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  1. Saw chance coverage Friday on the six-o'clock local news of the opening of this year's Yunnan Pu'er Tea Expo. (Quickly took these two snapshots of the TV screen so I could read them again after the program.) Decided to go have a look. It sounded like one of the fringe benefits of living in Kunming, which has become a major tea hub, especially for Pu'er tea. Turned out that it was well worth the effort and bus fare. It was held in the Convention and Expo Center, which is locally known as 国贸。 Several blocks were roped off to allow pedestrian access to several large dedicated buildings. I've been here before for other things in the past, one a very memorable local wood carving and woodcraft expo. Most of the exhibitors were wholesale tea purveyors who wanted to develop their potential customer base. All offered tastings of their wares, and most also offered on-the-spot retail sales. I entered one of these spacious pavilions, where about 15 tea tables were laid out, each staffed by a professional 茶艺师 (tea master) who was brewing and serving, plus telling guests about the virtues of their wares in a non-pushy way. I turned in to one of these "company stores" and a host asked me what I was most interested in sampling. I told him 熟普洱 (ripe) since it was still kind of early in the day for 生普洱 (raw) -- about 10 o'clock in the morning. I thought it was an interesting footnote on the tastes of most local people that he had to walk me around to about ten tables before finding one that was offering 熟普洱。All the others were presenting 生普洱。 The table was full, but a middle-aged man and his wife scooted over and gave me a chair. Turned out he was an exporter, visiting from Shanghai to make some sizeable purchases. Friendly and welcoming. His brother and their 80-year-old mother were in two of the other chairs. Shook hands all round. He was a keen businessman and had negotiated a special deal with the company hosts whereby we would all get two free teacups instead of just one if we gave them our contact information and added the company on WeiXin. He laughingly cut me in on his bounty. I did it without hesitation, though I may come to regret it if I get too much of their advertising. Two free white ceramic teacups bearing the company logo might not be worth it. The tea the young man was serving there was excellent, but out of my price range at over ¥1,000 per cake. None-the-less, I really enjoyed the free samples. Smooth, full and balanced. Each small pot could be brewed a dozen times he said. This is called 耐泡, a virtue which marks better Pu'er tea. I wandered around, stopping at a store giving demonstrations of how Pu'er tea cakes 茶饼 were compressed and then wrapped. They first steamed the tea leaves to make them pliable, then gathered them into muslin sacks, twisting the tails of the fabric in the center. This fabric bulge eventually produced the typical central "dimple" that all round Pu'er tea cakes feature. A second young workman centered this bag of tea under a heavy stone, lowered the stone and rocked it around to provide many pounds of compression. In smaller production facilities, they typically put a small stone on top of the tea disk and then stand on it, letting body weight do most of the work. A young man at another station hand wrapped the now-compressed tea cakes. The technique looks simple, but it's easy to get it wrong. I learned how in tea school, but now struggle with it every time I unwrap a cake of Pu'er at home in order to use it and then re-wrap it afterwards. There was a full schedule of lectures, most of them 30 to 45 minutes long. Most were on professional topics that were over my head and the few that might have been of interest to me were not happening at a convenient time. So I didn't sit down there, but kept moving instead. Near the lecture area, I found a display dedicated to how Chinese astronauts had enjoyed Pu'er tea on one or another space mission. I had not known, but am not surprised. Found one booth that was featuring (and selling) tea-related art. Paintings and large photos of people enjoying tea in different settings, some wearing minority garb. It was fun to just see so much good 功夫 tea brewing technique. That in itself was a treat. Foreigners who visit Beijing on their "See all of China in 6 Days and 7 Nights" whirlwind tours often are treated to a "tea ceremony." Sometimes it's planned by the guide and sometimes it's an expensive scam that they are invited to by a "friendly local" when walking around on their own in a Hutong 胡同。 What none of them seem to realize is that these "tea ceremonies" are just the normal way that Chinese tea is brewed and served, even when you are doing it at home for one or two friends. Of course you hot rinse the small cups, of course you strain the tea as you pour it out of the small teapot into the distribution pitcher, and so on. There is a good reason for every step; the traditions make sense. They weren't invented in order to dazzle or impress. No flashing lights; no trumpet fanfare, no Lawrence Welk "bubble machine." I enjoyed watching people who were good at doing these things. One young woman was particularly handy with the tea knife 茶针 and could flake off Pu'er very efficiently. When i do it at home, even though I should know better, I often take a less sensible approach. She worked from the "dimple" outwards, instead of cutting in from the edge of the cake. This allowed her to tilt it, and not make such a big mess. She could catch all the flakes on the wrapper. Pretty slick, I thought, and I plan to imitate her approach next time I'm doing it on my own. Must admit that after two or three hours it got a little repetitious and I was swimming in tea. The old kidneys got a huge workout. Had hoped to find more displays of teapots and teacups and other 茶具, but maybe I just missed them since the place was huge and there were a couple of rooms I didn't cover too well. I didn't buy much, only a few teabags of Pu'er to give to an American friend back in Texas. (Someone who won't go to the trouble to brew it the right way.) Admission was free, but you had to register and give them your phone number in order to get an electronic entry badge with a scanable barcode. Today is the last day (four days.) But if it sounds interesting, mark it on your calendar for 2018. It has been running 12 years, and preliminary counts of this year's attendance showed it broke previous records by a wide margin. (Note: You can click the photos to enlarge them.)
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