There is one particular detail that I find interesting about the tea business in Laos. They don’t customarily store tea to experiment with its flavor. Usually, all of the seasonally produced tea goes at once for sale in the market. If there is any leftover, it will be consumed by the locals. So when we first arrived at the factory at the end of 2011, we found a dozen bags of processed tea. We were really surprised. That tea belonged to a Malaysian company, which produced it the previous season. They sold most of it but left some behind for some reason.
That tea was made from the leaves collected from the old big tea trees. Storage for almost a year actually let the tea mature and develop its taste. We were very pleased with our find. I decided to phone a representative of the tea company in Kuala Lumpur. After some difficult negotiations they agreed to sell it to us if we made an immediate payment through a Malaysian bank. We did that and the tea was ours.
Technically speaking, we didn’t make the batch we call 109, but we spent lots our own energy and resources to bring that tea up to our standards. The leaves were poorly sorted and rolled, so we had to hire some local women to help us re-sort and shape it again. Then we pressed it into small cakes that were wrapped in cane paper. All the work was done by hand. Finally, out of the 390 kilos of left-behind tea that we initially bought, we made 305 kilos of the 109, Sheng Pu-erh Tea.
It is interesting to observe the difference in taste when comparing Laotian Sheng Pu-erh teas with the same type from China.