neděle 25. května 2014

Laos tea of Phongsaly province

Phongsaly (ຜົ້ງສາລີ in Lao) is one of the most renowned tea regions of Laos. The city of Phongsaly is rather elevated (1450 metres over sea with the surrounding mountains being higher than 1600) and lies near the borders with China. Unfortunately, the journey from China to Phongsaly is not easy, because the official border is far (days).
Phongsaly is visited by tourists, who are mostly attracted to visits to surroundiing villages, style of which remained unchanged for hundreds of years. The areas around are rich in various minorities and people live very traditionally there; compared to China, it is a real treat to visit such places. The most popular are Akha minorities, whose traditional clothing and adornments of body are very beautiful.

Tea is one of main commodities, produced around Phongsaly. In recent past, another important commodity was also opium, still not quite rooted out.

In the area around the town, there are only two villages with original old tea trees, see below. However, the whole province of Phongsaly contains many more villages having old trees, especially close to borders with Yiwu and Jiangchen regions. The old trees nea Phongsaly town are of the same varietal as trees in Yunnan. However, younger trees and tea gardens which are around most villages around Phongsala are both from Yunnan and Guangxi. Therefore, tea made from younger trees here are technically not a sheng puerh, even though the manufacturing process is similar.

One of the largest tea factories in Phongsaly, owned by Malay people. The factory produces sheng puerh, as well as green and black tea.

This is a small factory making only sheng puerh. The owner comes from Yiwu and most tea he makes heads there too...

These are tools for wok processing - wooden forks for stirring leaves, protective gloves, wire wool and a rag for cleaning the wok. If the wok is not cleaned thoroughly after each batch of leaves, the next batch will contain small black particles and possily even burnt taste.
Below is one of our teas being made:

Finding the right teamaker who could work with the work properly was the most difficult and the most expensive. Most local makers did not really know what sheng puerh is and the resulting tea tasted according to this fact.
Our teamaker (of Yao nationality) came with his father and uncle from a village near Guafengzhai (Yiwu), making tea here, in Phongsaly, selling it to Yiwu (marketing it as Yiwu) for a lot of money.

Another tiny family "factory" producing maocha, owned by Lao people. Here, another of our teas was made as well (however, by a masterly chinese hand).

Tea leaves just taken out of a wok. They are then lightly rolled on bamoo plates, left overnight and sun-dried the next day.

The entrance to Ban Komaen, a village with ancient tea trees. It is in a high altitude (ca. 1600 meters over sea), being less than 20 km from Phongsaly town.

As you can see below, many really old trees grow inside the village:

And more old trees grow around the village:

Some of these trees are really huge:

And some are more like bonsai:

The second village with old trees is Ban Payasi. Here, however, people mostly make their tea themselves and most of them did not sell fresh leaves for further, more advanced processing. After several visits to this remote, meager village, hidden in forest, we bought finished maocha from several families. The process of production was not as good as that of teas from Ban Komaen, but the price-to-performance ratio was good nevertheless.

The Payasi village has less old trees than Ban Komaen and there are many younger trees growing among the original, old trees. These young trees come from the old trees, however. The tea from Payasi therefore is not pure gu shu, but the ratio of old-to-young trees is very good. Then again, the tea is not as attractive and more bitter. Indeed, some leaves of really old trees that we have bought from locals were extremely bitter: in a rather positive sense, but not well drinkable as young sheng puerh.

We personally like bitter teas which are much unlike the light, nosy, green-tea-like puerh with bad future that are in fashion now. Therefore, tea from Ban Payasi is mainly supposed to be stored. We hope it to be a good surprise after time.

The forest near Ban Payasi is completely impenetrable.
This is the tea being dried in the village.

And tea being bought out as well...
Below are photographs from around Ban Payasi:

And here are somewhat primitively positioned pans used in production of tea:

Even though the tea wasn't super-cheap here, now in 2014, especially due to crazy prices in Yunnan and Menghai, we're still glad we can offer teas from this mostly untouched region. Another visitors to Phongsaly this year were people from Chen Sheng Hao, who also focus on teas from around borders and, according to our information, bought tea near borders with Myanmar. Due to this, it is likely that prices of teas in these areas will skyrocket in the future as well.

In our products, you can find three teas from here, one cheaper from the Ban Payasi village, and two more expensive (and appropriately better) teas from Ban Komaen. Unfortunately, their price has been also formed due to the fact that their production was very time consuming, and the transport to China expensive. Despite this, it is the best we could offer this year in gu shu quality. Please feel free to ask us further about these teas at .Many thanks to readers who got this far in this text :)

Honza and Xuan

úterý 17. července 2012

Wenmiao - one of the last Kunming teahouses

Wenmiao used to be a temple of Confucius, but  it is a teahouse for ordinary people now. The teahouse is in the center of the city and is one of last oases of rapidly changing city.
There are two houses in Wenmiao actually - one is near the entrance, the other one is in the back of the object. 
In the first teahouse, there is traditional chinese music being played and most visitors have their own vacuum bottles, cups and tea - they pay only for hot water (one yuan if you go for water to a little window, four yuans for a vacuum bottle brought to you).
In the second teahouse named "Gai Wan Cha", the tea is served in gaiwans and you may buy a green tea (a very low grade of yunnan Chun mei) or a herbal tea. In working days, you get your own vacuum bottle; on busy weekends, water is carried around by employees of the teahouse. You pay four yuans for a gaiwan and hot water (i.e., about 0.7 USD).

People sitting in the first teahouse, "Hua Yuan Cha Shi" (Garden tea house):

One of cells in the second teahouse - visitors eating kilos of their favourite sunflower seeds.

Visitors often play various boardgames:

These pipes used to be seen frequently (see photos in the book Teahouses in Kunming), yet used only seldom these days:

This is the rhytm section of the musicians in the first teahouse. Classical opera is played, which is somewhat difficult to listen to. We used similar style of music in to make guests leave after the closing hours in the teahouse where my tea journey started (Sluníčko, Ždár nad Sázavou; the teahouse does not exist anymore):

Between songs, tea is consumed and cigars smoked. Some songs last more than an hour...

You may leave spent leaves from your mug or glass:

Hot water carried to the guests:

Around the Gai Wan Cha teahouse, there is a small pond with gold carps and blooming lotuses:

Sunday afternoon, a full teahouse:

The entrance to Wenmiao:

neděle 24. června 2012

Yiwu Zhangjiawan - a visit in the spring of 2012

We chose the material of Zhanghiawan village this year to produce our gushu Yiwu. Zhangjiawan is historically a part of Manla (曼腊), one of Six famous tea mountains. In Manla, there are the vvillages Dingjiazhai (丁家寨), Gaojiachong (高家冲), Xujialiangzi (徐家梁子) and Zhangjiawan (张家湾). In the time of Qing dynasty, these areas formed a single large tea garden large 5-6000 mou. The area of old tea trees Zhangjiawan Lao Zhai (Lao Zhai = old village) is an abandoned place, the people moved to Zhangjiawan Xin Zhai (Xin Zhai = new village). Xinzhai is near the road connecting Yiwu and Jiangcheng. The village is some 13 km far from Lao Zhai. The migration happened in 80s of the 2éth century. During the migration, old tea trees did not have much of a value and there was a general opinion that they are, quality-wise, about equal to new terrace taidicha. The inhabitants of Xin Zhai have planted new tea gardens about their village and started farming tea too. At that time, the ancient tea trees were 90% shortened to 1 meter, but often cut down entirely. Now, the shortened trees are 2m high, sometimes a bit more. The old trunks are clearly visible (see photos).

A recently shortened tree:

Most trees there looks like this:

One of few uncut trees, harvested as single bush:

Paradoxically, most people rides their motocycles from the new to the old Zhangiawan in the time of harvest. Gushu trees are the most important trees now. The Laozhai area is high in the mountains, close to the Laos border - approximately a hour of walking in mountains. In today's Laos, there are gushu tea trees in two places too - in Mengwu (孟乌) a Wude (乌德).

The path to Laozhai is scenic indeed!

Zhangjiawan Lao Zhai used to be an important resting place for tea caravans, travelling from Six famous tea mountains to Vietnam where a part of the teas ended, further caravans travelled through Vietnam to Canton and Hongkong.

In the years 1900 to 1933, the most famous tea merchant in the Zhangjiawan village was mr. Chenshi Yun (陈石云), the owner of tea house Chenyunhao (陈云号). His tea was sold mostly to Vietnam. According to available literature, his tea used to be very good, but more expensive too than what the rest of merchants in the village had.

Our maocha is a similar story. It comes from a family who produces tea very well - selection of the material, work with wok - everything is top notch. Their production is reserved for a long time and the family is bound by an agreement with a certain merchant. That is why could buy only a limited quantity. During the several days we spent in the village, we could try maocha from probably all the families there and therefore we thought we did well paying more money (about 30% compared to normal) for absolute contentment.

You may find some more photographs and information on the site of our shop: