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Tea Tourism: Tea Horse Road

Tea Tourism: Tea Horse Road

China’s ancient Tea Horse Road is not so much a road as a long and winding trading route with five branches, all stretching out from Pu’er County in Yunnan Province, China’s tea capital. From here, tea was carried northwest into Tibet; northeast into Sichuan; southwest into Menglian and Burma; due south into northern Laos and Southeast Asia; and southeast into Jiangcheng, and other Vietnamese cities.

The process of carrying tea over rough and treacherous roads called for a new way to process tea so that it was easier to transport. This is how the celebrated pressed tea cakes known as pu-erh were born.

History of Tea Horse Road

First used during the Tang Dynasty (618-907), Tea Horse Road was a trading route for many goods, including salt and silk. During the Song Dynasty (960-1279) tea was carried into Tibet where it was traded for horses. Tea porters often carried loads of tea on their backs equal to, or in excess of, their body weight.

Tea was carried this way, with little change, for 1000 years before other routes (namely roads) replaced it around the 1950s.

Traveling Tea Horse Road

Although many of the stretches along this ancient route have disappeared from lack of use, some adventurous tea lovers have sought to reopen this route for travel. Exhibition companies like Red Rock Trek [] and Wild China [] have organized treks for tourists. Although challenging, these treks take tourists into a China that travelers rarely get to see.

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