The long road to the Pu Er plantations

The Pu Er plantations are not an easy place to visit, but they are worth it. The tea leaves used to make Pu Er grow in the remote regions of Yunnan, mainly in Simao, Lincang, Xishuangbanna and near Da Hong. It was Da Hong I visited this month, an experience I shall never forget. Da Hong is an hour’s flight from Kunming, which is nothing, but you then need to drive for at least eight hours to see the famous tea plants. At first you drive along a motorway under construction, so all you see is the golden dust thrown up by the vehicle in front. Visibility is reduced to just a few metres, and what’s more, you have to swerve around all the potholes. These testing conditions last for a good 100 kilometres, and you must hurry as the road closes at a set time to let the bulldozers in. If you arrive at the barricade too late, you have to do a U-turn and try again the next day. But if you get past all these obstacles in one piece, a magical landscape awaits you the other end. With the altitude, the air cools, and the stunning mountain drive makes you forget what came before. The vegetation changes, conifers appear, and then you come out onto the magnificent high plateaux.

Buffalo and horses roam free, and donkeys cross the pretty paved road whenever they feel like it. It gives you an overwhelming sense of freedom. It is time to take a break. It is a long road to Pu Er. The day has been exhausting, so we walk a little, filling our lungs with the pure air we lacked during the day, and allowing our gaze to wander to the distant horizon. Tomorrow we will be back on the road and cross a few more mountains to reach Su Dian, a few dozen kilometres from Myanmar. There, waiting for us, are people who are little known outside their region.

Posted in Country : China by François-Xavier Delmas | Tags : , , , , , ,

Semi-wild tea plants in Yunnan

The harvesting of leaves used to make Pu Er is interesting. Here, in the west of Yunnan near the border with Myanmar, the tea plants are left in a semi-wild state, and the plucking consists of a walk through the forest. Instead of keeping the tea plants cropped at a convenient height for harvesting, as is usually the case, they are left to grow into trees, or always have been, and the workers walk around them to pluck the bud and the next two leaves, as is the practice with all other teas.

Posted in Country : China, Tea plant by François-Xavier Delmas | Tags : , , , ,

Rows of perfectly aligned tea plants in Japan

Just before leaving Japan for China, here is a last glimpse of the landscape shaped by tea. Here, the rows of tea plants are precisely aligned. All is in perfect order, with a few organised clumps here and there, as if to underline the overall harmony. What I love most are the subtle nuances of green, the different shades of the same colour, a touch more yellow where the shoots are still young, slightly darker green where the leaves have recently been plucked.

Posted in Country : Japan, Tea plant by François-Xavier Delmas

Yabukita: the most popular cultivar in Japan

While all tea plants belong to the camellia family, you know that there are different cultivars within that family. Here in Japan, the tea plant most commonly grown is Yabukita. It accounts for 85% of the tea crop, unlike in other tea producing countries, where many different varieties cohabit.

Yabukita is easy to recognise with its long, straight, intense green leaf. It also has its own way of growing, very straight, reaching up for the sky.

Posted in Country : Japan, Tea plant by François-Xavier Delmas | Tags : , , , , ,

In Ryogôchi: high quality Gyokuro and Sencha teas

A typhoon has just swept through Japan, from the south to the north. I don’t know what delayed it, because it was very late; typhoons normally hit Japan in September. Violent winds flip your umbrella inside out and rain drenches you from head to toe.

It seems I didn’t choose the best day to visit Ryogôchi and admire these mountains, where some very high quality Gyokuro and Sencha teas are grown. However, this abundance of clouds does add to the mystery of the place. Although the village itself is slightly hidden, along with the river Okitsugawa, you can still make out some shapes, and it is very Japanese to suggest, rather than to assert.

Posted in Country : Japan by François-Xavier Delmas | Tags : , , ,

The author

François-Xavier Delmas is a passionate globetrotter. He’s been touring the world’s tea plantations for more than 20 years in search of the finest teas. As the founder of Le Palais des Thés, he believes that travelling is all about discovering world cultures. From Darjeeling to Shizuoka, from Taiwan to the Golden Triangle, he invites you to follow his trips as well as share his experiences and emotions.

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