That wonderful passage from John Barth’s The Last Voyage of Somebody the Sailor (1991): ‘You don’t reach Serendip by plotting a course for it. You have to set out in good faith for elsewhere and lose your bearings serendipitously,’ says quite a lot about where I travelled and what I did in the past week.
It was a particularly cold morning in Kunming where I met Li Fuhai, tea man extraordinaire and two other tea brothers. Our destination: Yunxian, Lincang Prefecture, southwest Yunnan. I met Fuhai late last year while travelling around tea estates in Mengku. Not the least remarkable element about Fuhai is the fact that he grows and produces his own black organic tea in Dazhai and Bangdong villages, runs a tea business in one of the ‘tea cities’ in Kunming and is only twenty years old.
Over the next four days, we would spend time in Dazhai Village in Yunxian visiting Fuhai’s parents for a celebratory ‘slaughter pig meal’ get together, a meal that is ubiquitous around the countryside at this time of year; spiral up a mountain called Dachaoshan in a pick-up along dusty, narrow roads to elevations of 1,500 metres above sea level to see clusters of old cultivated tea trees; travel to Baoshan Prefecture in the province’s far northwest driving past rapeseed, sugarcane, and banana fields, and scores of large tombstones that dotted the landscape to finally meet the ‘master’ of one of my tea brothers; travel another fifty kilometres crossing a bridge overlooking the Lujiang Dam to a village called Xinzhai to drink Arabica coffee; walk through coffee plantations at altitudes in the vicinity of 1,000 metres, cheek by jowl with coffee evergreen shrubs and trees that bear fruit that look like cherries; sit around overlooking breathtaking vistas to talk about coffee and tea history, and lunch with Han and Dai coffee growers.
Unexpected discoveries, unexpected kindness, and a cast of wonderful people that could populate a drama or play I would call ‘The Tea Branches of Serendip.’
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