Yunnan Province has long been a main source of tea and today plantations supply many of the trendy tea shops in China’s major cities. But locals reject the mass produced grown tea, preferring to drink wild species from the jungle as their ancestors did, reports The International Herald Tribune.
From relative obscurity a few decades ago, tea from Yunnan, especially Pu’er, has become a fashionable, must-have variety in the tea shops of Hong Kong, Shanghai and Beijing. Surging demand for Pu’er tea has made farmers here rich and encouraged entrepreneurs to carve out ever more plantations from jungle-covered hillsides.
Ninety percent of the 23,000 tons of Pu’er tea produced last year was grown in plantations, officials say. Locals seem more than happy to send it off to distant locales. They complain about its hard edges – too bitter – and the chemicals that are regularly sprayed to keep away bugs, viruses and fungus.
“The pesticides come through in the taste,” Yao said.
Locals are now reaping the benefits of a growing upscale tea industry.
“Twenty years ago no one had the idea that tea could become so valuable,” said Chen Jinqiang, deputy director to the foreign affairs office of Xishuangbanna, which straddles the Mekong River, known in China as the Lancang.
A compressed brick of tea that sold for 3 yuan, or about 40 cents, two decades ago now can easily go for 200 yuan, about $25, today, Chen said.
Zha Ge, a 19-year-old tea picker who like the other villagers is from a small minority group called the Lahu, said he had never met a foreigner before. But he understands the value of outsiders’ keen interest in his tea trees. Picking tea has generated enough cash to buy a 20-inch television set, a motorcycle and a copy of his favorite foreign film, “First Blood,” the first in the Rambo series starring Sylvester Stallone.
During March and April, the peak tea-plucking season, Zha Ge can make the equivalent of up to $1,000 a month, far more than what the factory workers in eastern Chinese cities make stitching blue jeans and assembling iPods.