I just got back from a month in the UK. The first visit in five years. Of course, I took tea with me. It was the first time I had personally taken much sheng cha from one climate to another, significantly different, climate.
From Jinghong to Kunming, with about 1200 metres rise in altitude, is already a huge change and it requires time, particularly, it seems, for younger teas to adjust. I had taken some Puer to Beijing a couple of years ago, but it was October, when the rainy season in Xishuangbanna is largely over and the weather in Beijing is still pleasantly warm, albeit quite dry, so the change was not so obvious.
Younger teas took the best part of three weeks before they started to taste anything like they do here. And even ‘here’ the change in sheng between dry and wet seasons is very noticeable – most typically losing it’s fragrance whilst the flavour becomes thinner.
I spent a fair amount of time also exploring different waters – bottled, commercially available water – and even went as far as buying a small kettle since, even if you have good water, which you then boil in a calcerous old kettle the result will be compromised.
After trying many waters with different pH and mineral content I concluded – farbeit for me to advertise – that Volvic was the most suitable for the majority of teas. It’s mineral content is not very high – it has very low calcium levels and the pH neutral at 7. The water we use in the shop has a similar profile, but with a few less minerals. It seemed that older teas were a little more tolerant of the cliamte change and poorer water quality.
The correlation of water and altitude (boiling point?) is also interesting; Nan Nuo Shan is blessed with ample crisp spring water. It’s excellent for drinking when walking in the mountains and, at 1600 metres or more, makes a fine brew of tea. But when we have tried bringing that water back to Jinghong to make the same tea, the outcome is rather less favourable. Typically less fragrant and more astringent.
My conclusions in the UK were supported by friends in France whom I went to visit at their home in the Cote de Luberon. They have some good experience of Puer and are very familiar with our teas being frequent visitors to Xishuangbanna. They can be visited in their shop in Lauris ‘Galerie Yunnan’ where I’m sure they would be happy to share tea and stories.
By way of conclusion; of paramount importance is some tenacity in tea-making. If one is trying a new tea, or even a tea that one is familiar with, but in a new situation, experimentation is key. Without the determination to explore