Only 60 years ago, much of Asia still moved by foot and the ancient Tea Horse Road (Cha Ma Dao in Chinese, or also called the Southern Silk Road) was still a main thoroughfare. An unforgiving, arduous Himalayan mountain trail stretching for 2,500 miles linking Southwest China to Tibet, the Tea Horse Road was key to opening up trade across the region. The unpaved path emerged during the Tang Dynasty (618-907), allowing the exchange of tea from the lush gardens of China with horses from the plains of Tibet.
Blocked by fierce snowstorms in winter, facing harsh wind and rain and scaling dangerous passes at heights of 17,000 foot, the importance of this trade to both China and Tibet saw tea porters carrying loads of tea weighing 60-90kg or more, often more than their own body weight, alongside caravans of mules and horses. This journey from the Southern Yunnan county of Pu’er to Tibet’s capital Lhasa could take more than three months. Over this time, the tea, packed unprotected from the elements, would become compressed and face humidity and temperatures that would change its state. It is said that this journey is what created the aged, ‘post-fermented’ tea we now know as Pu-erh.