Jeff Fuchs’ tea obsession was sparked when a casual date in Taiwan took him to an all night Chinese tea ceremony. He watched the sun come up, buzzing from all the liquid he had imbibed. “I thought what the hell is in this to create an alchemy of tremendous clarity, high beyond-words feeling, a social warmth towards people. I had to get into that world whatever it meant.”
Tea? We’re talking about tea? Jeff Fuchs, a native for Manotick, Ontario, was hooked: for the next decade ‘tea culture’ became his driving passion. It would take him to tea’s ground zero —China’s Yunnan Province, the origin of all tea on earth, and then on a quest to explore the daunting ‘Tea Horse Road’ a 5000km mule trail through the Himalayas where Pu’erh tea leaves travelled across ‘the roof of the world’ and down to the markets of India and Nepal.
Fuchs’ shared his adventures in his book The Ancient Tea Horse Road: Travels with the Last of the Himalayan Muleteers and now it is told in a visually stunning feature-length documentary The Tea Explorer that premieres on CBC documentary Channel on Sunday, July 23 at 9PM ET (10:30PM NL) and is repeated at 12PM ET (01:30AM NL).
To begin his quest, Fuchs headed to the town of Menghai, epicenter of Yunnan’s tea culture. Surrounded by hundreds of acres of tea trees, some dating back 750 years – it was from here that tea would spread out across the world. Fuchs shares his knowledge and enthusiasm on a teascape tour: leaves harvested, fried and dried, prepared for market and then presented for drinking. And there is lots and lots of drinking.
In Yunnan, over a decade ago, Fuchs heard locals talk about a ‘Tea Horse Road.’ They said it was an almost mythical pathway that tea traders followed through the Himalayas ¬¬- a treacherous six month trek passing through nearly twenty-five distinct cultures speaking numerous dialects, before arriving at the trading centres of Bengal and Kathmandu. Tea trading on the Road ended in the 1950s after the Chinese invaded Tibet. A half century later Fuchs was determined to retrace the traders’ steps.
“I think the Tea Horse Road journey is one of the reasons why tea is the second-most consumed fluid on the planet,” Fuchs says. In this documentary, viewers join Fuchs as he travels the roadway with its challenging climbs, deep gorges, and awesome vistas. On the way Fuchs meets some of the surviving tea traders who recall their own journeys on the Tea Horse Road.
“I met Jeff through a friend who knows I love doing adventure documentaries,” says Andrew Gregg, who wrote, directed, produced and photographed The Tea Explorer. “It was a perfect story for me—a Canadian explorer who had retraced the old tea trade routes through the Himalayas. It then took me a year to get in shape to go along with Jeff through those mountains. Travelling with him makes you hyperaware that there are many ways to live your life. He’s the ultimate hardcore adventurer, but without a lot of fanfare. He goes there to bring the stories back so we can learn about a way of life that’s disappearing. It was a great experience to help him do that.”
In The Tea Explorer Jeff Fuchs shares his passion for tea and its history and takes viewers on a fascinating look at a culture that is virtually unknown outside of China—a culture that is vanishing because coffee is having a heyday, but Jeff Fuchs hopes that ‘tea culture’ will survive and flourish once more.
THE TEA EXPLORER is produced, directed, written and photographed by Andrew Gregg and edited by Geoff Matheson. documentary Channel, Production Executive is Jordana Ross and Senior Director is Bruce Cowley. Executive producer of THE TEA EXPLORER is Gordon Henderson.
THE TEA EXPLORER is produced by 90th Parallel Productions Ltd, in association with the documentary Channel and with the participation of the Canada Media Fund (CMF) – POV Fund, the Government of Canada – Canadian Film or Video Production Tax Credit Program, and the Ontario Media Development Corporation – Tax Credit Program.