Day 2 – Yiwu
Happy to be beginning our actual tea journey, we boarded the crowded midday bus to Yiwu village.
It seems there are two buses that make the roundtrip from Yiwu to Jinghong and back each day. Run by friendly Yiwu locals, the conductor would receive a call on her mobile phone and 10 or 20 minutes later the bus would stop to pick up stacks of printed puerh wrappers, bags of pineapples from roadside sellers or tea farmers returning from the many plantations that adorned the hills to each side of the road.
Seeing the sheer scale of the tea plantations along the way, I feel less and less surprised by the amount of puerh that is passed off as being from Yiwu. These were places whose name meant nothing to me, having never come across tea labelled as being from there, and I guess puerh is usually sold as being from somewhere. If the farmers are from Yiwu, why not bring it the 30-50 miles back and sell it as being local. Indeed one of the Yiwu farmers subsequently told me that if a tea is produced by a large factory, it’s pretty much guaranteed not to be actually grown in Yiwu!
As the bus pulled up in Yiwu, the friendly conductor enquired as to why we were here and wondered if we needed to be dropped off at the hotel. Overhearing Kathy, my travelling tea friend and Mandarin tutor, replying that we were looking for some tea farmers, a youngish couple shyly introduced themselves, said they were tea farmers and invited both of us to come and stay at their house. With a healthy wariness, we discussed this offer briefly, but sometimes it’s possible to tell straight away that someone is really a good person, and from these people it was obvious. From their faces we could see they were honest and genuinely wanted to help us.
Fortunately our instincts proved correct. They made a phone call and a friend of theirs arrived in a van to drive us the short distance to their house on the edge of the village.
Their house was a simple affair, a courtyard filled with bamboo baskets of leaves withering in the sun, a large sitting room with TV, tea table and a few seats, 4 bedrooms, kitchen and a tea processing & pressing room.
It was interesting to note that they also had a dry storage room for their maocha. They kept this room heated and dry to prevent their maocha from gaining any humid flavour from the mountain air. This apparently is quite rare for farmers in Yiwu and, as I came to appreciate later, was just another of many indications of their attention to detail and wish to produce tea that was of a high standard.
The husband of the couple was originally from Puerh town and, having met his wife, moved to Yiwu to live with her parents and farm the land & tea plants that had been in her family for over 5 generations. As we sat and drank maocha with the husband, his wife and her mother prepared a feast in the kitchen which I observed with a tinge of guilt and a feeling that this was obviously much more extravagant than usual for the family. Nonetheless, as I relaxed and understood their wish to treat us well as guests, I accepted and ate gratefully before retiring to bed.
Tomorrow, we would head for the mountains to pick some tea.