Heading east out of Porto, following the River Duoro, one eventually moves out of the verdant lower reaches and moves up into the highlands that feel more like the North Yorkshire Moors than Portugal. By swinging north-east, one eventually arrives at Braganca, home of Catherine – her father was the Duke of Braganca – the Portuguese princess who married Charles II in 1662, and brought along her penchant for a nice cup of tea.
Tea was first brought to Europe in the early 1600’s, but, having been popularised by Catherine who arrived some 40 years later, by the late 19th Century, tea had ceased to be the luxury item it was at the time of it’s introduction.
‘Not for all the tea in China’ perhaps still alluded to the value of tea, but also, rather more the quantity.
The price of Puer, volatile as ever, reached a new height recently; someone brought us some Lao Ban Zhang Summmer tea (yu shui cha). It actually wasn’t bad, but at 1000 RMB a kilo it wasn’t very attractive. As HM said, “Why would you buy Lao Ban Zhang yu shui cha, when for half the price you could buy the very best Nan Nuo Shan Spring tea.”
Of course, compared to Longjin and what have you, Puer is still inexpensive. But, as Puer tea moves further and further away from being an agricultural product, to being a quality, hand-crafted tea, made by farmers who want to see their standards of living rise (even if that might mean, from many an outsider’s view at least, a decline in quality), and as they become increasingly connected to a larger society which has inflation that’s probably closer to 20% than most care to acknowledge. Who’s going to tell them ‘bu xing!’