locals claim that Yunnan is where all tea originated. Spread from here to other parts of China, plus to India, Ceylon, etc. We went to a couple of spots that were on the ancient Tea-Horse trail 茶马古道。It was also disseminated on several of the Silk Roads 丝绸之路, in particular the one that went from Yunnan to Beijing and later even farther by way of the maritime Silk Road.


Most of the tea we drank was from this year's crop. We drank it as 毛茶 (partially-processed) in loose-leaf form 散茶。What we were getting was sort of a preview tasting. A bit like drinking wine that you know is too young just to check it out. The liquor of this tea is a very pale green color. Nobody would buy or sell it retail quite yet.


But it was still an experience to go to a factory and be invited to sample tea made from leaves that were still on the tree yesterday. Doesn't get any fresher than that. The pros can taste immature products such as these and predict how they will develop later. They detect "potential" and "promise." They call it 前途。So they can buy it cheap now, then sell it dear months or years later.


It will taste better later, after the processing is finished. Most will be pressed into round cakes 并茶 and bricks 砖茶 after a few months. It will still be "raw Pu'er" 生普洱。It will be sold as such and the buyer can let it develop slowly and improve over the years. These teas reach their prime in 10 or 15 years when stored properly. Collectors and tea merchants "lay it up" like fine wine.


Other batches will be allowed to ferment in damp, warm piles dui/堆 in a controlled environment so that enzymatic processes can transform the leaves over several months into something approaching what would otherwise require 10 or 15 years. These are "ripe Pu'er" 熟茶。It is also compressed into round cakes or bricks at the end.


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One of the things that struck me most was how inaccessible and primitive these ancient tea tree zones are. They are not orderly plantations such as one might find in Guangdong or Zhejiang. The roads are small and none go all the way. One must walk. But the trees being high and remote also means they grow in a clean environment. No car exhaust, or factory smoke, nourished by clean mountain rain.


The small factories are always out near where the leaves are picked since they cannot be transported far in the raw-green state without damage.The green leaves, usually 3 or 4 leaves plus one terminal bud (三叶一芽)cannot endure much handling or much time before being put into huge woks for the quick-roasting/shaqing 杀青 step.


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We did that every night, followed by the "mild crush" 揉捻 while the leaves were still warm. After that they are set out to dry a day or so 晒干。Then and only then can the leaves be transported to the city or stored in large bags. So much of this tea work must be done by hand and requires mature judgement at each step along the way. "How hot is hot enough? How dry is dry enough?" and such.


Seeing the process up close and participating in it made me respect it more. I will be less likely to quibble 狡辩 over the price of a fine cup of Pu'er tea now that I realize how much skill and hard labor is required to produce it.

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You're welcome. Highly recommended if you like getting getting into the remote back country like that.


Doing stuff like this is why I invested the time and effort to learn Chinese in the first place. Not to pass a test or get a job. It is finally paying off after 7 or 8 years.

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It all begins with trying to do it, and then persisting at trying to do it until you can


Point taken. I need to resume the struggle. Thanks for the reminder. It's the only way I will ever progress beyond my current level. Will start first thing tomorrow. Or maybe this afternoon.


I got complacent when ordinary conversation became relatively easy. Slacked off on reading. I realize that was a mistake.

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It's the only way I will ever progress beyond my current level

I'm sure this is exactly what happened with your speaking level too - keeping at it, figuring out things you wanted to know and/or that you couldn't quite make sense of, and keeping at it until it became relatively easy.

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