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Tea Travel: Yunnan Exposed

Tea reaches beyond the cup. Tea is not just a drink for us and many of those we know. A vital part of who we are and what Wan Ling Tea House aims to share is the realisation that we are all closely connected. Tea reaches across borders and language. Whether you are enjoying a cup of Oolong in Seattle or a cup of Chai in Bangalore or sitting down in Sydney with an iced tea, you are connected by a complex trade network and share a common pleasure that is enjoyed by billons.

Wan Ling Tea House seeks to share our tea journey, connecting people to the ever evolving world of tea.

One the most mysterious and enchanting places to travel is Yunnan. This province located in the very south of China.

China has lifted hundreds of millions from poverty. Yunnan has benefited in many ways from improved communication links. Whether road, rail, air or telecommunications; the province has been transformed. Tea is another example of this transformation. 10+ years ago, a farmer would have earned less than 1USD for a kilo of loose puer tea. Now the same farmer in somewhere like BingDao, in Mengku could make 3000USD a kilo. A 10kg box of this puer tea can buy a car or put their child through a top university. Access to the markets of China, Taiwan, Hong Kong and South East Asia means a select few of these farmers, in the right location now have gone from sustenance existence to extreme wealth in a blink of the eye.

Contrast is everywhere in Yunnan. The speed of change, like in many places in China, sometimes takes your breath away. Last year we visited HeKai. A collection of villages, not far from MengHai, one of the 'homes' of Puer. Last year the road, albeit improved from previous years simply stopped and you had to carry on along the muddy track to get to the small group of houses and workshop. This year the road had been extended and the houses had made way for a four story living block and tea factory.

Elsewhere we met with organic tea growers and cooperatives who looking to take generations of knowledge and a close connection with nature and the surrounding landscape forward. There was a clear acknowledgement that these traditions needed to be continued and that the break-kneck changes weren't all benefical. There was clearly a movement locally that aimed to create a sustainable culture of tea cultivation.

We shared tea and beautiful local food with villagers who had connected together and benefited from grants and knowledge from multiple international organisations. They seemed to acknowledge that with the rapid change, that they had to somehow plan and make provisions for even more ongoing change, change was not going to stop. How were they going to address on the increasing demand for their ancient tea tree puer? How would they control and limit the tourists who now could easily reach their village buy tour bus? How could they ensure that future generations learnt and preserved ancient knowledge and traditions? These are long terms challenges that they must face up to in a landscape that is changing month by month.

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