Menghai is one of the oldest and most reputable tea brands in China. They produce more than 750 tons of tea per year and more than 120 products. They own 220,000 acres, the second largest in the province, and employ more than 800 people. Around 48 of their products have been awarded honors by the provincial or national government. Menghai's black and Puerh teas have been famous for decades, with distribution in more than ten countries. Among all the Puerh companies in Yunnan, none that are still operating today have as much connection with the history and tradition of vintage Puerh. So many of the old cakes that dominate the aged Puerh market were made back in the state-owned days of Menghai's past, so much so that any student wishing to understand the history of Puerh tea must stop for a time at Menghai.
In the subtropical forests of southern Yunnan's Hai county ancient tea trees have been growing for centuries. The climate and soil made it the perfect place to consider developing Puerh tea. As early as 1938, government officials were mapping the area and filing reports on its agricultural potential. In 1940, the Fo Hai Tea Factory was began and Fan He Jun was appointed as the first manager. Just one year later, in 1941, WWII came to Yunnan. The Japanese were invading from i he Burmese border and a decision was made to move the factory to Kunming. Most of the southern factory had been completed by that time, but the managers were instructed to leave behind nothing that the Japanese could use, so all of the tea machinery was disassembled. The new factory in Kunming would only stay open for about a year during the chaotic wartime. Fan He Jun s records from that time suggest that they weren't producing much tea at that time - instead helping various farmers throughout Yunnan to package and export green, black and Puerh tea. Most of the tea exported at chat time was going to Tibet, Burma and what is today Thailand. In 1942 the factory was forced to close completely as the war became more serious. The managers would try reopening it in 1944, but the venture would fail only after a few short months.
In 1949 the People s Republic of China was established and Fo Hai Tea Factory once again resumed producing tea. They returned to the original factory in the south of Yunnan and rebuilt where they had left off when the war started. At this time they created the now famous Red Mark (Hong Yin) Series. I he quality of this tea has helped establish the factory in later years. At that time, the factory was state-owned and the farming, blending and processing all achieved a consistency that didn't waiver very much throughout the decade that Red Mark teas were produced. Today, Red Mark teas are some of the most valuable vintages on the market, and every aficionado of aged Puerh tea has a soft spot for them. In 1953, Xishuangbanna was established as an autonomous state within the region of Yunnan and Fo Hai changed its name to Menghai.
All throughout the 1960's, Menghai began importing machinery from England, Japan and India to help increase production and expand into new product lines. Several new teas were developed after the Red Mark series. The Blue Mark Series (Lan Yin) was began in the 1950's and carried on into the 60's, followed by the Yellow Mark (Huang Yin), which would begin in the late 1960's and carry on into the 70's. All of these teas are considered treasures today, and most Puerh collectors dream of having one on their shelves. In the early 1970's, this experimentation led to the first factory production of ripe (shou 熟）Puerh. The new tea was very successful both within China and internationally.
In the later half of the 1970's, the CNNP, which was then regulating the production of all tea in Yunnan, urged all three major tea factories to increase the production of ripe Puerh tea. Menghai, Xiaguan and Kunming factories all started to create new recipes. Menghai began exporting more and more tea, and many of the famous raw and ripe recipes like 7542, 7532, 7582, etc. were developed.
In the early 1980's the government in Yunnan began to relax some of its stringent guidelines and Menghai received its first private consignment through the CNNP. The order was for An Li Tea Company in Hong Kong. Throughout the 1980's several other private orders would start coming in. The most famous of these was of course the 8582 raw cakes produced for Nan Tian Tea Trading Company in Hong Kong. A bit like the Red Mark cakes produced mostly in the 50'S, 8582 cakes have also become a must-own on the shelves of collectors. In 1988, the now famous Dayi brand made its first appearance on a brick tea. The next year, Menghai would officially register the brand and begin exporting it.
In the 1990's production would continue steadily for Menghai. Many Puerh collectors consider the early 1990's beengchas as the end of the state-owned, "Seven Sons Era". After that, many aspects of Puerh cultivation and production would begin to change for everyone in Yunnan - laws were changing and many new factories opening as the popularity of Puerh tea began to increase. In 1996, Menghai Tea Factory officially privatized and changed its name to Xishuangbanna Menghai Tea Industry Co., Ltd. The era of government control was quickly coming to an end. At the end of the millennium, laws were changed so that the tea factories in Yunnan .could conduct business without the regulation of the CNNP. New private tea traders started developing, as well as the modern system of using agents for the distribution of tea domestically and abroad.
In October of 2004, Menghai was sold to the Bowin Company, who are its current owners.
Today Menghai continues to export large quantities of black, green and Puerh tea. Its green teas are mostly sold in the Northeast of China, in Canton, Canxi, Hubei and Hunan provinces. The Pue-rh productions are distributed all over China and primarily exported to Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan. Presently, Menghai is still the prime force in the Puerh market. Even today, its product lines and price indexes influence the entire Puerh world. As the great vintages of the 50's, 60's and 70's become rarer and rarer, they continue to become more and more valuable. In the last few years, it has become increasingly difficult to find any of these rare vintages of tea, and one can imagine that the only record to continue past the next decade or two will be photographic. In so many ways, the history of Menghai Tea Factory has become a part of the history of Puerh tea itself. Walking through the antique buildings on a tour, one can't help but imagine the many great vintages produced in decades past, superimposing their famous wrappers and teas onto the ones being processed now.