Let’s be honest, there are so many different varieties of tea out there that is very difficult to start commenting on a specific one. I wasn’t even a tea drinker myself before heading to Yunnan Province, the most southwestern region of China.
Here, tea is not for talking, is for drinking.
I joined a special expedition with some of the most experienced tea-makers of the area, first heading to Menghai at the border with Burma and then to Yiwu, near Laos. In Xishuangbanna, tea picking is mostly divided into 2 seasons, the spring harvest and the autumn harvest. It is commonly known that the spring harvest brings you the finest tealeaves due to the prolonged exposure to natural sunlight during the winter months.
The new gold? Yes, for some.
Entire families are devoted to the tea business here in this region, leaving not much space for other activities, their life goes on tea tempo.
Frying of freshly handpicked tealeaves. The ‘friers’ are considered some of the most important persons in the chain process of pu’er tea. Frying for too long could burn and ruin tealeaves from ancient trees, frying for not long enough would not take away the humidity from the leaves and create a muddy taste.
And yet, I sit here, almost hypnotized by the warm smell of stove, the leaves and that rhythmic circular movement of the Fryer’s hands. Round-shape stoves are located on the ground floor of each house, no matter how small.
What’s precious instead is what’s hidden on the top floor. The Dry Room. Usually located on the top floor of each house of the village, the ‘dry room’ continues to be the place where tea-makers let leaves dry after the frying, before the fermentation process begins.
Tealeaves resting in the ‘dry room’ on bamboo trays. Based on tea type and market trends, the leaves are left to dry naturally or separately involved in the fermentation process (fajiao). Loose tea is then gathered in big sacs before being put on the market. Only after the wholesale process is complete, the leaves are squeezed into brick or cake shape.