The mystery of the Ya Bao tea, solved. They are the unopened bud of a tea like plant that is not Camellia Sinensis. The locals have no idea what this plant is, but they would take the seeds and press its oil for cooking. Is it tea? No way, said the farmers. I knew that, but just wanted to be sure. A city slicker is never really that knowledgeable, when faced with such other country life items, like the rice paddies next to the tea bushes, the wild tea plants next to the bamboo, the chickens running amok, and what to do with any of it.
To say that a mere tea buyer would know more than the local tea farmer or producer would definitely be arrogance. Myself, I enjoy learning, and sharing, that’s all. Bringing back some great teas to share though is a matter of course. I have put in enough time legwork to make tea PhD, but in every trip, I still feel like a middle schooler.
Tea is special, deep, and wide. A bit of humility helps. A lot of things get lost in translation, and I know people even call stuff like ginger tea, ‘tea’. As for Ya Bao, all one has to do is look and taste, without having to actually see the plants in the ground. But don’t take my word for it, I am always highly skeptical due to over 15 years of buying tea from farms. Think about it: If Ya Bao is tea, does it taste like Silver Needle/yinzhen? Does it look like any other Camellia Sinensis leaf buds? No? And no? ….. Neither does mint ‘tea’.