Last spring I had the honor and privilege of accompanying my friend and LA-based tea sommelier Rebecca Razzall of TeaStream to the province of Guizhou, in Southwestern China. There we met up with her friend Rui Liu, a Guizhou native who is now based in London and imports tea under the brand name Grass People Tree, focusing on farm-direct Guizhou teas.

While we only had less than a week to explore, Rui showed us many of the unusual and fascinating teas that make Guizhou tea culture so unique and exciting. Guizhou has a reputation for being remote and underdeveloped – during my time in neighboring Sichuan province, whenever I asked about Guizhou the response invariably included the words “poor” and “primitive”. While I didn’t find either to be true, Guizhou was a fairly remote and inaccessible region until recently, as expanded air travel and China’s high-speed rail system have made transport to the province quick and affordable.

Compared with more economically-developed provinces, Guizhou’s natural beauty is remarkably unspoiled. Its clean air, water, and soil–along with its rugged mountains–make Guizhou an ideal environment for growing tea. Not only that, but Guizhou is located in China’s southwest and is geographically contiguous with Yunnan. This places Guizhou within the natural wild range of the tea plant, and the province boasts local subvarieties and ancient trees on par with Yunnan’s famous pu er plants.

So if Guizhou tea is so great, how come nobody’s ever heard of it? There are no well-known, famous teas from Guizhou. Its teas are unrepresented in the tea markets of China’s great cities and even specialty tea shop owners would be hard pressed to name a tea from the region. There is a historical reason for this: Guizhou is smack in the middle of Southwestern China’s tea country. Bordered by Yunnan on the West, Sichuan to the North, Hunan to the East, and Guangxi to the South. This means that anyone trying to buy tea from Southwestern China will acquire it from one of these other provinces first – Yunnan historically supplies southern Tibet with Pu Er, while northern Tibet and Xinjiang consume Zangcha from Sichuan; Hunan’s famous Anhua Heicha is exported to Mongolia and Liubao from Guangxi is exported to Southeast Asia.

To be continued in tomorrow’s post Precious State: The Unusual and Obscure Teas of Guizhou – Part 2

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