As I sit here in NYC, comfortably at my desk, writing my notes after a brief weekend of rest from 3 weeks in China and Taiwan, it all feels like a dream.
Returning to Yunnan was a form of homecoming, to a home I no longer knew, in a place that's undeniably changed in my ~14 years away. Yunnan was where I first learned about tea, first tasted Pu'er, and first began this obsessive study, in 2007 and 2009.
Kunming today is almost unrecognizable: its urbanization and development tracks that of the rest of China; yet, wandering around the city, a few spots still awaken the memory of what was there before. The food certainly awakens a lot of memories.
The tea fields and mountains have changed too: slower, yet unmistakably more developed than they were. Much of the development, such as electricity and better roads, is for the best - while an undercurrent of concern about the environmental costs of the new highways to various tea mountains grows. Some of the tea forests nearest the existing roads are already considered lower quality than those more remote, and the new highway cuts through many old tea forests.
The local view of Pu'er, in the tea mountains of Yunnan, has also changed. Gone were the days when locals drank their tea exclusively young and green; a more nuanced understanding of age, agability, and aging environment has lead to a skilled enjoyment of pu'er throughout its maturation. We shared many aged cakes with tea makers in Jingmai and Yiwu, impeccably stored, showing flavorful signs of maturation.
This season, as many have noted, was exceedingly hot and dry. Temperatures in Yiwu topped ~90f during the day. We saw dead small-trees in Gaoshan, a tea producing village in Yiwu.
Yet, despite the difficulty and low yields, the quality from this years harvest of old trees is excellent. The tea is punchy and vibrant and maybe even happy for its meager growth. This was a research trip... though I still left with a suitcase full of tea.
On return - the dream of adventure fades quickly from memory, leaving only impressions and emotions in its once vibrant place. Already my memory is aided more from photos than from recollection, and where they differ, I trust the photos.
To write more on new topics, as we continue to labor on Yixing Teapot book, will take many more trips; we've already begun to plan for what comes next. In the near term - the Editorial Team and I will publish a few podcast episodes on Yixing, Chaozhou (Dancong Tea), and Yunnan (Pu'er). There may also be a few guest posts to look forward to.