Jeff Fuchs has spent a large part of the last ten years travelling and living in Asia – his fascination with indigenous people has led into a passion and love for tea.  Jeff has documented his travels along the ancient tea trade route – 6,000km over 7 months – in his beautiful book – The Ancient Tea Horse Road.  We are very fortunate to have Jeff contribute to our blog as well as appear as a guest on Saturday October 17th to speak of his travels.  This is the second part of a two part piece Jeff has written for us.

Padding down from our 1500 metre perches in the tea mountains, I am re-entering the town that we had set off from hours earlier that day with my understated host and guide, Ren. He glides through the lush wet forests seems as he leads me to his simple thatched home (and the inevitable tea within) that we are making our way towards.

DSC_1160 copyUp some stairs and past an elevated ‘floor’ of withering tea leaves covered by a clear plastic roof, we pass into a sitting room that appears to be a depository for tea in every possible form. Tea’s carefully manicured aesthetics are nowhere to be found. Here tea is both product and food with little need for pretense of anything else.

Bags billowing with tea fill out a quarter of the room, with tea cakes and bricks lining the wall space while a tea table and a half destroyed couch make up the ensemble. A grey kettle sits on the table awaiting orders

Ren’s father appears, a slight handsome man with delicate features, and we sit while tea is prepared. A simple bamboo draining table sits with cups and a flared serving cup, the chung, and that is all. No precious pots, no cylindrical smelling cups, no trinkets of bamboo….nothing to distract from that which is central to this little event: the preparation and consumption of tea. Ceremonies, famed for their detailed movements or chronology in other tea cultures have no reign here. It is in many senses an entirely practical preparation in a land of practicals.

My young host’s eyes gleam slightly as grabs a handful of leaves out of a huge bag for my inspection; leaves from the ancient trees that we had just returned from. Children here from a young age drink tea almost exclusively and I can see that he, like me, is in need of a cup (or six) of tea. Slightly twisted and completely understated, there is no hint in the dried leaves that he presents to me of what lies in wait for the palate. Tea’s from this region are designated Pu’erh by its proximity to the ancient market town of the same name. The tea we are about to consume is typical of what is consumed here,’ raw’. Pu’erh here is served green or raw and in loose leaf form. No textured forms, no stunning moulded teas here – the emphasis is on the taste.

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Ren’s hands are a magnificent blur of activity as he pours off the first serving, removing the bitter froth and awakening the leaves. The second serving thankfully makes it into cups and in quick succession into my greedy mouth. Up until now there has been nothing even remotely pretentious in anything I have seen or done and the tea, which blasts onto and into my palate, is no different. Pungent, vegetal and bitter it departs into the throat with an almost sweet tang. The session of drinking is interrupted finally by a lunch – prepared by the father on a simple fire that hums in another room on the bare floor.

Buzzing with the stimulants and phytochemicals that rush through my bloodstream the meal settles the tea ‘high’ slightly…but not for long, for as we finish up the meal the father is already ushering me into the tea room for another tea session. Slumped forward with minute cup after minute cup brought up to my mouth one of tea’s other great Asian uses comes into play: its digestive abilities. Another hour passes as the ‘tea high’ seems to reach a climax…and continues still.

Sweats run along my ribs and I feel that welcome ‘high’ return as the cups surge into me. Cup after cup course in with no discernable drop in potency reveal another of tea’s ‘great abilities’ – to repeatedly endure onslaughts of boiling water while still able to provide potent flavours and stimulants.

For all of tea’s rampant abilities as a healer, aid, food and provider; for all of its appeal as something that transcends time and space in painstaking ceremonial rituals, tea for these tribes that have grown and cared for tea still represents a unifying fluid. A simple need served up without fanfare bringing people together regenerating not only the body but the community as well.

While the Asian world is full of poetic adulation for tea, here in the south of Yunnan they refer to a simple long standing belief regarding tea and people, “the truth is in the sip”….in my case that would be ‘sips’.

I leave some hours later in a pleasant state of ‘tea high’ with a renewed appreciation of both my hosts and the fluid that brought us together.

Jeff Fuchs has spent a large part of the last ten years travelling and living in Asia – his fascination with indigenous people has led into a passion and love for tea.  Jeff has documented his travels along the ancient tea trade route – 6,000km over 7 months – in his beautiful book – The Ancient Tea Horse Road.  We are very fortunate to have Jeff contribute to our blog as well as appear as a guest on Saturday October 17th to speak of his travels.  This is the first part of a two part piece Jeff has written for us.

Long considered a panacea for life, tea’s status in Asia has been vital and unquestioned for centuries. For all of the whimsy and legend associated with tea at times tea leaves, their harvesting, preparation and consumption have always been essentially simple. It is perhaps because of this inherent simplicity that tea’s timeless potency has endured. This ‘tea truth’ can find no more loyal bastion of geography than in one of the original birthplaces of tea – a subtropical strip of lush forests, overwhelming heat and a land that can claim over two-thousand years of unending harvest, worship and consumption: the southwestern corner of Yunnan province. In the days of the Ancient Tea Horse Road the famed Tibetan traders referred to this landscape simply as Jiayul or ‘tea country’. A land whose relatively unchanged methods and adoration exists still.

nanAncient tea trees, (adoringly called gu shu in China) and their massive trunks and branches cut the muddy path in front of us into segments…tea here grows on trees that explode for metres in every direction. It is literally an all-consuming forest of tea. A lean and wiry guide from the local Hani tribe smoothly eases his way through a sopping forest of rain and humid air – we are treading back to his home after visiting a precious tea forest of ‘ancients’ – tea trees that have remained happily secluded (and productive) for centuries. Centuries old trees make way to tea trees that are over a thousand years old; forests tended by and fawned over by successive generations of Hani people who have lived in these mountains side by side with their precious green commodity for as long as anyone cares to remember. The tribes of southern Yunnan refer to tea as a part of the culture, a part of the very soul of the place. Tea and its consumption here are ‘all of the time’.

leaf5Voyaging down to this region is a kind of ‘back to basics’ journey in relation to tea. Deep in the rumpled Nannuo Mountains this area is one extended tea landscape that flows and blankets for kilometers. Rice and corn stand in isolated enclaves – tea is the unquestioned green ruler of the land. Production methods, harvesting techniques and tea’s preparation have changed very little in this corner of the world and in a kind of homage to this fact the teas that are produced here are some of the most exclusive and valued teas on the globe. For all of the talk of a tea’s ‘vintage’, the fuss of its colour designation and its complexities in the mouth, tea from this region is easily identifiable by it’s simple requirements of preparation and its ‘bitter-sweet’ assault on the palate.

Padding down from our 1500 metre perches in the tea mountains, I am re-entering the town that we had set off from hours earlier that day with my understated host and guide, Ren. He glides through the lush wet forests seems as he leads me to his simple thatched home (and the inevitable tea within) that we are making our way towards. (TO BE CONTINUED)

It looks a little wacky – but there’s something about the simplicity and the ostrich like legs of this teahouse that is intriguingly beautiful. Terunobu Fujimori is a well known Japanese architect who decided to build a teahouse for himself on a piece of property he owns. Now traditionally, teahouses are not built using designers or architects as they are meant to be simple and not appear ostentatious. Keeping to those principals, Fujimori built a humble teahouse with no pomp or circumstance. The result is the finest simplicity and someplace we would love to have a cup of tea.
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Fujimori constructed the teahouse ontop of two chestnut trees. To enter the teahouse, guests must climb a free-standing ladder and remove their shoes on a platform before completing the climb.
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The interior is small and compact, as teahouses tend to be – four and a half tatami mats – which is about 29 square feet and is made of plaster and bamboo.
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Fujimori describes the building as “…it were an extension of one’s body like a piece of clothing”
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More entries for the ‘Calma-Sutra of Tea Scholarship’. We can’t get enough of these.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1c55ne7VAQI]

We listened to this talk given by Elizabeth Gilbert – author of Eat, Pray, Love at the TED conference in February and were deeply moved by her words – her sentiment and her approach.  She speaks of the anguish, the suffering of the artist and how we have all come to accept that as the plight of the artist.  She however refuses, and takes us back to ancient times where we spoke of artists having a genius rather than being a genius – removing the burden on feeling like we don’t measure up.  She acknowledges the genius, the light, the divinity – which reminded us of the sentiment of Namaste which we wrote about recently.  It all came full circle for us – and hope you enjoy it as much we did.

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Anyone who has attended a yoga class has said the words or had the words spoken to them – Namaste.  It feels peaceful, it sounds peaceful and it has a beautiful aura to it – but what does it mean.  Namaste, Namaskara, Namaskaram is a Sanskrit word and it is essentially a greeting.  The words are always spoken holding the hands within a prayer position in front of your chest and slightly bowing your head.  Loosely translated, it means ‘I bow to the divinity/light that is within you’.  What a beautiful sentiment.  We greet eachother – friends, colleagues, strangers, each and every day – we say hello in passing without thinking perhaps about the person in front of us – the soul, the light.  And there it is – one single word to wrap up the acknowledgement of the light within you, the light within me.

The next time you see someone  and greet them – think the word – even if you don’t say it – be conscious of it – it will make you smile and it may make you look at the person in front of you a little deeper.

Namaste –

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Well – you can’t say they don’t get your attention! Here is a Japanese ad for tea – their approach is to help with high blood pressure…

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HHNJmWbvsL0]