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Jen and Ali meet Mr Li and go searching for wild puerh tea trees

Alice and Jennifer in China: Mutant Purple Tea Trees

by on May 13th, 2013

Still in Yunnan, Jen and Ali meet Mr Li and visit his wild growing puerh trees.

The drive from Menghai to Jing Gu took eight and a half hours through spectacular tropical forest and mountain gorges. This is home to thousands of rare flowers, thronged with butterflies, monkeys and birds, among them the Bronzed Drongo. Supper is in an isolated roadside café above the Mekong River, beneath hills flaming with burning stubble. Our feisty leader, Xiao Yen, takes control of the kitchen. She bosses the cooks around and chops vegetables to create a good restorative noodle soup.

Our main objective in Jing Gu is to meet Mr Li, a top Puerh producer. Early the next day we’re in the back of a pickup truck bumping up a dirt track until we run out of road.

We then hike the last couple of kilometres to the wild tea mountain. Once a government owned and cultivated tea garden, it was abandoned for 50 years. Now Mr Li has cleared the choking undergrowth to give the very rare and very old tea trees more space to grow. There are dozens of the Da Bai Hao – large white hairy bud varietal, which are several hundred years old, as well as rare mutant purple leaf tea trees.

This is completely thrilling for all rare tea hunters. Tea Master Zhong Xin explored alone and came back with what may well be a new and unique mutant tea leaf.

We filmed the trees, wandered the wild tea mountain, then hiked and slipped 7km down a steep path through the pine trees, following Mr Li’s glamorous wife in her 3 inch sling-back stilettos.

At the bottom we picked loofahs from a loofah tree. The locals use them to clean woks and an old man weeps with laughter when we tell him we use them to wash ourselves. Have to agree – much better on woks than skin.

Locals also smoke their cigarettes through a big metal tube. Much softer apparently.

Then to the puerh factory to wok-fire some sundried leaves into Yun Hai maocha. Zhong Xin took control of the process and experimented with two batches of leaves. The first lot he lightly fired for 20 mins and the second batch he fired for longer – about 40 mins and rolled the leaves afterwards on the bamboo tray until they were sticky with oils. The maocha was spread out on the bamboo trays in the sun and we went to the Water Splashing Festival.

  1. Dunkinbizkit says:

    What a fascinating glimpse into another world! Thanks so much for going to such lengths to bring wonderful and interesting teas to our waiting cups and gaiwans, and then writing about it all so vividly!