Posh Tea Time Indiana Jones Style

Overlooking a lush tea mountain jungle.

Shortly after the wedding (all of one day) my tour guide friends got back to work.  We went on a tea tour adventure into the tea mountains of the Pu’er area.  Pu’er tea is a protected area famous for an earthy dry fermented tea that gets better as it ages.

We were rather delayed out first day and barely got out by night to the town we needed to be in.  At dinner we met a young guide who offered to take us to his tea village the next day.  We met him at 8 am the next day and should’ve realized something was wrong when he showed up drunk because he was drinking til 5.  He took us to some mediocre tea before telling us he was going to take us on motorbikes out to a remote are.  That damned drunk kid only got half the bikes necessary and stranded a few of us in the village.  When we finally got bikes to get out there, we realized it was just base camp and we had no idea which mountain he went up.  Luckily some villagers were there and we foraged some greens and enjoyed a lunch of squirrel or tree rodent with them.  I wish I was kidding, they argued about whether it was a tree rodent or squirrel for a while.  A villager came back later with a musket-like gun you need to load from the front.

Picking tea on a bamboo stilt ladder on the hill.

The upside, besides the beautiful lush hill, was getting to see some old tea trees.  They  may not look big but these trees are hundreds of years old.  The motorbike ride was rather adventurous as they were mountain bike style single track trails.  The bikes are generally old in this region as well so I honestly felt like I was on the Indiana Jones ride at Disneyland as we slipped all over the place.  At one point my tour guide friends even said “I think we’re out of luck.  Go one without us!”

Luckily the next few days were the more peaceful tea mountain experience I was looking for.  We stopped back in the big town for a night to head in a different direction.  Next stop: minority villages who made different types of tea.

Bulang minority women singing while picking tea leaves on a hill overloooking the village.

The singing was beautiful and I imagine the hills were alive with the sound of music.  The Bulang and the Aini/Akha people we visited both had wonderful singing voices.  I’m not sure if I could get used to the bitter Bulang style tea though.

They carry the tea leaves in big baskets on their back or small ones at their side. The Aini/Akha people carry heavy things with a huge strap on the head.

The thing to remember is that even though they are in rural villages, many of the younger kids are growing up with modern times and leaving to bigger and better places.

You still use cell phones even in traditional garb. The costumes are mostly used for holidays and festivals now.

Processing the tea takes three steps.  It appears different regions grow different types of tea that require different processes to bring out their flavors.

Step one, cut a hole in your giant wood fired stove box. Put a giant wok into the hole, then fry up some tea leaves to dry them out a little. Not too much because Pu'er tea ferments.

Step two, roll the hot steamy leaves in a circular fashion until they get all rolled up into compact twists.

Step three, dry the leaves on giant baskets under the sun.

So why do I call this trip posh?

No one around me understood the irony of this statement on such a crappy bike.


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