Author, Photos: Chen Zhi Tong
Yiwu Tea Mountain is located in the eastern portion of the inner river six famous tea mountains on the border with Laos. It covers an area of approximately 750 square kilometers. Throughout history, Yiwu has served as a collection and distribution point for the six famous ancient tea mountains. The main rivers flowing through the Yiwu area are the Jinguang, the Sadai, and the Tongqing. The "Puerh Gazetteer" generally only refers to the six famous ancient tea mountains as Mansa, Youle, Mangzhi, Gedeng, Yibang, and Manzhuan mountains. With respect to Yiwu Mountain, these records only state that Yiwu also produced tea. In reality, however, Yiwu's tea production area was nearly half of the total for the six famous tea mountains.
During the Qing dynasty, the Yiwu tea growing area was developed by people from Shiping. They left behind a glorious history of palace tribute tea and established a succession of currently well-known tea businesses. Examples include Tong Xing Hao, Tong Qing Hao, Chen Yun Hao, Tong Chang Hao, and Fu Yuan Chang Hao. All of these were once large tea businesses. The tea products they produced are still considered by collectors to be classics. In the past, the Old Tea Horse Road passed through Yibang to transport goods out of the country. After the Communist Liberation of 1949, however, new roads were built, and the Old Tea Horse Road was no longer used for transport. In addition, the establishment of mechanized processing plants in the Menghai area meant that the six famous ancient tea mountains lost their status as the primary tea production areas. Yiwu area hand-processing workshops gradually declined, and the industry entered an era of integrated management and large-scale production. Yiwu also fell into a period of decline due to agricultural transformation.
It was the early 1990's before signs of improvement were seen.
As early as the Tang dynasty (618-907), Pu people were already growing tea in Yiwu. Tea trees planted then are still growing today on Mansa Tea Mountain. The trees are over 1000 years old. During the Yuan and Ming dynasties (1279-1644) this area was established under the jurisdiction of Cheli Xuanwei. This continued straight until the Qing dynasty when people from Shiping came and developed the area, Its history is extremely long. We know that Yiwu's cultivation-type large tea trees can roughly be divided along with the Tang, Yuan, Ming, and Qing dynasties. The distribution of the forests also roughly indicates the concentration and movement of residents at various times. Following the rise and decline of developed areas, many test growing areas are buried in History. After being ignored for several hundred years, the growth of the tea trees gradually spread out, creating complex symbiotic forests. They silently stand amongst the mountain forests of Yiwu to this day in testimony to the rise and decline of the six famous ancient tea mountains. They provide ample proof of the extremely long history of Yiwu.
The road from Jinghong passes through Ganlanba, Menglun, Mengxing before finally arriving in Yiwu. Evidence of Yiwu tea begins to appear at Menglun. Yiwu soil is dominated by lateritic and red soil. Large tea tree varieties can be divided into Assam and small-leaf varieties." Taidi (tableland) tea can be divided between early Mengla large leaf taidi tea and new strains introduced by cooperatives during the 1980's. In recent years, many new taidi teas have been developed. Taidi tea is essentially dominated by these three categories. In the Yiwu area small-leaf varieties are limited to a very small portion of the total. Among the six famous ancient tea mountains, the most small-leaf tea trees are most likely in Yibang. Long term environmental influence has caused these small-leaf varieties to experience some level of mutation.
Yiwu is divided between the north and south into two large tea growing districts. The northern section is known as the Mania district, while the southern is known as the Yiwu district. Major tea producing villages in the Mania area include: Xujia Liangzi, Zhangjia Wan, Dingjia, Yangjia, Yao ethnic Dingjia, Wangong, and Yishanmo. Tea producing villages in the Yiwu district include: Mahei, Luoshui Dong, Gaoshan, Manxiu, Yibi, Daqi Shu, Sanhe She, King of Tea Trees, Tianba, and Guafeng. Mania and Yiwu teas possess slightly varying fragrances, but they both possess Yiwu's characteristic aroma of sweet fragrance with butyric acid. Mania tea, however, adds a very subtle glutinous rice-like fragrance. Tea prices for these Yiwu villages are related. Reference prices are generally based on those of Mahei and Luoshui Dong. Large tree tea prices are highest in Guafeng and Dingjia, but differences in prices are less than 15%. Although Banzhang tea prices are the highest in the market, Banzhang is only a single village. On the other hand, Yiwu contains nearly 12 villages. In terms of overall market production, it likely takes the lead.
In recent years extremely high prices have led to overproduction. This has led to a corresponding drop in quality. Much of the large tree tea has weakened in flavor, but small numbers of mixed forests still maintain a relatively high quality.
Areas with severe levels of stunting among cultivation-type large tea trees include: Mahei, Luoshui Dong, Yibi, Daqi Shu, and Sanhe She. In recent years Dingjia Village has also seen a trend toward stunted growth. Areas near Mahei and Luoshui Dong also contain significant amounts of taidi tea. Newly developed areas growing taidi tea surround many of the villages. Especially with respect to the two scenic villages of Mahei and Luoshui Dong, purity of raw materials is often buyers' greatest concern. Guafeng Village is basically a Yao minority village. It originally had nothing to do with growing tea and only began producing tea around 2003. Guafeng Village now serves as a tea collection and distribution point and does not grow tea. Today Guafeng Village has been rising in prominence in the Yiwu area. As new resources are continuously developed, the lay of the Yiwu territory is being redistributed. The tea producing villages of Mania are led by Dingjia Village. Additionally, the villages of Yangjia and Zhangjia Wan have very similar flavors. Throughout history, these three villages have enjoyed strategic significance.
Yiwu price fluctuations are still relatively moderate. This year's Yiwu spring tea is approximately 80% more expensive than last year's autumn tea. This level of price increase is testament to the fact that Yiwu tea still holds a place in the hearts of tea drinkers, Large tree tea still leads price trends among Yiwu teas.
Yiwu taidi tea is primarily centered in tableland surrounding the village of Tianba. The area known as "Old Taidi" around the town of Wuyi contains the oldest tea trees and commands the highest prices. Not counting new taidi growing areas planted in recent years, Yiwu still contains ten production teams. Among them, the Yiwu Old Taidi area lies at the highest elevation. The rest gradually drop in elevation in order of production group, from the tenth to the first. The ten production groups arc basically delineated in elevation by the height of terraced fields Taidi tea prices are primarily based on prices for Tianba. These resources usually make up the main sources of raw materials for large tea factories. The kougan of Mania taidi tea is slightly stronger than other Yiwu taidi teas. Prices for Old Taidi tea are essentially the same as those of Tianba. Yiwu taidi teas are threatened by low priced Jiangcheng taidi tea, which to a certain extent dictates pricing for Yiwu taidi tea. Since 2007, however,
Yiwu taidi tea prices have been the highest in the market. It is clear the charm of Yiwu has not diminished. Future market trends for famous mountain teas are gradually becoming clearer. This year s market conditions have seen depressed prices for large factory teas. Famous mountain teas have seemingly become a refuge for much investment. This has brought a frenzy of activity to Yiwu, and I believe Yiwu taidi tea will see even higher levels of price fluctuation.
The future tea market will inevitably become more and more polarized between large factory teas and famous mountain teas. After this year's drop in Menghai tea prices, large factory teas have become more attractive. Famous mountain teas, on the other hand, have just begun to rise in prominence, as shown by Yiwu's rise in price this year. This year, prices for old Yiwu teas have reached new heights. The most startling among them is Fu Yuan Chang, which has been traded for 300,000 Yuan (over $40,000US) per cake. This has all added positive momentum to the market position ot Yiwu tea.
Compared with Menghai large tree tea, Yiwu tea is considered "wencha," while Menghai large tree tea is considered "wencha." Although the kougan of Yiwu large tree tea is not us intense as that Menghai, but in terms of huitian (recurring sweetness) and houyun (sensation in the throat), Yiwu large tree tea possesses profoundness unmatched by Menghai tea. Historically, Yiwu tea has largely been produced by hand in small workshops with a large selection of different kinds of products. On the other hand, Menghai tea has mostly come from large factories. In terms of appearance, there arc differences between products from the two areas.
Large-tree Yiwu tea faces long-term dangers resulting from environmental damage and the stunting of tea trees. These factors will influence the long-term development of Yiwu tea. Awareness of these issues still needs to be improved throughout the production area. Today the climate of the Yiwu area is gradually changing. I believe this is related to the excessive slash-and-burn farming of recent years. Climate change impacts the growing periods of tea trees. For instance, the warmth last year during late fall upset the growing cycle of the tea trees. Large amounts of rainfall early this spring were also likely a symptom of climate change. Quality and quantity of Yiwu tea may be affected by these changes. Agricultural shortages or other abnormalities caused by climate change will lead to disorder in the pricing scheme for Yiwu tea. From a collector's perspective, this situation is a mixed bag. On the negative side, this may cause large scale changes in quality. On the plus side, however, there is potential for intense price fluctuation.
Recent worldwide agricultural price increases are inextricably linked to abnormal global climate conditions. This combined with changes in consumer market attitudes has provided the preconditions for large tree tea price increases. In the long term the inner river and outer river six famous tea mountains will continue to lead the Yunnan tea market for large tree tea. The Yiwu tea growing region will continue to play an indispensable role, inheriting hundreds of years of history. In the hearts and minds of tea drinkers its position as a tea mountain will be even more prominent and important.