July 8th: Yiwu Village
We awoke to the sound of fireworks for what I’m assuming was the grand opening of the neighboring shop. After a sidewalk noodle breakfast we took the bus along a winding road through a tropical rain forest and stopped briefly at a rubber tree orchard on the way to Yiwu. We then took a bumpy dirt road to see an 800yr old tea tree overlooking a gorgeous lush valley. On the way back we walked along the Tea Horse Trail which begins in Yiwu village and goes all the way to Tibet.
Our next stop was He Tian Neng’s old tea workshop where we drank tea and saw the stone blocks used to press tea cakes. Mr. He then took us to his newer workshop where we watched as workers made puer tea cakes by hand using the following method:
- Full tea leaves and buds (2 leaves to 1 bud) are picked and collected in baskets.
- The leaves are spread out on woven trays and dried in the sun for several hours.
- Once dried the leaves are steamed under low heat for about 30 seconds to bring the moisture back and make the leaves pliable.
- The moist leaves are wrapped in a cloth and pressed by hand into a disc shape.
- A heavy stone press is then placed on top of the tea cake and a worker stands on top of this press, rotating his wade in a circular motion for about a minute.
- In about 10 minutes the stone press is removed and the cloth covered cake is moved to a shelf for drying.
- After 6hrs or so the cloth is removed from the tea cake and it may be wrapped in tea paper.
- Puer tea cakes may be used to make tea immediately, however because the leaves have not been cooked they will continue to oxidize over time and will mature into a deep rich flavor in 5-10 years.
Yiwu is one of the 6 famous puer tea mountains and home to a puer tea museum which we visited along with the start of the Tea Horse Trail. In the evening we hung out in the small Yiwu Village, had tea and beer in front a shop and fired off roman candles in the street. Glenn fired an errant shot, narrowly missed Kevin’s head, before we retired to our slightly rough accommodations for the night.