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Alice and Jennifer travel to Yunnan to drink wild grown puerh

Alice and Jennifer in China: Puerh at Nan Nuo Mountain

by on May 7th, 2013

Lots of photos and videos to share from Nan Nuo mountain in Yunnan, the home of puerh tea.

Unrefreshed by a night’s nonsleep, Xiao Yen took us for breakfast (noodle soup) in the heaving, chattering market. The vivid colours and smells changed at every step, from raw meat to live fish and sacks of giant frogs, knobbly, technicolour vegetables Xiao Yen couldn’t name in Chinese let alone English.

Then our first real day doing what we came for – a journey over miles of rough road with Su Er to his traditional family home and tea farm up on Nan Nuo Mountain.

There are 20 villages on this famous Mountain and we were heading to a farm which at 1900m was one of the highest points. Su Er and his Hani minority family have been here forever. It’s impossible to give dates or the number of generations – just as long as there have been people on this mountain.

In the 1960’s the government officially allocated land to the farmers from minority groups whose ancestors had been living there for thousands of years. So this part of the mountain is his to harvest and protect and hand on to his children.

The wild tea trees grow among the beautiful tropical forest that erupts around and behind Su Er’s house. We took the mountain path up through the tea bushes and dense mixed forest with soaring bamboo, bright flowers, birdsong and butterflies.

There are hundreds (possibly thousands) of wild tea bushes here and numerous big old tea trees, 5 metres high and at least 600 years old, with large healthy leaves.

The spring, first flush leaves have already been picked from these ancient trees and kept separately for each individual tree. The second flush is not quite ready but we could pick a few of the leaves (bud and top two leaves) so Su Er could take us through the tea making process.

The big fresh leaves are gently withered in the sun on the wooden deck of his house, then he tosses each batch lovingly by hand in the wood fired wok beneath the house until they are fixed at just the right level for the puerh maocha.

Here is a little video of Xiao Yen and puerh farmer Su Er wok firing the puerh maocha:

After firing the leaves are scooped out of the wok onto flat bamboo mats and then gently rolled and pressed by hand to further release the oils. It is then cooled in the shade and later dried in the sun again before being stored, ready to be sent to the factory to be pressed into the rare and fine puerh beengcha (compressed cakes).

To be a true puerh tea, it must be a puerh broad leaf varietal, it must be grown and processed in the recognized puerh region and it must be sun-dried. There are millions of puerh cakes on sale all over China – most of which are fake. Now more than ever I understand why it is so crucial to know and trust your sources.

We drank a lot of tea that day from the fresh maocha of different trees and we bought just 3 kgs – each kg from a single old tree. We were also warmly welcomed into the family home for lunch.

It was served around a low table on very low stools (6’ 6” Phil struggled a little here) inside the one main room of the wooden house.

All 15 or so distinct dishes had been cooked on the open wood fire in the middle of the room with no obvious chimney, but the air in the room was clear and the wild green vegetables, picked from the forest were some of the sweetest I’ve ever tasted.