Article and Photos: Ruan Dianrong
There are countless accounts of Puerh tea in places like Xishuangbanna and Simao, so much so that another major producer of tea in the Mekong River area has long been overlooked. When people talk about Puerh tea, places that usually come up include Menghai, Yiwu and Puerh; few know that Fengqing, Yunxian and Mengku also produce Puerh tea. In fact, not only is Lincang one of the original birthplaces of tea, it is also an important centre of tea manufacturing and processing. A statistical report made before the Puerh tea craze in Yunnan perhaps would help correct peopled impression on Lincang: in 1999, the Tea Leaves Association of Yunnan Province ranked among the top 20 tea-producing counties, and seven out of the eight county-districts except for Zhengkang County) under Lincang City were all ranked amongst the top 20.
Lincang occupies a very important place in the world Chinese tea, especially Puerh, a fact justly recognised by many tea experts. Former Director of the Yunnan Tea Research Institute, also a famous tea professional, tang Shungao spoke of Lincang tea as "aromatic with great taste!" Lincang tea is also highly regarded by Former Xiaguan Tea Factory Chief Feng Yanpei, who lid that every county in Lincang produces great tea, specially Fengqing and Mengku. Every year, the Xiaguan Tea Factory collects tea leaves as raw materials from the whole of Yunnan Province, and Lincang Tea constitutes a high percentage of those raw materials. To make higher grades of tea-bricks and cakes, Lincang tea leaves have to be used. In fact, the tradition of using Lincang tea for compressed tea started way back in the 1930s, by Yan Zizhen from Xizhou. Compared with the raw materials from other tea districts, Lincang Tea is more aromatic, and therefore a better raw material for compressed tea. When I was the Factory Chief in Menghai Tea Factory, we acquired great quantities of Lincang tea each year.
After his surveying trip to Yunnan, American tea specialist Ronald pnipps made the following observation about Lincang Tea: "With this ideal natural environment, Yunnan is no doubt the homeland of tea, and Yunnan tea is currently the finest tea in the world."
I think Lincang tea is definitely worthy of this praise.
In recent years, as Puerh tea has again become popular around the world, Lincang's place in the history of the development of Puerh tea in Yunnan should definitely be reiterated. It is well known that Yunnan is the homeland of the world's large-leaf tea varieties, and Lincang is one of the most important origins of the tea in Yunnan. In the history of the development of Puerh tea, places like Yiwu and Menghai enriched and perfected the technicalities in tea^making processes, whereas Lincang provided top-grade tea leaves to complement the production processes. The Puerh empire as it is, now would not be possible if places like Lincang, Simao and Xishuang baana had not been working together throughout the long history of the Puerh tea.
Where Puerh Tea Originated
According to historical records, Lincang City has been growing and drinking tea for more than a thousand years. "Manshu" from the Tang Dynasty contained one of the earliest mentions of Puerh tea and has been widely quoted in numerous works on Puerh: "Tea was grown in the surrounding mountains of Yinsheng City and was gathered sporadically and not harvested or processed. The Man people brewed and drank tea with pepper, ginger and cinnamon." When the "Manshu" was published, the area under "Yinsheng" was much larger, not only did it include the Simao and Xishuangbanna regions, it also covered many regions under Lincang today. It is worth mentioning that Manwan, Manghuai, Chafang which come under Lincang City's Yunxian, and Bangdong, Matai which come under Lincang's Linxiang district, all preserve the practice of drinking ginger tea and rice paste tea, and tea with sugar or salt. This is in line with the description in "Manshu", where "The Man people brewed and drank tea with pepper, ganger and cinnamon."
The place where tea was grown in the areas around Yinsheng City, as described in the "Manshu", could have already been cultivated by men. Although large tracts of wild tea forests can still be discovered in the seven counties and sole district under Lincang, it is undeniable that Lincang was the first location in Yunnan, and in China where tea was cultivated by men. Long ago, as tea became a part of everyday life, demand for tea increased as well. Domestic cultivation of tea became a natural development due to the increased demand for tea as a drink.
In Fengqing County of Lincang City grows giant tea tree called the Xiangzhujing Ancient |ea Tree. This tree has been estimated by experts form the China Agricultural Museum to be 3750 years old (some experts estimate it to be 3200 years old). This is the oldest cultivated tea tree with the thickest trunk as yet discovered by mankind. Hence, some experts call Lincang "The green archives where Mother Nature stores her tea tree specimens and one of the most historically significant places of cultivated tea."
As early as 1485, the people living in Lincang had started selection and cultivation of tea. Together with the later demise of natural hybridization and survival of the fittest, Lincang produced many outstanding strains of tea trees. In 1980, the Tea Research Centre of the China Agricultural Science Institute, together with the Yunnan Tea Research Institute, Department of Agriculture, Department of Economic Cooperation and 250 tea technicians from local government, undertook a survey of Yunnan province's 16 cities, 61 counties, 181 districts and 486 localities that lasted 386 days, as well as a comprehensive study of Lincang City's six counties, namely Fengqing, Yunxian, Lincang, Shuangjiang, Yongde, Zhenkang, 18 districts and 32 localities. They collected 77 reports containing information on tea trees, of which 50 reports were on cultivated tea trees, 23 on wild tea trees and 4 on related plants.
Through the efforts of the renowned tea taxonomist, Professor Zhang Hongda from the Zhongshan University, Lincang City was found to have four major types, seven tea breeds and one hybrid. Of these, the better local breeds include: Mengku Tea, Yongdc Yan'an Tea, Mangfei Tea, Zhenkang Ma'an Shan Tea, Luziyuan Tea, Lincang Dongbang Daye Tea, Fengqing Daye Tea and Mengku Daye Tea, with the latter two breeds being particularly outstanding. "China Tea" used the following headlines "Glory of die Mengku Daye Tea Breed" and 'Mengku Daye Tea Breed is the Authentic Daye Tea Breed in Yunnan" for their first issue in 1982 and second issue in 1985, showing their praise for the breed. Currently, there are four major tea types.37 tea breeds and 3 hybrids in the world, of which the majority of the four major tea types, 24 tea breeds and one hybrid in Yunnan Province are located at the coastal regions of the Mekong River in Zhenxi, and the 26 better tea breeds and 110 excellent tea breeds are mainly distributed around Fengqing, Yunxian, Linjiang, Shuangjiang, Yongde, Gengma and Cangyuan counties.
Experts in the field believe that the mild weather in the mid-mountain areas, where there are short periods of sunshine and frequent fogs, high humidity, high levels of organic matter in the soil, sunlight, temperature and moisture make it suitable for the cultivation and growth of tea trees. The tea leaves are tender, with plentiful down and abundant accumulated nutrients. During early spring, the temperature rises quickly, hence, spring tea can be sold a full month earlier than tea from Zhejiang. Furthermore, the harvesting period is long. It is no wonder that climatologist Lu Jiong called it an "excellent area for living things". Mr. Wu Juenong, heralded as China's contemporary "Tea Saint", mooted the idea of building a world- class tea plantation in Lincang after surveying the land.
A comparison between the Puerh tea from Fengqing and Menghai was made in "Comparison of the Contents in the Puerh Tea Produced by Different Plances" in the book "2000 International Academic Conference Essays on Chinese Puerh Tea" edited by Su Fanghua (Yunnan Renmin Publisher, June 2006 1st Edition, page 275):
The above table clearly shows that besides water content and thearubigin, the percentages of the various contents in the Puerh tea produced in Fengqing are higher than those produced in Menghai. When compared with Yiwu large-leaf tea, Mengku large-leaf tea has a polyphenol content of 35.5%; much higher than the 30.98% present in Yiwu tea. Polyphenols arc the main chemical components of tea leaves, and are the main factors affecting the concentration, colour and taste of the tea. This is also why some Puerh factories in Simao and Xishuangbanna like to add a percentage of Lincang tea to their products. In Shuangjiang County alone, as much as 1400 tons of dried raw tea was acquired by Puerh factories from other places in 2005. This shows how influential Lincang tea is when it comes to the production of Puerh tea in Yunnan.
As one of the key homes of tea trees, the wonderful natural environment in Lincang provided the basis for producing high quality tea leaves. All of the eight county districts in the city have large areas of wild tea tree forests, and the long-term natural propagation and selective breeding has enabled the production of excellent tea leaves. It is recorded in a book named "Shuning Notes" that "Monk Wangjin, also named Reverend Hongjian, from Chu came here to set up a temple named 'Taihua Temple'. It is the most representative of all the Zen temples in Shunning. There are tea trees in the valleys nearby, which produce tea with light tastes and fragrance that appear finer than Puerh. Many people from nearby prefectures tried to acquire this tea, but only some could successfully buy it in small quantities." During the 2nd year in the Chenghua Era of the Ming Dynasty (A.D.1485), the Chieftain of Shuangjiang Mengku sent people to import over 200 seeds and successfully propagated more than 150 trees in Bingdao. In 1980, a survey showed that more than 30 of this first batch of imported breeds survived.
According to the records, in Year 25 of the Wanli Era during Ming Dynasty, seeds were imported from Puerh City, which became what was commonly known as the "Xiao (Little) Puerh Tea" and eventually "Xiao (Little) Cong Tea". Tea professionals speculated that according to the Theory of Evolution, it is highly likely that Fengqing imported tea seeds from Puerh City, but only those of big-leaf breeds and not the small-leaf ones. "Xiao Cong Tea" should be seen as a local breed that evolved over a long time, and not amongst the products commonly traded in Puerh City by the six major tea mountains - Youle, Gedeng, Yibang, Mangzhi, Manzhuan and Mansa. During the times when "Xiao Puerh Tea" and the cultivated semi-wild teas breeds were imported at the same time as local tea were and cultivated, Mengku large-leaf tea was widely imported through trade. According to the records from the places of origin, Mengku large-leaf tea was first commonly cultivated in Year 26 of the Qianlong Era during the Qing Dynasty (A.D. 1761). According to a Shuangjiang tea merchant Mr. Chen Guangdou in his essay Brief History of Mengku Tea", in Year 26 of the Qianlong Era, Hanmufazhuang, the 11th Chieftain of the Dai tribe in Shuangjiang married his daughter to the Chieftain of Shunning and sent a few hundred catties of tea seeds as a gift. This batch of tea was cultivated in Shunning and was named the "Yuantou Breed". The second batch that was cultivated from the Yuantou Breed was named the "Kezi Breed", and the third generation that was henceforth cultivated from the Kezi Breed was named the "Kesun Breed". There are still two remaining Yuantou Breed tea plants in Pinghe, Fengqing today. The propagation and cultivation of the Yuantou Breed in Fengqing formed the Fengqing large-leaf tea breed today, which would therefore boast a history of more than 240 years.
In Year 22 of the Guanxu Era during the Qing Dynasty (A.D. 1896), a gentleman named Shi Jun from Chafang Township in Yunxian procured tea seeds from Mengku and started cultivating them in Chafang; in Year 34 of the Guanxu Era during the Qing Dynasty (A.D. 1908), Governor Qi Lin of Shunning imported and cultivated tea from Mengku; in Year 2 of the Xuantong Era during the Qing Dynasty(A.D. 1910), Tan Shangxiang from the Yongkang Prefecture (now Yongde and Zhcnkang) imported tea seedlings from Puerh and Mengku and distributed them among farmers to cultivate. Tea cultivation henceforth started to bloom among the hills of Lincang. This process of distributing and cultivating tea plants is a record of the history of large-leaf tea cultivation in Lincang, at the same time a selection process of the best breeds through long-term breeding in an ideal environment. Therefore, the lands of Lincang provided millions of tea lovers with two tea breeds of the finest quality: the Shuangjiang Class Quality Breed and the Fengqing Class Breed.
Shuangjiang Class Quality Breed: Pure, of homogenous quality, tall trunks with wide crowns, thick shoots with more down, tastes fresh with a sweet aftertaste by gaiwan. Contains 3.03% amino acids, 135.92mg catechins, 28.41% polyphenols, caffeine 4.61%, Quality breeds of Dachangye and Daheicha in Mengku are able to withstand low temperatures and are praised as the "hero" and the "orthodox of the Yunnan large-leaf tea.
Fengqing Class Breed: Total of nine types, the high-yield and good quality breeds include Dachang Ye, Datuan Ye, Tongzhuang Ye etc. After the Tea Research Centre of Yunnan Province Agricultural Science Institute tested fresh tea leaves for water extracts, polyphenols, catechins, caffeine content, it was found to contain much higher levels compared to other small—leaf and large—leaf breeds of tea in other provinces nationwide.
In 1984, the National lea Breed Committee certified and promoted 52 "Excellent Nationwide Breeds of Tea" throughout China. The top breeds were the Yunnan large leaf tea breeds, of which the Mengku Daye Tea was the top among them, while the Fengqing Daye breed was third, At that time, the committee's comments were: The tea breeds representative of the Yunnan Daye breed were distributed mainly among Yunnan Province's Shuangjiang, Fengqing, Changning, Yunxian and Baoshan counties, After 1965, places like Guangdong, Guangxi, Fujian, Sichuan and Guizhou introduced and promoted the breeds. Through the hybridization efforts of the Fujian Tea Research Institute with local quality breeds, a new "Yunfu" series of tea breeds was created, of which the Yunfu No.6, No.7 and No.10 breeds were classified as quality amalgamated breeds of tea, with 30-50% higher yield than local breeds.
Currently, Lincang is Yunnan's number one tea producing city. The total area devoted to tea cultivation exceeds 566.95 square kilometers. In 2005, tea output reached 28.4 thousand tons, amounting to 730 million dollars in revenue, Lincang also produces the most varieties of tea throughout the province and is the city with the highest number of tea processing companies. One thing for sure, as the Puerh tea craze looks set to become more intense, Lincang's Puerh Tea production will unveil its mysterious true nature and take its rightful place.
Yongde: Where all Tea Originated From
In the history of the development of Puerh tea, or even in the history of tea, if we track the source, we arrive at a place called Yongde. According to historians, Yongde was one of the oldest counties in southwest China. It belonged to the Ailao nation during the Qin and Han dynasties and was called Shidan. In the 12th year of the Yongping Era during East Han dynasty, it was assimilated into the Chinese empire, under the Yongchang County. Before 2006, even though Yongde had always been Yunnan's major tea producing county, its status in the tea world never quite matched its county name, which had long lasting and widespread influence. Yongde is an agricultural county under Lincang City, famous for its mangoes and lychees. As China's premier mango producing area,Yongde provides the most excellent mango breeds. Before the Puerh tea craze, the sweetness of mangoes overshadowed the fragrance of the tea in Yongde. Of course, in the Puerh tea world, even Lincang City was a virtually unknown place, not to mention Yongde. However, this changed drastically on 21st April 2006, when the Xinhua News Agency published the following news that propelled the backwater township of Yongde in the Hengduan Mountains of Yunnan into the greatest discovery of tea history in the 21st century.
The news read: "Zhonghua Mulan, the Ancestor of All Tea Trees, discovered in Yunnan's Yongde County."
From then on, in the "Yunnan Daily", we saw the following lines: "The ancestor of all tea trees from 20-30 million years ago."
The Zhonghua Mulan (Chinese magnolia) hails from the tertiary period, distributed in an area of specific climate, this wide leaved tree has evolved for 20-30 million years already. The tree has broad leaves and is a hermaphrodite angiospasm (flowering plant), originating from the end of the Mesozoic Era, in the Cretaceous period, the tree grew in warm, moist soil, in the subtropical region of South Asia. In 1978, the Chinese Academy of Sciences (Beijing) Flora Research Institute and Nanjing Geology Research Institute of Ancient Life discovered the wide-leaf magnolia (new variety) as being the principal variety among plants in Yunnan. They declared that the magnolia was representative of a primeval angiospasm, and the earliest ancestor of camellia and tea plants.
Consequently, experts have pointed out that the discovery of this new variety of broad-leaf magnolia in the southwest of Yunnan, the Zhonghua Muian fossil, represents the oldest group of wild tea trees and also the largest scale group of such trees, a fossil showing us the earliest ancestors of tea trees. Southwest Yunnan is the only place on the planet that can be called the birthplace of tea, with the primeval characteristics of the trees, as well as providing evidence of the evolution of tea from the magnolia. This magnolia group from the tertiary period can be divided into three geographical areas called the "Three Essential" areas.
Consulting a map, we can discover that Yongde county is located to the northwest of Lincang, within an area spanning 99.05-99.51 degrees longitude, 23.45-24.27 latitude. The northeast of the county borders Yunxian, Fengqing and Baoshan city's Changning county, the southeast faces Gengma county's Gehe town, to the west lies Tongzhen and Kangxian, to the northwest lie Baoshan city's counties of Shidian and Longling. Historically, the districts adjoining Yongde were all key locations in the development of tea. Experts have ascertained that the main part of Yongde county is located at an elevation of 800-2100 metres above sea level, in mountain semi-mountainous areas, the soils possess a ph of around 5.5, with deep soil layers, with 3.8-6.5% organic matter, long sunlight hours, high humidity, outstanding ecological conditions, an area providing all of the ideal conditions required for the flourishing tea growth. Today, upon Yongde's 3208 square kilometres, we can still find the earliest ancestors the teas that we drink today, the Zhonghua Mulan; I although there are only three of these trees, they are enough to say that Yongde is the most suitable terroir for the growing of tea.
In fact, as long ago as 1960, clues suggesting that Yongde was the original habitat of tea began to emerge. In that year, Yongde started to acquire tea leaves from what the natives referred to as "big tree tea," these teas were then mixed with other teas, undergoing fermentation and finally tightly pressed I into cakes (jinya) and sold in four quality grades. The first written records of Puerh production in the Yongde area also hail from this time. Evidently Yongde's "big tree tea" jinya Puerh tasted fine, in 1962, Xiaguan tea factory started using big tree tea as a raw material in their teas, and the Yunnan Province Tea Company sent staff members to Mengban, Minglang and Houshan to inspect the teas in these areas, discovering a large quantity of wild tea trees. This information, however was not sufficient to cause wide scale interest. Yunnan was consequently named the kingdom of greenery, and forests of wild tea trees were discovered in abundance, in what came to be an increasingly ordinary occurence. After lying hidden from humanity for another few decades, Yongde's wild tea trees were "re-discovered" in 1982. At this time, China was recovering from the mistakes of its past, dealing with neglected matters, and many areas of important work appeared to be getting back on the right track. When an inspection group organised by the province tea company went to Yongde's Mcngban, Minglang and other areas to investigate, their main task was to identify the different tea varieties in Yongde county. The specialists received a big surprise, discovering that the wild tea trees in Yongde county were great in number, 11 villages and towns had wild growing tea trees, notably Mingliang, was truly a large settlement of wild tea.
The nature preserve of Daxueshan in Yongde is a noteworthy area, the preserve is located south of a mountain range running east to west, the dividing line between the Lincang and Salween river, at an altitude of between 1900 and 2600 metres above sea level, covering a total area of 17,541 hectares. As many as 450,000 primeval tea trees in the area have trunks measuring over 40 cm in diameter, trees with trunks measuring 80-200 cm in diameter are nearly 100,000 in number. Elsewhere in Yongde, in a virgin forest area called Tangli mountain, people have discovered around 150,000 acres of primeval wild tea trees, over 5,000 of these trees possessing trunks measuring over 40 cm in diameter. According to as yet incomplete statistics, the total area of wild tea forest in Yongde is around 110,000 acres, the largest area of wild trees in the whole of Yunnan province.
The local inhabitants living alongside these wild tea forests had not realised that their neighbours were living fossils of primeval tea trees, just calling these trees "big tea trees." In 100,000 years of development, these forests of tea had already grown thick with vegetation and tall in stature, silently growing, baptised by the years, and tenaciously existing, their presence bringing to light the ancient secrets of the evolution of tea. Afterwards, these big tea trees growing in Yongde were authenticated by the Chinese Tea Research Institute and the Yunnan Province Tea Research Institute and were classified according to Sun Yat-sen University professor Zhang Hongda's tea classification as belonging to the Dali tea variety (Wild type), from their appearance it appeared that there were two types, referred to as red bud tea (hongya cha) and white bud tea (baiya cha) by locals.
Like other tea producing districts in Yunnan, Yongde is regarded as an important native locality of tea, it is also a place where tea was planted at an early stage. According to historical records, tea was first cultivated on scale in this area in 1910 (second year of the Xuantong emperor) as the Qing Dynasty hobbled on its last legs, besieged on all sides. Yongde, in the southwest of China was under control of the Yongkang magistrate; under the proposal of Yongde county magistrate Tan Shanyang, large scale cultivation of tea commenced.
The tea seeds were introduced from the renowned and influential Puerh district, and Tan Shanyang distributed these seeds among peasant households in Yongde's Dedang Yananshan, Mingfeng shan, and Dachushui districts, each household cultivating around twenty trees, teas trees that are now over 100 years in age. According to historical clues, as well as these cultivated forests, there arc remnants pointing to over five hundred years of tea cultivation in Yongkang magistrate; under the proposal of Yongde county magistrate Tan Shanyang, large scale cultivation of tea commenced.
The tea seeds were introduced from the renowned and influential Puerh district, and Tan Shanyang distributed these seeds among peasant households in Yongde's Dedang Yananshan, Miiigfeng shan, and Dachushui districts, each household cultivating around twenty trees, teas trees that are now over 100 years in age. Yongde. Evidently large tracts of land were planted with tea trees in the period between 1915 and 1920, the peak of fine tea tree varieties being introduced in Yongde, notably in 1920, Yongkang district official Duan Zonglan advocated the cultivation of tea, actively spreading seeds among tea growers and instructing them in the cultivation of tea, causing the man made tea gardens of Yongde to rapidly develop. In the years between 1925 and 1935, our forefathers worked wholeheartedly to develop Yongde into an industrially developed tea producing district, and this was a period of great prosperity. According to Lincang city's tax revenue statistics from 1935, the total provincial tea product was 27,500 tonnes, and Yongde produced 9.2% of this tea, the third highest production rate in the province. From 1982 to 1985, the Yunnan tea natural resources group made an inspection of Yongde, identifying three national and provincial level varieties of outstanding tea: Mengku large-leaf variety, Mangfei large-leaf group variety and Mingfeng shan large-leaf group variety, the finest quality large-leaf teas in Yunnan.
At present, Yongde county has been classified as one of China's eight tea development base counties, Yongde is also an impoverished mountain district, a borderland inhabited by ethnic minorities, the majority of tea gardens in this area are wild tea plantations and cultivated ancient tea trees, there is no major industry, and hence no pollution in the county. Historically, there has been no routine use of pesticides or chemical fertilisers, therefore the Yongde tea trees have grown naturally in their original habitat, free from pollution, creating the ideal raw material for the production of Puerh tea, Yongde county has the largest area of wild tea forests in Yunnan province; these forests not only represent the original birthplace of tea in Yunnan, but also the birthplace of the domestication and large—scale planting of tea: this is both a testimony of tea history and a living fossil, an abundant source of the gene base of Yunnan's wild tea. Therefore, if we look at such a vast wild tea garden, we have reason to call the area conserving the Zhonghua Mulan, Yongde a "Land of endless tea ancestry."
Mengku: gene store of the Puerh species
If we talk of Puerh tea, people predominantly chink of tea made from sun-roasted Yunnan large-leaf variety crude tea (maocha) that has undergone the post fermentation process. This large leaf variety encompasses Lincang, Simao, Xishuangbanna and a dozen or so varieties from other terroirs, the most famous of these being Mengku variety, considered the finest offspring among large-leaf teas, hence a leaf representative of all Yunnan large-leaf teas. The large-leaf tea grown in Mengku is produced in Lincang City's Shuangjiang county, named after the area where it is grown, Mengku; thanks to its fine tea, this place has since enjoyed global renown. Historical records tell us that Mengku tea was first commercially cultivated around 200 years ago, when seedlings from the six famous tea mountain of Xishuangbanna were first propagated in the area. Because the varieties introduced were carefully selected, and the areas in which they were grown were relatively densely planted, the purity of this variety lies at around 80%. These tea trees are not hermaphrodite, so they have maintained a high degree of purity, rarely seen among other test varieties in China.
It is oft said that if a person is uprooted, they learn to live on, if a tree is uprooted, it dies. But, of the six great tea mountains producing large-leaf tea varieties, Mengku provides us with an antithesis of this statement. Who would have thought that seedlings transplanted all those years ago would unexpectedly grow into an extremely fine large-leaf tea variety? Clearly though, this wonder was not simply chance: when the fine large-leaf varieties from the six great tea mountains were introduced to Mengku, climatic and geographical factors as well as soil factors all gradually, subtly contributed to the emergence of the finest 'lot' of liarge-leaf teas among this variety. Thanks to the one-off introduction of these seedlings, history and geography have combined to make Mengku town in Shuangjiancounty Puerh tea's most important gene store. In 1984, after the national tea variety committee's inquiry into teas all over China, they published a report on the 52 popular fine tea varieties, of these, Yuiman large-leaf variety tea gained the limelight, with Mengku's large leaf tea the most outstanding of these teas. In fact, before the Communist takeover of China in 1949, Mengku large leaf variety teas had already been distributed throughout the Chinese Mainland. Examining records of trials conducted by the Yunnan branch of the China Tea Trade Company Shunning Tea Factory, from 1940-41; I discovered this letter dated 27th January 1940, from the Fujian office of the China Tea Company:
Yunnan Shunning Tea Factory:
In order to improve the quality of Fujianese teas, and the later production process, we have established a specimen room in order to study and emulate. This special correspondence requests that your honourable factory does its utmost to collect every kind of tea you produce, separated into half kilo packages, indicating production area, name, variety, price, including pre and post Japanese invasion production output figures. Please send these with haste to ensure their display. Concerning the promotion of these teas, please be sure to assist us to your utmost ability,
Document received: Chinese Tea Company, Fujian office. Received March 4th 1940.
In another archive, I discovered a letter from Zhejiang University requesting samples of tea seeds from various tea growing districts:
For the esteemed attention of the factary manger:
We are greatly honoured to make your acquaintance.
As a gentleman involved in improving the general situation of Tea in Yunnan province, sir, I salute you. I am currently researching the different varieties and characters of teas from all over the country, collecting seeds and samples of finished tea products of the representative teas, currently Yunnan's large-leaf variety is of the finest quality: with a dash of milk, the colour and lustre is second to none, surpassing Indian and Ceylonese equivalents.
Manager of the Shunning tea factory Ping Shaoqiu received the above letter, On June 10th 1940, replying on the 15th of the same month:
Dear Mr Feng Ji,
Thank you kindly for you letter. In accordance with your request, I have included samples produced in our humble factory of this year's Spring yunhong rad tea and this year's summer batch of yunhong in separate canisters. I also include a bag of Yunnan large —Leaf variety tea seeds. These seeds are to be sown between February and March. Notably, they were purchased last winter in Mengku, and are of a regional variety historically renowned for producing vigorous buds. Please be so kind as to reply to my humble factory regarding the outcome of your research, and carefully esteem each of our products.
Patiently awaiting your reply.
From the correspondences above, it is clear that in the 1940s, Mengku large-leaf tea already enjoyed considerable renown, furthermore, Mengku large-leaf tea was generously distributed, making great contributions to improving teas all over China, From a contemporary perspective, the blossoming of Mengku into the gene store of Puerh tea is by no means a fortuitous occurrence. Mengku's location on the north edge of Shuangjiang county, close to the tropic of cancer with a highest altitude of 3233 metres, the climate is mild, with abundant rainfall, a place possessing all of the natural conditions that tea requires to flourish. Indeed, human discovery of large areas of wild tea tree forests among the virgin forests of Mengku illustrate that since long ago, the area has been a lush paradise for tea.
At the end of 2002, a group of specialists and scholars from the Tea Research Institute of the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences, Kunming Botanical Research Institute (Chinese Academy of Sciences), and Yunnan Province Agricultural Academy of Science Tea Research Institute conducted a joint investigation into the Shaungjiang's large-leaf variety teas. They discovered large areas of wild ancient tea tree communities in Mengku, in the northwest of Shuangjiang county in the upper reaches of Daxueshan, spread over an area of 1200 acres. Because these groups of ancient tea trees were spread over a remote tract of forest, as yet, they have not felt the destructive force of humanity. Experts agreed that this group of tea trees represented the largest, most densely populated group of Dali variety tea trees ever to be discovered.
According to Yu Lian, specialist from the Tea Research Institute of the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences, there is a rich history of tea production in the Shuangjiang area. Since the middle of the Ming dynasty, Mengku tea has enjoyed great renown for long, fleshy leaves, downy buds, strong flavour, and clear huigan. In his book Investigation of Wild Large-Leaf Tea Trees in Mengku, Shuangjiang County, one passage reads as follows:
"Since the 1980s, wild tea trees and groups of wild tea trees have been successively discovered throughout Yunnan province, notably in the borderlands of Shuangjiang county in Lincang, Gengma, Yongde, Fengqing, Lancang and Zhenyuan. The aforementioned areas all possess similar ecological conditions to the centre of the county, but until recently, there had been no reports of wild large tea "Since the 1980s, wild tea trees and groups of wild tea trees have been successively discovered throughout Yunnan province, notably in the borderlands of Shuangjiang county in Lincang, Gengma, Yongde, Fengqing, Lancang and Zhenyuan. The aforementioned areas all possess similar ecological conditions to the centre of the county, but until recently, there had been no reports of wild large tea trees discovered here. This led peoples to be perplexed. It was almost as if this area was devoid of wild large tea trees, or just that they were yet to be discovered? This question was not to be answered until 1997."
In 1997, five villagers from the Mengku town village office made a profound discovery deep in the virgin foists of Daxueshan at an altitude of 2500 to 2700 metres stumbling upon a huge wild tea tree with a trunk diameter of around two metres, and a height of around twenty metres. This discovery led to the county government taking great pains to bring in the best scholars to the area, organising several investigations into die tree, verifying the authenticity and distribution of tea trees in the area. In order to clarity the extent of evolution in the Mengku variety wild large tea trees, and their taxonomy, as well as the worth of the tree, and its place in relation to Mengku large-leaf variety tea, from the 5th-8th December 2002, the county government organised group of specialists from Yunnan and elsewhere, to participate in an investigation of the mountain's tea trees.
According to the records of Min Tianlu, flora taxonomy and geography scholar from the Kunming Botanical Research Institute (Chinese Academy of Sciences), who was involved in the investigation, the Mengku wild large tea tree!s environmental conditions and surrounding vegetation can be classified as sub tropic south Asian seasonal mountain rainforest. Principal notes include: 1. Tabular developed root system (similar to camphor and cupue trees). 2. Crown of the tree covered in vines. 3. Abundant overgrowth (azalea and ferns). The composition of the forest: Principal tree groups include magnolia camphor and cupule constituting the first level of the forest, the second level is dominated by wild, large tea trees, and acanthopanax trees, madder trees, natural vegetation, growing exceedingly well, in areas of rich biodiversity, and natural rejuvenation, it is very rare to encounter a site of suck unspoilt forest in Yunnan.
At an altitude of 2600 metres above sea level, the investigation team discovered an extremely rare Dali tea and Mengzishan tea Camellia henryana Coh, Sect. Heterogenea Sealy wild large tea tree growing adjoined. The Dali tea tree was 26.3 metres high, with a width of 1.7 metres, the trunk diameter was 0.64 metres. The Menzishan tree measured 16.3 metres in height, with a canopy of 18.6 metres, and a trunk diameter of 0.6 metres. Together, the trunks of the two trees measured 1.05 metres.
The two different tea varieties grew in unity, but maintained their own heredity: apart from their trunks, the two trees shared few similarities, the leaves were clearly different, the branches if the Mengzishan tree were yellow and fuzzy, the shoots were a purple and red hue, with small leaves that were thin and leathery, deep green in colour and matt, the leaf veins were concave with the principal vain covered in down. Unfortunately the fruits of these trees will never come to bear, and the trees may fall into asexual hybridization, this is something that we cannot predict. Either way, this is a very precious discovery.
Experts reckon that the wild large trees discovered in Mengku remain at a relatively early stage of evolution, and are a unique variety, Dali tea, indicating that the adjoined Mengzishan tea tree does not belong to the tea family, proving that the area did not undergo species invasion, and that the tree groups remain in their most natural, original cut off state, with a very stable genetic line. So, Mengku wild large tea trees are the finest example of the Dali tea variety, of utmost value for researchers aiming to make an in-depth research of the characteristics of Dali tea, At the same time, this area constitutes an important part of Yunnan's network of wild tea trees.
Experts oft proffer their opinions that Mengku wild large tea trees are not the original stock of Mengku large—leaf variety tea, but it without a doubt that Mengku offers the finest environmental conditions for the growth of tea. A testament to this came in March 2003, when steam processed tea leaves picked from the Mengku no. 1 ancient tea tree were sent to the agricultural bureau's tea quality testing centre for analysis. The water saturation was 48.3%, compared to 49.8% for the trees from the Mengku community, Yunkang no. 10 measured 47%. Polyphenol content was 29.6% in comparison with 34.7% from the Mengku community trees, and 28.4% from the Yunkang no. 10 sample. Amino acids measured 4.4% compared to 2.4% from the Mengku community trees, and 3.6% from the Yunkang no.10 sample) clearly superior here. Caffeine measured 3.6% in comparison with 4.9% from the Mengku community trees and 4.7% from the Yunkang no. 10 sample, a notably lower percentage.
These percentages illustrate that Mengku wild large tea trees produce finer tea than cultivated varieties. We can infer that other wild teas are of similar outstanding quality: human domestication and cultivation cannot improve the quality of such a plant. Mengku's natural habitat has seen the area esteemed as one of the great six tea mountains producing large leaf tea, and a perfect breeding ground for the growth, evolution and improvement of tea.