It’s hard to travel in China if you don’t speak the language. It’s imperative that you have someone write your destination in Chinese, so you can show the train, bus or taxi person where you want to go. We were on our way to the tea farm, high in the mountains of Xishuangbanna Prefecture, a Chinese heartland of tea. What we learned was that all our efforts of traveling were to be rewarded with dedicated friendships and outstanding tea. More on that in a bit.
After leaving Kunming (the capital and largest city of Yunnan Province) and heading south to Xishuangbanna, we encountered a region of absolutely NO English. Our guidebook and friends’ Chinese writing was SO important. The bus ride to our destination took over 12 hours, through a region that is one of the most humid and hottest in Yunnan. A winding bus ride the next day took us to Huimin Town, where Mr. Lin (farm manager and nephew of the owners) picked us up. At last, we were relieved to climb up into the cooler elevations on Jingmai Mountain.
Jingmai Mountain is famous across China for its tea (especially its puerh tea) and the ancient tea trees it comes from. These trees have been allowed to grow bigger than the typical tea bush and are hundreds of years old. This tea has been harvested for thousands of years by the tribal Dai people, who have lived on the sacred Jingmai Mountain at least as long. The Dai pick tea by hand, ensuring outstanding quality of the harvested tea and continued health of the ancient tea trees.
To maintain these old-growth tracts of tea trees, our friends use organic, agri-forestry methods — where agriculture and forest coexist — on their tea farm. Local Dai wages have also risen over the last 12 years, when Joyce and her husband took over management of the tea farm. These are major reasons why we like their tea, besides it having excellent flavor, of course!
One of our visits on Jingmai Mountain was to a village where over 100 centenarians lived. The village was very old, small and isolated, and villagers picked and processed tea from the ancient tea trees. Our original plan to leave Jingmai Mountain involved a 14 hour local bus ride north. However, Joyce convinced us to reconsider and visit Puerh City, where the company’s warehouse and store is located. Plus, she said, we could take an express sleeper bus there!
Puerh tea, a type of aged Chinese tea, is named after Puerh City, much like Champagne is named after the island its grapes are grown on. Puerh City is located on the ancient Horse Tea Trade Route, where tea was originally traded to outlying countries – Tibet, Burma, Laos, etc. This same route was used in WWII to transport supplies to the Chinese Nationalists fighting the Japanese. Puerh tea’s name also harkens to this history. While we were thrilled to visit Puerh City, the sleeper bus had mixed reviews – Jake and Uriah felt like sardines!
Over the course of our stay, we slept in the tea factory dormitory and were served spectacular tea and food. We visited two of the farm’s tracts of land. Over this time, we gathered an immense appreciation for the ancient tea trees and the people who have lived their lives with them. We are fortunate to have this relationship and visit Jingmai Mountain. Every time you purchase any of ours from Jingmai Mountain and the ancient tea trees, you directly support the region, the Dai, and their agri-forestry approach to tea harvesting. Not to mention getting some of the best quality tea available!