March 26 – 28, 2013
We always have a bunch of chores to do when we get to any major city like laundry, grocery shopping, fixing things, etc. We also like to take a few rest days in a place where we have good food options and interesting things to do, so we decided to take a few extra days in Jinghong.
Besides dealing with errands, we spent most of our free time drinking tea. The Yunnan province is famous for its Pu’er tea. This style of tea is unique because it is typically consumed after it has been aged anywhere from a year to decades. The teas are typically pressed into cakes and loosely wrapped in paper which permits exposure to humidity and natural microorganisms which “ferment” the tea over time. Certain teas age well and a 500g cake can end up being worth thousands of dollars if properly conditioned. Some people purchase the cakes as a form of an investment, especially recently as the tea has become more popular, the market price of Pu’er has rocketed. Teas from the wild trees are the most coveted, but from what we understood it is very difficult to accurately trace the specific origin of any given tea and the market is fraught with false claims.
Our first day in town, we wandered a few feet from our hotel to find a large tea shop with the proprietor waving us in. We poked around looking at the various teas, teapots and all the other tea related accoutrements before the owner motioned for us to sit down for a drink. First she placed loose tea leaves in a gaiwan, a flared porcelain cup with a lid, washed the leaves quickly with boiling water and used that water to warm the drinking glasses. This process was done twice before she poured the warm tea into a decanter from which she than served to us in tiny teacups. The tea leaves are quite potent and needed to be seeped for only a few seconds at a time. The leaves were re-infused at least a dozen times before they were discarded. The flavor and color of the tea changes with each infusion, usually starting pretty rough and bitter, then becoming sweeter, then more delicate, though each tea is different.
Our hostess made us three different teas, all from the same region but from different years. The tea from this year was very bitter with a light straw color while the teas from older years produced a rich red colored tea with a more sweet finish. We communicated with her through hand gestures and a calculator which she used to indicate the age of the teas, and the trees in the photos on the wall. She was very patient with us, which we greatly appreciated. After several hours of drinking tea, we learned a lot about tea without the benefit of verbal communication.
We visited a few other tea shops, but the first was our favorite and visited it a few times to drink tea and watch kung fu movies. Each tea shop serves tea from different tea trees and regions, so it was interesting to taste the different variety and years that people offered. It was also interesting how people reacted to us. Some people were just not interested in making the effort to get past the language barrier, while others would practice their English or use translation apps on their phones. One woman wanted to make sure we were comfortable and decided music would help, so we sent an hour drinking tea to Justin Beiber.
We spent the rest of our time wandering around the town and watching Downton Abbey. We found a huge grocery store which carried a number of western items like peanut butter and PBR along with the usual unidentifiable Chinese food items. The internet was very finicky, so we spent a bit of time trying to figure out what was and wasn’t banned. All social media websites and personal blog sites, like WordPress, were off limits and Google would shut down if we searched for certain topics. Skype barely worked, but we were able to convince Chandler’s brother, Tayler to upload the photos and post we had written. Thanks Tayler!