Tea Travel in Yunnan China Part 1: Mountains Beyond Mountains

Ai Lao Mountains - Terraced rural farms

Ai Lao Mountains - Terraced rural farms

Long ago in China, when officials were sent into exile they were banished to the mountains. I understand now why one of the characters for exit (出) depicts a mountain (山) on top of a mountain. I knew this trip through some of the famous tea mountains in Yunnan would involve some hardship travel including long bus rides on winding mountain roads, some of which had only been improved in the last three to five years. The scenery was so stunning at every turn. Rivers rambled through lush, terraced hillsides waving with grains, corn, vegetables, and tea.


Our itinerary included several famous tea mountains including Nannou, Jingmai, and Ai Lao as well as tea producing towns such as Pu’er City (Simao), JiuJia, JingDong, and MoJiang.

This April, I passed my one year anniversary as a committed tea professional. It felt fitting that I would spend the time marking this anniversary communing with some of the oldest tea trees known to man, learning and practicing the steps to making tea, tasting good and bad tea, and challenging my limited language abilities to make friends and connect with tea professionals across Yunnan that I met.

As is normal when I travel, I didn’t let a single moment or opportunity pass me by. I enthusiastically picked tea, tossed it in a hot wok, and wrapped tea cakes. I was introduced to learning two different styles of ceremonial tea, saluted our hosts and guests with ample baijiu, and utilized my limited Mandarin language abilities to the fullest.

Across fifteen days, I traversed mountains beyond mountains with a small group led by two American tea entrepreneurs and their local connections. My days were punctuated by late nights, long bus rides, morning yoga, and smiling multi-lingual tea sessions.

Stay tuned for a series of blog posts highlighting different aspects of the trip!