Mr. Wang (Tibetan Tea)
Mr. Wang has never lived outside the Ya’an region of Sichuan Province, which was formerly the eastern edge of Tibet. He says that many Ya’an people identify more with Tibet than mainland China. Tibetan tea is grown here, and it hasn’t changed in hundreds of years. Mr. Wang is a local expert on both tea production and history. His plantation is actually part of what UNESCO designated as a Chinese Intangible World Heritage site, and there’s a plaque on the front of the building indicating this fact. This honor was bestowed upon him and his business because they are keeping the 2,000-year-old Ya’an style of producing dark (post-fermented black) teas alive.
According to Mr. Wang, this style of production is very important to the world of tea and to the Chinese government. It’s what the Ya’an people spent countless generations perfecting, and he was reluctant to divulge too many details about the process of making their most-precious dark tea. Regardless, we did learn quite a lot about the production of Tibetan tea and about the history of the region from him.
According to Mr. Wang, there’s an ancient story about a 2,000-year-old king of Tibet being gifted tea leaves by a bird from the Ya’an region. He was suffering greatly from many undiagnosable illnesses, and God summoned the bird to help cure him of his ailments. The Tibetans then followed this bird all the way back to what is now Western Sichuan Province, and that’s where they discovered that tea was the magic medicine the bird had brought to them. Since discovering tea, the Tibetan people have valued Chinese teas above all but Buddhism, and they have been trading with Sichuan and Yunnan Provinces for tea ever since.
But the story doesn’t end there. The Tibetans were given green and black teas to take back to their home, which was a rough journey of more than 1,000 miles and took more than a month to complete. They had to travel up and down mountains, through the rain and snow, and across rivers. By the time they reached the Tibetan capital of Lhasa, the tea they brought had aged and changed dramatically in flavor! And the taste of this earthy tea was perfection to the Tibetans. The traders brought the tea back to Sichuan, and the tea growers immediately began working on a way to reproduce that wonderful aged flavor. Over time they did learn to perfect the process. This process is how all dark teas are produced, with slight variations depending on the region, and this is what the United Nations considers and important Intangible Cultural Heritage worthy of special protections. According to Mr. Wang, the world-famous ripe pu’er dark teas are produced using the Ya’an methods, which they learned from the Ya’an people in the early 1970s. It was a way to soften the strong flavor of Yunnan’s old-leaf teas, and it certainly worked out for them!
Mr. Wang and his tea production is at the heart of this Intangible Cultural Heritage, and he’s quite proud of his home and their important position in the world of tea.