Having travelled the tea horse trail in Yunnan Province I am well acquainted with the region’s delicious speciality, pu’er tea. It is said to have powerful antioxidant – and therefore anti-ageing – properties, so my ears pricked up when my latest trip to Shanghai brought me to the newly opened Middle House, where the Mi Xun spa uses products featuring pu’er tea as its magic ingredient.
I immediately booked in for a Cha Ling facial. The treatment offered depends on the time of day: energising in the morning, detoxifying in the afternoon and rejuvenating in the evening. I received a thorough detoxifying face massage using a Chinese gua sha stone, the ceramic (sometimes jade) massage tool associated with TCM, followed by steaming, exfoliation and then the gentle application of moisturising serums and creams. I bolted out of the spa – looking, I am sure, a hundred times better – to try to find out more about the range.
The hotel manager gave me the story – Cha Ling turns out to be a Sino-French launch by LVMH, sparked by a meeting between Laurent Boillot, CEO of Guerlain, and Jozef Margraf, a German biologist, and his Chinese journalist wife, Minguo-Li. The couple are intent on preserving the region of Yunnan where pu’er tea trees grow protected from all pollution. Boillot was astounded by the beauty of the forest and began to plan a way of preserving it by using the pu’er tea in a line of skincare, with part of the profit to be used to preserve these millennia-old forests.
The range is wide (divided into moments such as “morning start” and “evening recovery”, as reflected in the facials) and incorporates elements from traditonal Chinese medicine and French aesthetic expertise. Before I left Shanghai, I took myself to the Cha Ling store and, with the help of a translator, came away with the Cleansing Powder (€45), infused with pu’er tea on a sea-salt base and applied with a small kabuki brush (€25). I also picked up a box of Steam Tablets (€20 for eight), whose pu’er tea-infused vapours work to open the pores, and a Purifying Mask (€55), intended for a boost on weekends. And then, because by this stage I was in way over my head, I picked up what turned out to be the star product for me – an Infusion Serum (€150), which had made an appearance in my facial and aims to correct wrinkles, restore firmness and protect the skin from pollution. It has kept that fresh-from-a-facial feeling going long after leaving the spa behind and is, unsurprisingly, a brand bestseller.