It can be a little hard to switch off sometimes… especially in lockdown. You are working from home, socialising from home (via Zoom - looking forward to seeing friends and family in IRL now); life blends into one. But it is so important to take time out. And a good cup of tea is the perfect way to relax.
There is something about the process of making tea that puts you in the right mindset for relaxation; a build up to accepting rest.
With tea on the mind, I have been lucky enough to come across a delightful new tea brand, Yuyun, who are local to Saywood HQ. Yuyun means pleasant lingering effect and after taste of a good tea. The brand was started in summer 2020 by two tea lovers; Zora fell for the British tea culture, whilst Michael fell for the Chinese tea culture that Zora introduced him to, and together they built Yuyun.
Zora, originally from Yunnan in China, has a deep connection with the tea culture that surrounds the local communities there. She grew up drinking Yunnan tea with her family. China is the home of tea growing, with the earliest record of the growing of tea being here. In China, tea culture is a way of life; each community may have a different tea ceremony of their own, but it is part of a beautiful philosophy for Chinese people to do things for others.
Yuyun tea is sourced from the Yunnan region in South West China. Yunnan has its own unique tea trees; the moderate climate and fertile land are the perfect conditions for the high quality tea that grows here. The tea from this region has a savoury flavouring, with a touch of sweetness. The loose leaf tea offers a meditative way of tea making, and allows the flavour to be more impactful. Loose leaf also gives a fully compostable, zero waste approach to tea making, and allows for a more definitive social activity to tea making.
Green mountains of Yunnan, Pu'er City Jingmai Mountain.
I spoke to the founders of Yuyun, Zora and Michael, to find out more about their love for tea, and the history of tea in the Yunnan region.
Where cloth trade was heavily centred around the known Silk Road in China, for tea there was the Ancient Horse Tea Road. Tell us about the history of this and the town connections?
The Ancient Tea Horse Road refers to a non-governmental international commercial channel connecting the regions in southwest China and the rest of the world during ancient times. The demand for tea led to the formation of multiple trade routes collectively termed the ‘Tea Horse Road’ or Cha Ma Gu Dao (cha stands for tea, ma means horse, and Dao translates to path). Traders from Tibet started their travels to source tea, offering horses to trade, which they had in abundance. The trip could take anywhere from three to six months and the path would traverse diverse and harsh weather conditions. Towns started forming on the path as trade continued acting as beacons for commerce and rest.
Zora grew up in Yunnan. What is her first memory (or most memorable) of drinking and learning about tea there?
“My first memory was of my Dad as he is a big tea drinker and many of his friends would send tea to him as a gift, so at home will never be lacking in good tea. A memorable experience when I took a trip to Dali (Yunnan), which is the main area of the Bai people. I witnessed their three-course tea ceremony, an ancient ceremony still practised today, involving three types of tea.” - Zora Pu
How do you source your teas?
All our teas are sourced from Yunnan, China. We currently source them from a supplier in the UK, but in future, we will import tea directly from China. Tea is grown in different parts of the world, and there’s no escaping the carbon cost of importing from another country. But compared to other tea labels, we try to get all our tea from one place (rather than blends from all over the world). We deal with whole leaf tea, which has a smaller carbon cost industrially, and we focus on the small things we can do to challenge modern packaging, such as to invest in compostable packaging, and by spreading eco-guides and information.
You have considered the environmental side of tea production, and I understand the ethical side is very important to you too; tell us about this?
There are 25 ethnic minority groups in Yunnan, and each has their own tea culture and ceremony with different characteristics, styles, and flavours. This wealth of culture should be better celebrated and seen, which is one of our long term goals. For the size we are we don’t make a big enough impact to create change, but what we can do is bring awareness, and in the future when we can secure funding and import directly; we can then make a positive difference.
What sparked the idea to start the Yuyun business?
The business was formed out of a desire for good tea. Zora’s hometown is Kunming in Yunnan and she’s been living away from her family for a long time. Having a cup of tea may be a simple thing for some, but for Zora every cup of our tea is a taste of home, and I think that’s a sentiment shared by British people who have spent time abroad too. After I tried it, not to be snobbish, but I finally knew what good tea was, in its unaltered whole form. After that, I was on board, and really the business was formed to share that experience.
What has been the biggest challenge you’ve faced starting the business? And what are your hopes for your first year?
I think the biggest challenge was inexperience; it was a big learning curve, and those foundations at the start can be quite important. Big decisions like should we produce eco-friendly packaging was harder on us because we’re just starting, but I believe that if we want to see a change then we need to be the change. This year we’re hoping to engage in the local community, start up a few projects and open a market stall.
Are there any tea tips from Yunnan for enjoying our tea?
My top tip would be to invest in a water filter, or charcoal filters, water makes up the majority of a cup of tea, don’t underestimate good water!
Yuyun Loose Leaf Tea Types
What’s your favourite tea?
I love brewing a pot of classic gongfu in the morning, it has a similar profile to a traditional English breakfast tea in body but is lighter and has sweet notes. Loose tea can take a little bit longer and it's worth every second. Zora’s favourite is our Yunnan black tea but blended with rose (coming soon), alongside her hometown speciality flower cakes.
You have an environmental and ethical stance on your tea. This is important in fashion too, and there is a growing awareness on ethical and slow fashion. How do you feel about the slow fashion movement?
I think slow fashion is something I unintentionally do when I really find something that I love, like a nice jacket, you'll catch me in it a third of the times you see me. I think the care and consideration when it comes to choosing items is something we share. Slow fashion is extending the life of a product, the same way you might take care of a fancy outfit for special occasions. In this way slow fashion is the same as buying better quality tea to drink daily, it makes everyday a special occasion. Take a moment and seize the day.
Right, it’s time to put the kettle on...