Given that I have a love for tea which boarders on obsession, it is almost redundant to point out that the mere thought of travelling to a place which boasts tea as its main export was almost too much for me to fathom. Long before I packed my bags and bid my farewells I had dreamed of Yunnan. Though most of the details of this dream were hazy, there was one element which I could see clearly; a fertile mist-shrouded landscape deep in south-western China where tea grew in abundance.
Whilst the reality of Yunnan was not too dissimilar to my dream, I saw more rice paddies and orchards, heavy with late summer fruit, than I did tea plants. I did not however go without tea. In fact it was hard to step out the door of our wee guest house without being confronted by displays of tea of all ages, colours, shapes and sizes.
Meals out were often followed by leisurely strolls through the tiny cobbled streets and alleyways and on one particularly warm evening we found ourselves in a tea shop whose beautiful interior and friendly proprietor drew us in. After a friendly exchange, our host set about explaining the process of making Pu’er tea, where by the tea is compacted into a cake (all of which he did by hand). A tea ceremony proceeded which took several hours and by the time we left it was close to midnight and we had each consumed (what felt like) several litres of tea!
We drank Pu’er tea several times a day and its amber hue and fresh, clean flavour grew on me. I shipped a cake home and now whenever I feel the inclination to be transported back to mist-shrouded Yunnan I can, in my own haphazard way, recreate the ceremony we had back in ancient Lijiang.