TEA HORSE ROAD FROM PU-ERH TO TIBET

Once lost but never forgotten, the ancient category of dark tea trails back to the fables of long trade journeys through the winding mountain paths that stretch between China and Tibet.

A trade route that began around 700AD as the Tea Horse Road, and named appropriately so. Up until the early 20th century, tea was a form of currency between the two neighbors and used to buy strong Tibetan horses to build Chinese defense against the constant threat of Mongol invasion.

In exchange, tea and all of its natural bounty became a vital source of nutrition for the people of the Tibetan highlands where vegetation was scarce. As a Tibetan custom, tea would be prepared with yak's butter to make a thick salty brew that provided the calories needed in higher altitudes. A price well paid!

Tea traditions of TibetMongolia did eventually invade China during the 13th century. Doing so without harming the cultural ties made through Tea Horse Road. It continued as a commercial trade route for silk, salt, and it even supported the diffusion of Buddhism to the greater parts of east and southeast Asia. 

The earliest tea-horse trade journeys would begin in the Chinese city of Pu’erh in Yunnan province, where tea would be picked and compressed into shapes like bricks, cakes, nests, and pearls for transportation. This tea was given the name pu-erh as a sign of the journey it had made from China.

Since then the name pu-erh has been picked up and used, rather mistakenly, to describe all fermented and compressed teas. But like Darjeeling, Pu-erh is the name of an origin and should refer only to teas from this region. And irrespective of tea type. This makes it fundamentally easier to understand that fermented dark teas can come from other parts of China, or that other tea types can come from Pu-erh city, take our Pu Er Bai Ya white tea for example.

Men laden with towers of tea on their backs would walk a few weeks to Tibet through rocky mountain paths. See how the tea, often weighing more than the person carrying it, was transported during the times of trade. This goes back to the Tang Dynasty in which and rather coincidentally, came the discovery of fermented tea. Thanks to the hot and humid climate of Yunnan, that set the tea bricks off into a natural fermentation, do we owe this biological process in expanding the flavors of tea. Fermentation has since become a tried and tested phenomenon, a cult-status among tea connoisseurs, for its complex flavors that rounds-out with time, much like aging wine.

Despite the common name pu-erh, we prefer it like the Chinese with the usage of the term dark tea, as a mark of the color of the liquor that a fermented tea infuses. This way we find that it opens up this category of tea, beyond history and origin, to share and inspire more people and different cultures with the incredible flavors and health benefits this tea has to offer.

 

DARK TEAS INCLUDE ALL FERMENTED TEAS OF TWO TYPES: SHENG AND SHOU.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

SHENG, OR RAW TEA

Green tea leaves traditionally compressed into different shapes. The tea is stored in naturally hot and humid environments where micro-cultures thrive. Bacteria that latch onto the leaves set the tea into fermentation, a biological ripening (and aging) that transforms the flavor of tea into a more sweet, silky, voluminous infusion with time.

 

SHOU, OR RIPE TEA

Green tea leaves that have been placed in a manually controlled environment to accelerate micro-fermentation. Shou pu-erh has reached end fermentation and is considered ripe, characteristic of warm and deeply earthy flavors of mushrooms, dark berries, tobacco, chocolate and licorice (resembling a very old Sheng pu-erh) when infused.

VINTAGE LOTUS N°601

Our Shou pu-erh harvested and processed in 2014.
With notes of earthy, licorice, black currant.

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Image credits to Tibet TravelTibetan Life, Jeff Fuchs, Absolute China Tours, Spruce Eats The Neon Plastix

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