The Wild Tea Trees of Nan Nuo Shan
The most notable thing that morning is that it wasn’t raining. It rains a lot in Yunnan in July. Cloudy and wet are not considered good conditions for tea picking. Neither is summer (usually), but I was told they chase the weather, not the calendar, and some farmers are finally getting the weather conditions they want. As we were sitting with Ms. Wang in her tea shop, we observed evidence of this. The spring was too cold and dry. The resulting tea was muted of its potential. Her summer sheng puer, just made, was already fuller and more vital with a warm, oily character.
Hanging out in Ms. Wang’s tea shop drinking the 2019 lot of our 2018 Yiwu Sheng Puer tea
Mr. Yang Xiuhai is the maker of these teas and an acquaintance of my travel companion, Daniel. He had to leave unexpectedly before we got there, so Ms. Wang Xiyan (whom none of us had ever met), his business partner, hosted us instead. It is common to hang out, drink tea, and march off into the woods with complete strangers in China. Mr. Yang makes the tea. Ms. Wang runs the business. The shop is gorgeous, but completely comfortable. Their giant tea table had an island surrounded by water with goldfish, live plants, a Plecostomus “suckerfish” (to keep it clean), and topped with dry ice.
Ms. Wang and her tea table. Without a doubt I would have dropped the cup in the water.
The next day we left Ms. Wang’s shop in Jinghong to visit the wild tea trees of Nan Nuo Shan (“shan” means “mountain”) in the Menghai area of Xishuangbanna. On the way up we made an unannounced stop (at least unannounced in English) to meet Mr. Zhao Tian, whose family owns tea fields on the mountain and used to help out Ms. Wang in her tea shop (I would piece together all this information later. At that moment and for many hours to come, I had no idea what was going on, which was typical).
Left: The King of Puer Tea Trees. Not very photogenic, but you don’t have to be at 800 years old. Right: Me & Mr. Zhao
The first stop was a visit to the “King of Puer tea trees”, an 800-year-old giant that has been “retired” and is now just here to remind us of the length of time that passes in a place like this. The fields are well taken care of with a few boardwalks and paved walkways, because in China there is such a thing as tea tourists (that would be me on this occasion).
Mr. Zhao Tian
We met a tea farmer dressed in camouflage with a small market stand in the middle of the tea fields. We drank tea, ate candy he made from the fruits of the tea plant, and tea eggs. He says that the farmers are no longer growing rice and vegetables on the mountain anymore and are going into town to buy such things. He considers this a good situation and a sign of prosperity. I bought some tea from him.
The tea farmer in camo. It is somehow not considered rude to take over a complete stranger’s tea table and drink his tea.
We then traveled to Mr. Zhao’s home in the village of Bama on the same mountain. Let’s just say the conditions are modest by American standards. A one room flat that includes the fire pit where he cooks his food, eats, sleeps, and stays out of the rain or sun. An outdoor patio-like area is attached for washing (clothes/utensils) and an Asian toilet that is not hooked up to running water. His vegetable garden is just off to the side and below this area. His tea drying and processing rooms is on the opposite side of the house. The accommodations may not be fancy, but the material from their tea field is in demand. He plans to build a new house in the village. Modern instead of traditional style, but the fire pit will stay.
He cooked us a six-course lunch while we drank his tea out on the patio area. He made greens and onions from his garden, bamboo, pickled vegetables, two kinds of smoked pork, and soup. Upon learning how much I love spicy food, he insisted I take home a jar of his homemade hot pepper blend, along with some of his tea. I just met this guy this morning.
Mr. Zhao's tea fields
After lunch we hiked up (mostly vertical) into his family’s tea fields on the side of the mountain near his home. There were wild tea trees of a range of ages intermixed with pruned, terraced tea bushes for easier picking. It was all woven through a largely untouched ecosystem that will keep the plants healthy (and bite Mr. Zhao’s foot at one point).
Mr. Zhao’s mother and Ms. Wang picking tea.
His mother was out there picking tea for summer material that was still in demand. From here I could see down over the village in what for me was an exotic landscape, but for them could not be more mundane. This place is not a carefully messaged brand, it is just life – as important and regular as anywhere else. Their tea will arrive at TeaSource in late September if all goes well. A transaction that will hopefully warrant a return visit someday.
-Michael Lannier, Operations Manager