Autumn Puerh Tea Twodog

Autumn 2014, Yunnan

Pictures and Travel Notes from the Fall of 2014 in Yunnan

After  a month spent traversing the muddy roads and trails, and then a brief personal trip, I have returned to a stable internet connection and the comforts of my own bed. My accommodations in the tea mountains of Yunnan were generally comfortable. Though there were a few nights spent in a room directly over a pigsty with eight young piglets who decided darkness was their favorite time to squeal. And there were the many nights spent bug eyed and wired from fresh young Puer tea until daybreak. Now, it is back to city life. City life, and drinking aged Puer tea until my stomach forgives me for the fresh tea binge.

Before I settle in to my warm bed and brew up some smooth, aged tea, I thought I would post a few interesting photographs from the Fall and some impressions about the autumn Puer of 2014.

tea flower
Tea flower bug from Xigui

tea flower tea fruit
Some tea flowers and tea fruit [cha hua & cha guo] from Xigui area. The signs of autumn on the tea mountains
Many of you Puer veterans will recognize the small fruit on the left of the above photograph. It is chaguo [tea fruit] and it sneaks its way into tea cakes often. The tea flowers don’t find their way into cakes as often, but sometimes they sneak in. Some locals will dry them and brew them to drink. These pictures were taken in and around Xigui.

Tea Mountain Path
In Lincang a few friends and I went to a village without a road. This was both the beginning and end of the path.
Lincang Tea Mountain
Half way up the mountain. The view across the river.

Outside of Lincang, the hike up to a small village without a road took about two hours. I was pretty impressed with two of the guys with us, who managed to smoke several cigarettes along the hike. I kept thinking, “Don’t these guys need oxygen? I’m sweating my balls off here!” We were all covered in sweat by the time we reached the village. Luckily, we encountered a tea farmer who offered us giant cucumbers from her basket. Nothing could have been better at that moment.  I won’t soon forget those magical cucumbers. For all of our trouble we only left with enough fresh leaf to make one kilogram of maocha. We split it amongst ourselves. After a few tea tastings, my bag is already empty. Damnit.

Wild olives
Olive Trees near Bingdao

These fresh wild olives are some of my favorite things to pick for a hike. Some of you might remember people near Menghai mixing these olives with moonshine. They are as sour as any lemon on entry, but they leave a wake of sweetness in your mouth. I am told they are also very healthy, though I don’t have the nutrition facts.

tea tree lichen
Lichen on some old trees

I was able to buy the rest of the 2007 Hekai material to make more Repave cakes. The good news is that I got enough to satisfy all of the people who were e-mailing me saying, “WHAT THE HELL DID YOU DO WITH ALL THE REPAVE”. The bad news is that had I arrived in Hekai a week earlier, I could have bought much more. A week before my arrival a Taiwanese guy bought the majority of the material. Can’t win them all. Tenet 3…Tenet 3.

Overall, I’d say the Puer market is still in a strange place. The prices in some areas for autumn plantation tea were dumbfounding to me. Especially when I was able to find some slightly older teas for fair prices. I pressed a few old arbor teas that I had been resting  Spring, and pressed some Xigui area tea from Autumn that really caught my attention. And also a (very) small amount of true old arbor Xigui. I will be interested to see what happens with the prices of Puer in Spring – but until then I will resting myself before the onslaught of fresh tea.

2014 Spring Puerh

Reflections on Spring 2014 Puer Tea

Finally back to my perch in Beijing after spending two months and change in Yunnan scouting out Spring puer tea.

Spring Puerh 2014
Tea in Menghai, Yunnan, China. Spring 2014

There are too many stories of great people, teas, and adventures, so I thought it might be easier to bullet point some broad observations about the puer tea and tea market this year:

  • It was an excellent year for early Spring puer. There  was very little rain. Some places noted that the last rain they saw was in October of 2013. This drought is by no means good for the region or good in any sense, other than the fact that tea which sprang forth in 2014 was strained, concentrated, and powerful
  • Most of the best teas I experienced this Spring were low on fragrance but had flavor and fragrance buried deep within the soup, rather than “on the top” or surface fragrance. This might make people who are fragrance chasers upset, but for fans of aging puer with depth 2014 is ideal. Many villages still use a fragrance heavy method of production, but in my book those teas are all flash and no guts.
  • This Spring had more tourists than I have ever seen on tea mountains. Lots of people with big hats, fanny packs, Coach bags, and sunglasses coming up to the more famous locations like Laobanzhang, Laoman’e, and Jingmai. Some people flew in to Xishuangbana just to go and visit Laobanzhang. They all assured me they purchased some very real Laobanzhang because they know some guy there or something. They likely all left with fake crap.
  • Lots of problems with fakes in areas that were previously not full of fakes. Big factories like Yulin and Chenshenghao set prices high enough to make it lucrative for the farmers to bring in material from their cousins in other villages and sell it off as their own. This was always the case in places like Laobanzhang, but now it is happening all over. No point in buying Yulin cakes, they are expensive and chocked full of low quality material.
  • Processing skill in smaller villages seems to get increasingly better. Many tea entrepreneurs are mentoring tea farmers about how to best process their leaf. Some of the villages that had poor quality processing in 2013 improved greatly over the last year.
  • Prices are high almost everywhere. You can still get cheap teas in far flung Lincang, but for consumers who are demanding top tier quality teas from Yiwu or Menghai, there are very few bargains. Best to look to some aged teas if you are on a budget.
  • Roads continue to improve. The paved road to Laobanzhang is almost completed and they are building a paved road to Laoman’e. This bodes well for tea travelers and tourists, but is not good news for anyone anticipating a price collapse of of Laobanzhang old arbor tea.
  • Construction is everywhere. Villagers are upgrading from wooden homes to 5 story cement buildings with 20 rooms. One person in Laobanzhang was building a 20+ room guesthouse!
  • I am very excited about the teas I pressed in 2014!
Laomane Tea
Construction in Laoman’e. New homes being built everywhere.

All of my Spring cakes are pressed and on the way to the warehouse. They should be up on the site in the next week or two.

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