The You Cha Trail Ends with an Idyllic Vision for Next Time

After chasing around Nanning looking for liu bao cha and coming away without much of anything, I decided to play tourist. After a five-hour drive I arrived at world-famous Guilin (ζ‘‚ζž—) and took the Li River boat tour. Unfortunately it was hot and humid and unless you stood on top of the big cruiser with a hundred other people, sitting inside the cabin didn't do much for me. In fact, the water and air seemed a bit polluted and I was somewhat disappointed.

I also visited Guilin's famous Seven Star and Silver Caves. Both are truly natural wonders, filled with various spectacular stalactites, stone pillars, and rock formations. The best thing is that touring these caves gets you out of the sun and the heat and humidity! I guess I am a Guilin philistine. While all the other tourists are going oooh and aaah I am just waiting to get back to the hotel for a shower!

On the way back to my hotel I saw a sign in one of the thousands of small eateries in Guilin that said "You Cha"--oil tea, in which a range of ingredients are prepared and boiled with tea leaves, served almost as a soup by Guangxi's Dong ethnic minority (侗族). I've heard of this famous concoction before and have never sampled it. I stopped my driver and ran off to the you cha shop only to be told, "we don't do that anymore!" Disappointed, I hopped in the car and went back to the hotel, but you cha was now stuck in my mind and I HAD to have some!

I asked a tour guide I met in my hotel lobby and she gave me the address of the "only" authentic you cha place she knew of. Off I ran! After a hour walking aimlessly in the streets of Guilin and three or four cell phone calls to the young lady tour guide, who kindly directed and redirected me to the store, I finally arrived, now dripping in perspiration but excited. I practically ran into the restaurant, only to be told that the guy who did you cha is gone; it's now a Sichuan-inspired restaurant!

Now that really made me mad and I was not going to rest until I got hold of some kind of you cha. I called on almost every single person I knew in Guangxi and finally was told that there is a place in Nanning that still serves traditional you cha. I didn't have to be told twice to split town and return to Nanning and the smiling faces of the toll collectors! After another five hours on the road my joints were cracking and my neck was killing me but I finally arrived at the Ah Mo Mei Shi Restaurant.

This beautifully built traditional Yao-ethnic-minority-style building is made entirely with wood, without a single nail. I finally was able to order the you cha and was served a somewhat simplified you cha service. The you cha is served with several add-on items: fried peanuts, deep-fried dough balls, puffed rice, chives. A big pot of cooked tea was also served. The service starts with the server placing a little bit of each ingredient in a small bowl and the cooked tea is poured over it. It tasted fine, but I said so what?

Just when I was going to blow off you cha, the young server said, this isn't any good unless the tea soup is made with tea from our village up in the mountains. He described his home where cars do not exist and the landscape is mist-covered with beautiful water and mountains. I returned to my hotel room troubled and thought, am I getting too lazy? I knew of the Dong mountain village but have never dared to think about going there. Am I really getting that old?

I am going to make a trip there next spring. Age and humidity are NOT going to keep me from finding more tea!