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I was invited to Laos again this year to see another area with ancient tea trees. The government (and other non-governmental organizations) are keen to identify projects that indigenous people can do to increase their income and also have their communities benefit as well. Value added agricultural products are one of the most important areas of focus as the climate is subtropical, and suitable for many plants.

Although the tea forests are similar to those just to the North in China, there isn't as much cultural interest and recent history with the tea in general. This wasn't always the case as parts of Northern Laos used to be part of China before being ceded to French Indochina in 1895.

Several years ago there was a huge boom in pu-erh prices and many Chinese traders got into the tea market. The interest of these Chinese has lessened as the pu-erh prices remain lower now. When the prices were inflated, traders came across the border to buy maocha, the raw material for pu-erh. They also made forays into Burma and even Thailand where they bought leaf from the oolong plants (which are totally the wrong varietals for making pu-erh).

This time I was in Bokeo Province, which is bordered from Thailand and Burma by the Mekong river. The jungles have been clear cut in some areas and left alone in others. My day involved a grueling hike of seven hours to get to the old trees.

The trees are in good shape and I'm looking forward to getting some tea after the harvest season this spring. They make a compressed tea in bamboo tubes about 24 inches long and 2 1/2 inches in diameter as well as producing maocha.

I also sampled a black tea that was a bit like a tippy Yunnan. It had the flavor of a Fujian black tea followed by the malty finish common in Assam teas. I also found some pu-erh cakes which have been being made for the last few years from these same old trees. Later this spring we will offer some of both for you to try. Until then we still have some of the Banglaa in stock.

Travel Diary, Laos 2010

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