• 24Jan

    A bit more on the serious side of things, here’s an interesting article about the collapse of the Pu’er tea trade in China. Via The New York Times:

    A County in China Sees Its Fortunes in Tea Leaves Until a Bubble Bursts

    Saudi Arabia has its oil. South Africa has its diamonds. And here in China’s temperate southwest, prosperity has come from the scrubby green tea trees that blanket the mountains of fabled Menghai County.

    Over the past decade, as the nation went wild for the region’s brand of tea, known as Pu’er, farmers bought minivans, manufacturers became millionaires and Chinese citizens plowed their savings into black bricks of compacted Pu’er.

    But that was before the collapse of the tea market turned thousands of farmers and dealers into paupers and provided the nation with a very pungent lesson about gullibility, greed and the perils of the speculative bubble. “Most of us are ruined,” said Fu Wei, 43, one of the few tea traders to survive the implosion of the Pu’er market. “A lot of people behaved like idiots.”


    At least a third of the 3,000 tea manufacturers and merchants have called it quits in recent months. Farmers have begun replacing newly planted tea trees with more nourishing — and now, more lucrative — staples like corn and rice. Here in Menghai, the newly opened six-story emporium built to house hundreds of buyers and bundlers is a very lonely place.


    Among those most bruised by the crash are the farmers of Menghai County. Many had never experienced the kind of prosperity common in China’s cities. Villagers built two-story brick homes, equipped them with televisions and refrigerators and sent their children to schools in the district capital. Flush with cash, scores of elderly residents made their first trips to Beijing.

    “Everyone was wearing designer labels,” said Zhelu, 22, a farmer who is a member of the region’s Hani minority and uses only one name. “A lot of people bought cars, but now we can’t afford gas so we just park them.”

    Last week, dozens of vibrantly dressed women from Xinlu sat on the side of the highway hawking their excess tea. There were few takers. The going rate, about $3 a pound for medium-grade Pu’er, was less than a tenth of the peak price. The women said that during the boom years, tea traders from Guangdong Province would come to their village and buy up everyone’s harvest. But last year, they simply stopped showing up.

    Read the complete article here. (Note: The New York Times requires you login and articles are archived after a while.)

    Read more about Pu-erh tea at Wikipedia. I’ve never tried Pu’er, to be honest. I’m not sure if I’d like it, given that I don’t care much for the taste of the slightly fermented Japanese teas that I have. But stay tuned. I’ll post about a tasting, if I can get my hands on some.

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