Photo by CoCreatr/Flickr CC
Tea is hot these days (yes, I mean the pun). Ever since I was a graduate student in Oxford, I have been a tea lover--with a tad of milk and sugar. For many years I preferred the cheap, strong British and Irish teas--P&G, Tetley's, Barry's, interspersed with what I thought was the desirable tea: Earl Grey. Then I searched for something a bit different and, I cannot remember how, stumbled upon Yunnan tea.
I have fallen in love. It is strong, so takes milk well. It has a smooth,a slightly liquored flavor and a hint of smoky overtones. The smoke adds complexity without being overwhelming, like with Lapsang Souchong.
A few years ago, I happened to be invited to give a lecture at the university in Kunming capital of Yunnan Province. Yunnan is the southern Chinese province where tea plants were first domesticated. I asked my hosts to take me to a tea market. We stopped at what appeared to be a mini-mall. It had 40 to 50 tea vendors on the first floor and purveyors of tea paraphernalia--cups, pots, tea spoons, trays, mesh filters, etc.-- on the second. My Chinese is nonexistent and my translator was a lovely 21-year-old student who knew nothing about tea.
From stall to stall I tried to find Yunnan tea, but was only shown Pu'erh tea--the large-leaf kind, molded into rounds and buried in the earth. Not being a worm, I hate the earth taste. No one seemed to understand that I wanted loose-leaf Yunnan tea. Finally, a tea merchant who spoke a bit of English helped us find the Yunnan up high on a shelf. Divine.