Feb 15, 2015

Kokang has great tea!

"Kokang has great tea!" said General Pheung Kya-shin on September 29, 2006. This line was printed on the wrappers of some limited-edition puerh cakes made by Man Le Tea Farm in Kokang. 

Kokang is located in the so called "Golden Triangle", infamous for its drug trade. For decades, opium and other illegal drugs was the only main source of income for local people. The drug trade was encouraged by military powers including the Myanmar government.

Grown up in ceaseless wars and drug trades, Genearl Pheung had come to understand that drug trade could never bring long-term peace and prosperity for his people. In 1990, as the head of Kokang army and Kokang autonomous region, Pheung ordered the prohibition of drug production, usage and trade in Kokang. Since then, Pheung pulled together a lot of resources to promote agricultural economics in Kokang, and led people of Kokang to shift from drug production to businesses including sugarcane, tobacco, and, of course, puerh tea.

That was how Kokang puerh was introduced to puerh lovers. The production was not large, but since it was relatively less known, the price was very good for its quality. More importantly, the ecosystem is great and the trees are old.

Previously I have discussed geographic patent of puerh and puerh that is not from Yunnan. Although Kokang puerh does not fit in the "geographic patent" requirements of puerh, generally tea drinkers have no problem at all seeing it as puerh. In fact, Kokang puerh is a perfect example that in spite of the borders between countries, there isn't such a border for the ecosystem and culture.

Kokang puerh is how I learned of anything about Kokang. Before drinking Kokang puerh, I literally knew nothing about the place, not only because it is such a small region in a small country, but also because of political reasons that I wasn't aware of. Briefly speaking, Kokang was "given" by Chinese government in 1960s to Myanmar (many people would see this as sort of political "bribery") and throughout the decades, Chinese media almost never mentioned this place.

People of Kokang have a hard life. In the past several decades, they lived through endless battles and killings. Their best time was probably between 1995 and 2009, with the economics progressing and a relative peace lasting for more than 10 years. In 2009, in a military conflict between Myanmar government army and Kokang army, Pheung disappeared. In the 5 years to follow, I heard of nothing about Pheung. Like many other people, I believed he must have died.

However, the reality is almost as dramatic as a historical romance. Suddenly, Pheung returned to Kokang in last December, and led his people to fight against the government army again. In the past week, there was a time when he almost entirely drove the government army out of Kokang. But the latest news is that the government army recaptured Kokang and Kokang army receded.

The war is nothing new for the region. But I was saddened for a few things.

First of all, this was never just a war between military powers. There are often news reports about local civilians being killed by the government army. And the most recent news mentioned that in order to search for fugitives of Kokang army, the government army burnt up acres after acres of sugarcane field, which is the main income source of local farmers after they shifted away from opium production.

Secondly, it's very disappointing that Chinese media and international media remain blind and silent about violence in Kokang. In spite of the large scale discussion among Chinese online community about Kokang, Chinese media didn't say anything about it except for the brief report of the short comments from the Foreign Ministry spokesman. The international media ignored the incidence as well. As always, if there is something happening in New York, Paris, or any western European major cities, it would be on the headlines for days or weeks. When there are slaughters in some remote corner of Africa or Asia, few media would care about it. This most recent Kokang conflicts started about a week ago. Up till this past Friday, by conducting an exhaustive Google search, I didn't find any news report about it by English language media, not a single one. Up till today, there are only some brief and shallow coverage, most simply repeating the lasted Myanmar government news release word by word. In contrast, American media (and oddly even some Chinese media) are so interested in giving long reports about the recent blizzards in Boston (which, by the way, are only comparable to the regular type of snow storm in rural Upstate New York).

Politics are complicated. It's hard to tell "right" from "wrong" or distinguish the "good guys" from the "bad guys". But awareness is the first step of understanding. For this, I thank Kokang tea for leading me to learn more about Kokang and its people. Drinking this tea, I pray for Kokang people and wish the 85-year-old General Pheung the best of luck.

Below are some unpleasant pictures from Kokang in the past day. 

Civilians in Kokang killed by the government militants. Their bodies were covered by the green blankets.
Some were killed after refusing to join the battle on site to the government army's side. Some were killed for no obvious reasons. Among the dead bodies, there are some with white hairs and some looked very young.

(I omitted some more bloody pictures.)

Young males of Kokang were tied up by the government soldiers. They will be sent to the battle front line to "fight for the government" or used as "flesh shields" for the government army. The government soldiers search door by door for young males. If nobody answers the door, they would burn up the house.

Feb 2, 2015

Guang Ya (广雅) "mellow taste" (味之淳)

This is a tea I sampled a few months ago and it's so interesting that I still think of it from time to time.

Recently, I also constantly wonder how much longer the tea blog could last. I'm not just talking about this tea blog - although I have to admit that these days I share tasting notes more in other ways than on the blog, mostly because one could be lazy using other media that involves only taking a few pictures and writing a few lines, while getting a lot more instant feedbacks from people. I still think blog is a better medium for writing about tea. But most people, including me, go lazy whenever they could :-p Even my puerh icon, Ulumochi, who used to write tons of nice stuff almost on daily basis, nowadays mostly writes micro blogs on WeChat (the Chinese counterpart of Twitter). His micro blogs are as intelligent and interesting, but I constantly miss his long blog posts!

I drank this tea a few months ago in my office. Then I took photos and immediately micro blogged it. One doesn't have the luxury of writing a real blog at work!

I got the sample for free from a Guang Ya dealer. In recent years, some very, very expensive new puerh brands came to the scene, and about half dozen of them got quite popular (I mean quite popular among rich people, of course). Guang Ya is one of them. I have never bought their puerh, because I don't know what could trigger me to make up my mind to buy a new puerh for several hundred dollars. But I bought some of their Liu Bao. Their Liu Bao is under the sub-brand Guang Wu (广梧). It's still way more expensive than most other brands. But new Liu Bao is overall a lot more affordable than puerh, and they seemed to have some unique traditional-style technique rarely found in other products. So I got their entry level Liu Bao, and to my surprise, got abundant free samples of their higher grade Liu Bao with my orders. Obviously I was hooked by their free samples, and went back buying some higher grade Liu Bao. Then to my joy, they gave me more samples of various types of Liu Bao and puerh. This is one of the samples.

The tea looks very decent and clean. That's sort of expected, for a new shu of almost $100 a cake (357g).

I expected the taste to be nice too. And it exceeded my expectation! It's not stinky (which is already a big plus for a new shu), the liquor is smooth, the taste is interesting and sweet, and it lasts for several decent infusions. Overall it's one of the best new shu's that I've had in recent years (although it's not even the high-grade shu of Guang Ya), and I think it could easily beat a lot of aged shu.

Then I thought more about its price. Still I think it's very expensive. But on the other hand, the price is not so forbidding. If I bought a cake, I could probably be happy drinking it on most of the days and finish the cake in a year. Then it's $100 well spent. You know, many puerh drinkers have many $30 cakes at home that were less than 1/10 used. So what's so wrong with a $100 new shu if you could enjoy every bit of it.

Then I thought of another question, couldn't somebody else make some $50 or $20 shu that is as enjoyable? Of course somebody could do it. And I have some less expensive shu that I enjoy very much. That's why I haven't bought this $100 yet (but indeed I was tempted). Meantime, I also understand why these super expensive brands could get so popular nowadays. I spend a lot of time searching tea. But not everybody who is interested in puerh would also be interested in spending so much time searching and trying different teas. For people who don't have time or don't want to spend time in tea hunting, brands like Guang Ya could be perfect for them for shu and ancient tree young sheng. 

My final comments on Guang Ya is, although their tea is expensive, their dealers are always generous in giving out free samples.

If you invert the two sections of the above sentence, it would make sense too ;-)

And my suggestion to tea friends was, buy some of their Liu Bao, and ask for free samples of more expensive teas!

Guess what, Twitter is firewalled in my new office. Otherwise, I could have done some tea twittering during the week...