The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane

The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane front cover

I first heard about this book when it was recommended on some tea discussion forum or other, probably the /r/tea sub-Reddit.

Despite the fact that my reading habits tend to be orientated towards non-fiction these days, it sounded interesting, and well worth a punt.

I’ll let the book’s back cover give you a plot summary…

The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane back cover

Lisa See has certainly put the legwork in – she’s been to Yunnan, travelling there with none other than well known Pu-erh vendor Linda Louie of Bana Tea Company fame acting in an advisory capacity.

She’s seen the trees up close and personal, killed the green, rolled, pressed, and wrapped.

What makes this book interesting for teaheads is that it tells the story of Pu-erh from the perspective of the indigenous people of Nannuo mountain. See’s heard the tale of the tea from the Akha themselves. We see what role the tea they produce played in their lives before it skyrocketed to international fame, and how their world was initially turned upside down once people from far and wide turned up at the spirit gate of their village waving huge amounts of cash, and then yet again in 2007 when the Pu-erh bubble burst.

It has to be said that See has created a set of truly memorable characters. It was easy to empathise with them as they struggled to adapt to the encroachment of 21st century ways, caught up in the clash between tradition and change.

It’s not a perfect book by any means – I have some issues with the plot that I don’t want to expand on here because, well, spoilers, but on the whole I think that this book has deserved all the plaudits it’s received. I’m even recommending it to my non tea drinking friends. Not only will they get to read a thoroughly enjoyable story, but they’ll also get to peek behind the curtain of mystery that surrounds what to many outsiders is considered to be a funny old world, that of the tea obsessive.

I did have to smile at the “Enhance Your Book Club” section and the back of the book, though. Here it was suggested that book club members should discuss the book over cups of Pu-erh. Given that Pu-erh, both sheng and shou, even for many hardened teaheads, is very much an acquired taste, I’d dearly love to see how people who’s experience of tea is limited to teabag-milk-and-two-sugars first react to sampling Yunnan’s finest for the first time…

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