Jasmin Back from the Yunnan

December 8, 2011
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Tea cakes are packaged into 'tongs' in Shuan Jiang

After a particularly gruelling five week trip in China in Spring 2010, I decided to divide my objectives for 2011 into two trips. One in the Spring (click here to see the Spring 2011 report) a tour of the traditional producers and another in the fall devoted entirely to Pu Er, with meetings in Hong Kong for aged Pu Er followed by a visit to rural Yunnan.

I love Hong Kong with its peculiar mixture of Chinese and Western culture. My last visit to Hong Kong was in 2009 for the big ageing warehouses.

This year I was more focused on meeting with the vendors, tasting and selection of new teas. In two years, a lot has happened in China! 2009 was the ideal year for the purchase of young Pu Er and the price of aged Pu Er was still stable after the bursting of the speculation bubble at the end of 2007. In 2011 the aged Pu Er market has experienced a explosive increase in prices with staggering demand compared to supply. While prices once went wild for teas from the 1950s to the 1970s, they are now wild for those of 1980s and 1990s. After all Sheng Pu Er of 1990 is already 21 years old!

My stay in Hong Kong was concluded with several very pleasant meetings along with some rare tastings and stimulating discussions around these prized teas. Interestingly many collectors of Pu Er from Hong Kong or China now collect fancy bottles of Bordeaux! Speculation is alive and well for both tea and wine!

My Hong Kong highlight (aside from the completely inaccessible tea prices!) Was purchase of the Pu Er Menghai 1983 79 032 (sheng).

After three days in Hong Kong, it was time to leave town and plunge myself into the mountains of Yunnan for the Autumn harvests. after a short stop in Kunming I travelled to Lincang to explore this region known for aged Pu Er tea, though less well known than the Xishuangbanna in the South. Though the tea market here is developing rapidly (in the mountains and villages of Bingdao, Fengqing, Yongde and Mengku), prices are still lower than in the Banna - except for Bingdao, which has become the Banzhang of Lincang, with the increasing demand and the prices that come with such popularity.

I had a nice meeting with the Li family from Mengku without making a purchase as all of their production had been reserved even before the harvest! So I placed my order for the Spring 2012. The market for quality Pu Er, for maocha or this years cakes is increasingly about "reservation".

Unlike the years 2005-2007 when the Chinese market was less knowledgeable and buying was an "investment", the 2011 market in China is a lot more knowledgeable and demanding. It must be said that after the speculative excesses of the market, enthusiasts are now more educated and sensitive to the quality.

One of the best purchases from this region: Pu Er Mengku Mu Shu 2006 (sheng).

After several visits to villages, some small workshops manufacturing Pu Er and a visit to a large factory in Shuang Jiang, it was time to meet my good friends the Wang family. As in Lincang, with the cold arriving earlier than expected, the South's season had just ended. The copious autumn rains have not been particularly good for producing maocha, neither for quality nor quantity. I made visits to several villages / mountains, Banzhang, Banpen, Hecai, Yiban, Nannuo and Youle. Many teas are on their way from these mountains, with one 250g cake of Yiban made with leaves from sinensis variety plants that are more than 150 years old. My greatest surprise was at the quality of tea from Laos. Two 2006 shou Pu Er's from old tea trees in Laos and post-fermented in Xiangming for an incredible quality / price ratio, and a maocha - Phong Sali 2011, made from old tea trees which I had pressed into 250g cakes.

The teas are expected towards the end of December.

Jasmin Desharnais

Tasting vintage Pu Er with a view over Kowloon

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