So, thanks to Janice for letting me know about this story. Turns out there's been a huge speculator's market for fine teas in China these last few years, with people paying top dollar for the fanciest of pu'ers (compressed aged teas). Kind of like people paying too much for coffee, or wine, or tulips. Now about a third of the tea-merchants have closed up shop and some of the tea orchards (if that's the right term for them)* are being grubbed up and the land replanted with food crops. I loved the part about the wild tea trees (further investigation shows they do indeed exist, though there's great debate about those who fudge between truly wild trees, which are rare, and those "feral" tea trees from old-abandoned orchards, which are said to be good but not as superlative as the other). I don't particularly like pu'er myself -- give me a good Keemun or Yunnan instead -- but it turns out the Tea Guru from a few weeks ago was quite right: the compressed teas sold as pu'er are indeed better when they're aged, and the older the better. In fact, they're not quite 'black' teas because they're pressed, then age in tea-brick form, rather than being fermented like true black teas; they're really a special in-between category neither green nor black.
*Upton refers to its tea 'plantations', but that's a term I'd prefer to avoid.
today's teas: Clouds of Black (Great Wall Mall), Northwest Breakfast (Market Spice), Yunnan (The Tea Cup).
addendum to San Francisco Symphony
3 hours ago