We spent almost 3 months in Yunnan this Spring. I took my Chinese driving license test and was able to drive legally in the mountains for the first time this Spring. A friend of ours has a 4×4 he rarely uses in Yunnan, so has lent it to us on an ongoing basis for our tea hunting trips. It has really opened up the scope of the places we’re able to visit and given us much more freedom than in previous years. We were able to spend more time in Wuliang and Ai Lao than we have before. This area of Yunnan is very interesting for me. The altitude is very high and there’s a lot of very old wild trees and pure environment. It’s also well off the beaten track for the tea tourists that flock to Xishuangbanna each Spring, thus prices are still very reasonable and the farmers less spoilt than in the more famous regions.
We decided to press our cakes ourselves also and did so in the house of a farmer in Wuliang mountains. Everything is handmade – the fresh tea handpicked and hand-processed by the farmers, the loose tea for each cake weighed by Kathy, steamed with fresh mountain spring water and stone pressed by me. The cakes were laid out to dry in the shade for several days before being wrapped in local handmade paper and wrapped in bamboo tongs. The only machines used in the whole process was the 4×4 we used to transport the tea. Even with the printing of the wrappers, we decided to print using a small woodblock stamp.
We made a quick trip to Wuyi in the middle of the Spring and again in August. This year we decided to concentrate our selection of yancha and offer a few selected varietals from specific small locations within the park. We’ve been discussing a strategy with Master Huang – he’s really keen for the best of his teas to be made available to tea drinkers in the west and offered us some small varietal and small location teas this year.
We’re still waiting for 3 more teas which were still being roasted when we visited in August, but have listed the others online and made them available for sale. My feeling is that the purity of small single location teas really shows in the quality of teas we’re offering this year.
Liu Bao is hot in Malaysia right now. More and more Chinese are coming to Malaysia and hunting around for the old Liu bao teas. It’s quite an exciting time to be in the Liu Bao market – in Malaysia most people are holding on to their good teas, but when someone needs money and makes their tea available for sale, you need to be quick – baskets are snapped up by tea business people and local investors in a matter of days. The processing of Liu Bao has really changed in the past 5 or so years and the new teas don’t have the traditional flavour any more. As a result the pre-2011 teas are more and more sought after & it’s these teas that people are scrambling to store.
Lastly, we’ve just moved house. Previously we were based in Petaling Jaya, a satellite town to Kuala Lumpur, but with still the same traffic jams and poor air as the capital. For the past year or so, we’ve been renting a warehouse in Taiping, a sleepy colonial town surrounded by mountains a few hours drive north of KL. Each time we came here, we rarely wanted to leave and eventually decided to make the move completely. The air is nice and the environment is great for storing tea, the mountain water is good for brewing tea and the town is small enough to get around on a bicycle. It’s a lovely change from city living!
We’ve just finished with the move and settling into our new home. Hopefully over the coming weeks, we’ll have some new teas and teapots coming as we spend some time hunting around Malaysia again.