I had heard about this book quite a long time ago and I was so excited by very the idea of it. A fiction novel based in Yunnan is right up my alley, especially if tea is involved. The author, Lisa See, did a ton of research and incorporated many real life aspects of the tea industry into her story. She even went so far as to travel there with Linda Louie of Bana Tea Company in 2014. Her efforts paid off because everything that the main character experienced felt very authentic.
I hate when there are spoilers in book reviews so I’ll try my best not to do that. This book follows the life a young girl named Li-Yan. She is a member of Akha ethnic minority living on Nannuo Mountain. The reader is given a lot of background information on the beliefs and customs of the Akha as well as insight into daily village life. Some of the rituals are harsh to read about, particularly those involving newborn babies. Those sections left me a bit weepy on my morning commute.
We follow Li-Yan throughout her life as she struggles to find happiness as well as the life of the daughter that she was forced to give up. These are themes that I think are relatable to anyone, even if you know nothing about tea. There are nuggets that will make any puerh lover happy throughout the storyline, though. The tea market crash of 2007 and the modernization of Yunnan are both major occurrences in Li-Yan’s life. Even our beloved World Tea Expo gets a mention along with familiar names like Dr. Selena Ahmed.
I was dismayed to see some negative reviews on Amazon but the vast majority of them complained about having to learn so much about tea. Can you imagine not being interested in the crazy and complex world of tea? Don’t let them sway you from diving into the world of The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane. I’ve heard rave reviews from several tea friends, even before I finished reading it myself.
Bana Tea Company offers a special book club tasting package for this book. It sounds like the perfect way to share this story (and puerh tea) with friends.