Tag: tea

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Remembrance of Teas Past

It can now be revealed: in 1993 I returned to Yunnan in order to realize my childhood dream of becoming a tea baron. Yes, it all started in 1975 when I encountered the magnificent book by Robert Fortune, A Journey to the Tea Countries of China; Sung-lo and the Bohea Hills (1852), in which the intrepid Fortune manages to steal into the interior of China and abscond with the tea plants that subsequently helped to establish the British tea industry in colonial India. Disguised in wooden clogs, straw hat, and a wig with a long black queue hanging down his back, Fortune managed to punt along the waterways in the lowliest of riverboats. He dined on what he described as a miserable gruel, called congee, and reconnoitered the tea plantations and temple gardens along his route. Once, caught red-handed in a private garden while trying to steal a flower specimen, he was — instead of being turned over to the local yamen — given a nice cup of tea and a neatly potted living sample to take with him. Having yet to discover the reckless undertakings of Kingdon Ward and Joseph Rock, I was fascinated by the idea of botanist-explorer. This of course led me to read various volumes on tea barons, tea manufacturing techniques, and to distinguish a broken orange pekoe from a souchong. Many a pot of oolong was brewed for me that year by the sympathetic owner of the Golden Dragon Chinese restaurant that once was located next to the Pyramid Adult theatre on Route 66. Later on, when I founded the tea club at Albuquerque High School in 1977 (with Tim Crews, Erik Stout, and Lars Tomasen), I thought becoming a tea baron was a fait accompli! Little did I know, that tea is produced in quantities on the order of 3 million tonnes per year, and at the time of my venture to the China National Native Produce and Animal By-products Import and Export Corporation Yunnan Tea Branch that there was a total glut of tea on the market and thousands of unsold tonnes laying about at every market in sight. Nonetheless, I was introduced to the delights of various pu-erh teas, which have since then become my personal favorite‚Ķ not the dessicated bricks of tuo-cha that look like donkey shit laced with straw, but rather the delightful, freshly dried pu-erh, which tastes of the very soil of Yunnan, a rich, hearty, unforgettable flavor as thick as coffee and tangy with minerals, pineapple sweat, and snake venom. The manager of the Yunnan Tea Branch gave me a wonderful descriptive flyer, reproduced here, for your edification: