This journey is an intense plunge into one of the origins of tea and the staging point for the great caravans of the Tea Horse Road that hauled tea onto the Tibetan Plateau. Nothing less than an immersive tea-fueled journey, it begins in a sanctuary of ancient tea forests that lies tucked into the southern Yunnan province of Xishuangbanna, a rich cultural hub where tea isn’t about ceremony or ornate esoteric elements, but rather about an eternal stimulant and a timeless offering that supports entire economies. You’ll gently peer into the world of the leaf which has served as commodity, panacea, and medicine for more than a millennium.
Yunnan’s frenzy of tea drinking culture extends to each and every single corner and home. “If a cup of tea isn’t offered, a relationship isn’t offered”, say many along the fabled Tea Horse Road, hinting at tea’s timeless allure. Yunnan still lives by this mantra, even now.
Some of the highlights of the journey will be a walk in the ancient forests of tea ‘trees’ that are centuries old and treated as sacred by the animist minorities who live alongside them. Teas from this region began as a rough caravan commodity over a thousand years ago and have evolved into some of the most expensive teas in the world. A kilogram of single-tree origin Puerh from the area can cost thousands of dollars and is coveted by collectors and tea junkies alike (including your guide!).
You will also have a hands-on experience as you ‘fry’ tea leaves in one of the famed ‘tea woks’ and participate in the single most vital element in ‘handmade’ teas: the application of heat.
And, finally, sitting inside the local tea house and local eatery, you’ll debate “What makes a Puerh a Puerh”, the controversial ‘age’ of a tea, and the history of a leaf that was once used as a panacea and tribute to the Tibetan chieftains.
You will fly into Jinghong, the capital of Xishuangbanna and stay in a boutique hotel owned and operated by a Swiss couple. Set in the lush tropical jungle, it offers a choice of charming cottages, villas and multi-room houses, all with balconies or terraces and grand views of the Mekong River.
Jeff Fuchs is a much-awarded writer and photographer whose work has focused on indigenous mountain cultures, their oral histories and, his passion, tea. His explorations remind of a bygone time, but he is very much a man of now, splitting his time between northwestern Yunnan and the Big Island of Hawaii where he is currently building a nature school.
When to Go
Spring (March-April) is the best time to visit for you will be able to see the manic activity of tea harvest at the height of the tea season.
There are many places to visit in Yunnan.
You will see how others live by learning about their food: How to eat means how to live.