Yunnan & Yixing

We’ve been in Yunnan for the past 6 weeks or so, finding and selecting the maocha for our 2012 Spring Puerh pressings. As is becoming the norm, it’s been a strange season for fresh puerh. There’s been another drought in Yunnan, meaning less leaves and higher prices. The pricing has been a bit crazy this year. The season began with prices around 30% higher than last year in most places. Many producers held out, waiting for the spring rains to arrive and the prices to fall. Unfortunately the gamble didn’t pay off for many – there too many producers holding out for the cheaper teas that the prices continued to rise after the rain arrived as people scrambled to get enough leaves to make the quantity of tea they wanted, even though the quality of the later leaves wasn’t so good. We managed to escape most of this. I’d wanted all our tea to be from before the Qing Ming festival, so we’d secured all our Maocha in the early season anyway and could comfortably relax.

Apart from the record prices, we were particularly shocked this year by the number of teas we’d tasted that had some chemicals involved. Sadly perhaps it’s not a great surprise that the growing demand for old tree teas combined with soaring prices and increased contact with the wider world has lead many villagers in the tea mountains to begin spraying weedkiller, pesticides and chemical fertilisers in the hope of increasing their harvests. Often chemical additions to teas will leave the mouth, particularly the tip of the tongue, feeling numb and can often leave a tight, clenching feeling in the throat. It’s really a pity when you taste these teas, because apart from a tea being ruined by this, it also destroys your ability to taste other teas properly for the next hour or two. Unfortunately it seemed the more famous the region was and the higher the prices of the maocha are, the more likely it is that the villagers have been tempted to add to their crop.

The good news though is that the quality of the tea, at least in some places, is very good. We’ve pressed limited quantities of tea from Guafengzhai and Bangwei and larger quantities from Manmu village (Bulang region), Baotang (Mengsong region) and QiShengGu (on the Lincang/Simao border). I have good hopes for this year’s tea. It’s being pressed at the moment and will begin arrive back in the UK in about 2 weeks with the remainder arriving within a month. As usual, I’ll email the details to those who’ve asked to be included in the preorders process, then list the cakes on the website once they all arrive in stock. If you’d like to preorder this year’s puerh cakes, please send us an email at info@essenceoftea.co.uk.

While our tea is being pressed at the factory, we decided to take a few days to visit Master Zhou and Chen Ju Fang in Yixing. Master Zhou’s WuXing Shan Fang studio has some of the best clay we’ve come across in modern Yixing pots. Although the waiting list for Master Zhou’s pots is a couple of years long and the price is in the range of several thousand US dollars, his wife, Chen Ju Fang also makes lovely pots, in a shorter time frame and at a more affordable price. They also have several apprentices who make some more simple styles of pots, still from good clay and are a good choice everyday use.

We hope to cooperate more with them over the coming years. Seeing the quality of clays of many of the pots being made in Yixing these days and especially those available to tea lovers outside China, I feel very fortunate to be able to work with them in making pots of this quality available to the West.

Click on the photos below to view higher resolution gallery.

  • Unprocessed Yixing clay
  • Yixing potter at work
  • Yixing Master potter
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  • Yixing teapot lid
  • Making Yixing teapot
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  • Gold decorated Yixing teapot
  • Ben Shan Lu Ni
  • Lao Zini, Long Shan Jing Sha, Ben Shan Lu Ni
  • Grinding Yixing Clay
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  • Yixing potter's tools