Tea for Emperors and Tibet – Part 4/5

After the “Puer” tea is ready, the journey begins.

For the Pu’erh that I buy, Emperor’s Pu’erh, it leaves Yunnan, reaches China’s coast and then crosses the Pacific to end on a shelf at a Whole Foods Market. However, before that, for centuries, Puer tea traveled to Tibet and China’s capital for the Emperor.

CCTV 9 Travelogue – Tea and Horse Road – Part 1 1/2

Most people have heard of or read about the Silk Road from China to Europe. I’m sure that few have heard of the Ancient Tea Horse Road, which I discovered in the May 2010 issue of National Geographic magazine.

CCTV 9 Travelogue – Tea and Horse Road – Part 1 2/2

Legend says that tea from China arrived in Tibet as early as the Tang Dynasty (618- 906 A.D.). After that, the Chinese traded tea for horses, as many as 25,000 horses annually.

CCTV 9 Travelogue – Tea and Horse Road – Part 2 1/2

But that isn’t what struck me the most about the piece. It’s the example that demonstrated why the peasants loved and possibly worshiped Mao Tse-Tung.

CCTV 9 Travelogue – Tea and Horse Road – Part 2 2/2

For more than a thousand years, men fed their families by carrying hundreds of pounds of tea on their backs across rugged mountains into Lhasa. Some froze to death in blizzards. Others fell to their deaths from the narrow switchbacks that climbed into the clouds.

CCTV 9 Travelogue – Tea and Horse Road – Part 3 1/2

This all ended in 1949 when Mao had a road built to Tibet and farmland was redistributed from the wealthy to the poor. “It was the happiest day of my life,” said Luo Yong Fu, a 92-year-old dressed in a black beret and a blue Mao jacket, whom the author of the National Geographic piece met in the village of Changheba.

CCTV 9 Travelogue – Tea and Horse Road – Part 3 2/2

Before ending the four posts on Puer [Pu’erh] tea and moving on to Kombucha Fermented Tea in Post 5, Numi Organic tea, Emperor’s Pu’erh, the one I buy at Whole Foods, says, “These old-growth rare Pu’erh trees are communally owned by the local villagers who pick them for their livelihood, ensuring that they continue to grow for generations to come… Pu’erh is an ancient healing tea picked from 500-year-old organic wild tea trees in Yunnan, China. Pu’erh has more antioxidant than most green teas.”

Continued on January 21, 2012 in Tea for Emperors and Tibet – Kombucha Fermented Tea – Part 5 or return to Part 3


Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of The Concubine Saga. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too. This is the love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.

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Note: This five-part series of posts on “Tea for Emperors and Tibet” first appeared May 2010, as The Magic of “Puer” Tea, The Tea Horse Road, and Kambucha Fermented Tea.

3 Responses to Tea for Emperors and Tibet – Part 4/5

  1. merlin says:

    I’d like to ask how do you know 99.9% that the tea you buy at your local supermarket “Whole Foods” is from a village in Yunnan, China? Although we’d all WISH our tea was direct from the best source, but in reality companies will often lie about their source and even their nutritional information in order to make a buck (not saying Pu’er is bad, but sometimes other food items are mislabeled). On the topic of mislabeling, wouldnt a product need to go through a processing facility in order to determine the nutritional information, and thus it would not be “organic”?

    Besides the labeling corruption in the US, another question pops to mind. What about the corruption overseas? I mean, the middleman that imports the tea to the US to provide to whoesalers and retailers, how do THEY know the TRUE source and if it’s really Pu’er? There’s so much corruption in China, that many manufacturers will give a false appearance in order to ship their product overseas. You’ve got many people working the entire process, from the local village farmer, up to the multilingual chinese assistant for the company selling the tea. At any one point it only takes 1 lie in order to falsify the entire process. Even the local farmer might have mistakenly grabbed the wrong seed in planting when his former bag of seeds ran out.

    I’m not saying 100% of the time all that happens, but what I am saying is I think we in the US need to not only question our political, economic, and educational systems, but also the very food we eat. All it takes is for 1 small slip in the process/production line. If our educational system is not great, what does that say about our knowledge of nutrition? If corporations are corrupt, what does that say about the true origins of material goods that cross our borders?

    • Merlin,

      Your concerns are all valid. After all, there are many con-men and crooks out there that will say or do anything to make a name for themselves and/or money they didn’t earn.

      This is why I put my trust in the merchant I’m buying the product from, and here’s what Whole Foods says about their products.

      As for the middle man overseas. If they want to keep their contract with a company such as Whole Foods, which would be a BIG contract, it might be too risky to cheat because they could get caught and then Whole Foods just finds another middle man to work with.

      “We carry natural and organic products because we believe that food in its purest state — unadulterated by artificial additives, sweeteners, colorings, and preservatives — is the best tasting and most nutritious food available.

      “Our business is to sell the highest quality foods we can find at the most competitive prices possible. We evaluate quality in terms of nutrition, freshness, appearance, and taste. Our search for quality is a never-ending process involving the careful judgment of buyers throughout the company.
      •We carefully evaluate each and every product we sell.
      •We feature foods that are free of artificial preservatives, colors, flavors, sweeteners, and hydrogenated fats.
      •We are passionate about great tasting food and the pleasure of sharing it with others.
      •We are committed to foods that are fresh, wholesome and safe to eat.
      •We seek out and promote organically grown foods.
      •We provide food and nutritional products that support health and well-being.

      “Whole Foods Market’s Quality Standards team maintains an extensive list of unacceptable ingredients. However, creating a product with no unacceptable ingredients does not guarantee that Whole Foods Market will sell it. Our buyers are passionate about seeking out the freshest, most healthful, minimally processed products available.”

      Source: http://www.wholefoodsmarket.com/products/quality-standards.php

    • Merlin,

      Examples of food and supplement fraud in the US

      Italy embarrassed by counterfit olive oil scandal [and China wasn’t mentioned, and I’m not saying China doesn’t have similar problem–they do. However, so does the US and the rest of the world. As you know, I prefer a comparative balance instead of ignoring the rest of the world and only focusing on China’s problems]


      “It looked like extra virgin olive oil. It even tasted and smelt like extra virgin olive oil. But the alluring, yellowy green liquid that consumers in Germany, Switzerland and the US would have trickled over their salads was actually oil made from soya beans or sunflower seeds – some of it genetically modified – mixed with beta carotene and industrial chlorophyll…

      “The latest scandals have caused intense embarrassment to a nation that prides itself on the purity of its foodstuffs. The head of a major farmers’ union, Sergio Marini, welcomed the investigations, but he warned that the damage to the image of Italian produce could be enough to decide whether the economy grew or shrank this year.”


      Examples of poor quality Vitamin Supplements.


      “The choice to use a dietary supplement may provide health benefits, however sometimes these products may be unnecessary for good health or they may even create unexpected risks.

      “Not all vitamins and dietary supplements are created equally. There are no standards that require that the ingredients listed on the label match what is actually inside the capsules or tablets inside the bottle.”


      Nutritional-Supplement Truths


      “Manufacturing standards of vitamin supplement manufacturers vary significantly throughout the industry. Low quality standards destroy the scientific basis of a supplement formula and affect the composition, safety and efficacy of the end product

      “In fact it is in this area that manufacturers and supplement companies hide the most from you!

      “You can use ‘manufacturing standards’ as criteria to help identify reliable, high quality supplements from all the impostors in an overcrowded marketplace.”

      FDA [US Food and Drug Administration] corruption news, articles and information


      From Scientific American

      Perscription Drug Deaths Increase Dramatically


      “The number of deaths and hospitalizations caused by prescription drugs has risen precipitously in the past decade, with overdoses of pain medications, in particular opioids, sedatives and tranquilizers, more than doubling between 1999 and 2006, according to a new study.”


      CDC report tallies foodborne illnesses, deaths


      Data on gastrointestinal illnesses in the U.S. indicate viruses, bacteria, and parasites in food kill about 3,000 people yearly and sicken about 48 million more.

      The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published in mid-December two reports that together indicate about one-sixth of people in the U.S. suffer foodborne illnesses each year. About 9.4 million of them are sickened by one or more of 31 major pathogens. The remaining illnesses are attributed to “unspecified agents,” including agents for which insufficient data are available to directly attribute illness, agents suspected but not known as causes of illness, and unknown causes.

      Foodborne illnesses are connected with about 3,000 deaths and about 128,000 hospitalizations yearly, the data indicate.


      Food-Related Illness and Death in the United States


      “To better quantify the impact of foodborne diseases on health in the United States, we compiled and analyzed information from multiple surveillance systems and other sources. We estimate that foodborne diseases cause approximately 76 million illnesses, 325,000 hospitalizations, and 5,000 deaths in the United States each year. Known pathogens account for an estimated 14 million illnesses, 60,000 hospitalizations, and 1,800 deaths. Three pathogens, Salmonella, Listeria, and Toxoplasma, are responsible for 1,500 deaths each year, more than 75% of those caused by known pathogens, while unknown agents account for the remaining 62 million illnesses, 265,000 hospitalizations, and 3,200 deaths. Overall, foodborne diseases appear to cause more illnesses but fewer deaths than previously estimated.”

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