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The Wonders of Yunnan: Pu-erh Tea, Pressed for Time

The Wonders of Yunnan: Pu-erh Tea, Pressed for Time

Last month, we were fortunate enough to visit the Yunnan Province of China to witness the tea making process firsthand. In this blog series, we’re excited to share some of what we learned and experienced on our short adventure to Yunnan. If you missed Part One or Part Two, click the links to check them out!

After our incredible time on Nannuo Mountain, we drove to a factory in the Menghai County of Xishuangbanna. On our way there, we had the privilege of getting to pull over and see the historic Lancang River.


This impressive river runs south past the Chinese border and all the way into Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam, where it's known as Mekong River. An inspiration and romantic setting of many works of fiction, this river is central to the culture of all the nations it runs through, as well several indigenous tribes whose whole way of life revolves around the river.  Seeing this impressive river that has so shaped the region definitely helped contextualize its role in the world of Pu-erh.

After this stop, we arrived at the factory. We noticed as we entered the premises how nondescript the building was, and how incredible it was that the delicious tea we love so much all comes through buildings just like this. Since we saw too many aspects of tea production to share them all here, we’d like to instead focus one of the most fascinating processes; the pressing of tea cakes.

To begin with, the tea is weighed and portioned out. After this, the desired amount of maocha is placed in a metal tube, where it is pumped with steam. After a few moments of steaming, the tea masters place a small cloth bag over the tube, then turn the tube upside down to empty the tea into the bag, which has a solid, round bottom. Next, all the air is pressed out of the bag, and the tea is pressed into a disk by hand.

The top of that bag is then tied into a tight knot (this knot is eventually what forms the small round divot found under most tea cakes), and the tied bag is placed back over the steam pipe for a few seconds.

In the final steps, the cloth bag is placed upside down on a wood board, where it is flattened by a large stone. The workers first place the stone on the bag, pressing down for a seconds, then they stand on the stone and wobble it back and forth to ensure a totally flat tea cake.

Finally, the newly pressed tea cakes are removed from the bags and placed on racks to finish setting. After this, the tea cake is formed, and ready to be wrapped and sold.

We should note that this is not the only way to press tea cakes, and in fact we saw larger tea cakes being formed by a hydraulic press elsewhere in the building. There was just something very fascinating, however, about this particular method of pressing Pu-erh tea cakes, and we wanted to share it with you.

Our final stop was at Youle, another famous tea Mountain. Similar to Nannuo, we could only drive so far up the mountain before we had to get out and make the rest of the journey on foot.

As before, we were moved by the beauty of these incredible mountains where we source our tea. Walking between the ancient tea trees inspires a certain reverence, as we consider the fact that these very trees have been providing tea for us and many others for hundreds of years.

Yunnan province provided us with many adventures and awesome sights to take home with us. If any of you ever have the opportunity to travel there, we highly recommend it. In addition to its beautiful landscape, a visit to Yunnan just might bring you closer to the heart of tea than ever before.

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