This site has limited support for your browser. We recommend switching to Edge, Chrome, Safari, or Firefox.

Mid-Autumn Festival - Free Shipping to Worldwide.

Shopping Cart

Your cart is empty

Continue Shopping

The History Of Lincang Tea Trees Upon The Hills

Auticle/Photos: jiang Wen Zhong

Looking at Lincang from a historical point of view, the ancient Pu people domesticated wild tea trees into agricultural plants; from a geographical point of view, Lincang is the very centre of the first tea trees; from an agricultural point of view, it is home to the ancient Feng Qing tea tree that is more than 3200 years old. As for the authenticity of the breeds of tea trees, according to the tea specialists in Yunnan, after about 30 years of tracking and research, Mengku large-leaf tea is the most representative species. In 2004, a small pot used to roast tea that dates back a thousand years ago was unearthed, and together with the millennia-old cliff drawings at Lin Yuan, it tells us of the tea culture in Lincang, proving that Lincang tea has a long history. However, why is that the recent development of the Lincang tea has greatly fallen behind places like Dali, Xiaguan, Menghai and Yiwu? Let's find out by exploring this pristine land of Puerh tea.

The origin of tea trees: The Mekong River drainage area, with Lincang as its core

Lincang lies on the Tropic of southwest of the borders of Yunnan Province. To its north, across the Mekong River (also known as the Lancang River) is the Dali Autonomous Prefecture Bai people, and to its south is Baoshan City; on the east it neighbours the city of Simao, and it shares a border with Myanmar to the southwest. The name of the city has been changed several times throughout its long history, to the modern Lincang Special District in 1952 and finally to Lincang City in 2004, governing over the counties of Lin Xiang, Feng Qing, Yun Xian, Yong De, Qing Zhen, Cang Yuan and Shuang Jiang, The population of the city is about 23 million, with 25 ethnic groups inhabiting the area, of which 11 arc native ethnic groups.

The ever-lasting Mekong River enters Lincang City from the north, and hence is also known as the Lincang River. It passes through the counties of Feng Qing, Yun Xian, Lin Xiang, Shuang Jiang and Cang Yuan, spanning a total length of 232km within the city. The Nu River joins it from its left, passing through Yongde and Zhenkang, then into Myanmar, stretching over 400km within the city. Therefore, there are more than 800 rivers and streams belonging to the Mekong River and the Nu River systems within the city of Lincang. The drainage area of the "Three Parallel Rivers" - The Mekong River, the Nu River and the Yangtze River. According to local and foreign specialists, Yunnan is the birthplace of tea, of which the drainage area of the Mekong River is the centre. Hence, Lincang is the birthplace of tea.

The first tea growers: the ancient Pu and their 3200 year old tea tree

The drainage area of the three parallel rivers of Mekong, Nu and Yangtze are the most ancient lands exposed from underwater in China. Flora and fauna thrive in its warm climate and lush forest. According to historical records, there were already human settlements on the mountains on both sides of the Mekong River in the Paleolithic age. These people would later be known as the Pu people. The Pu eventually divided themselves into 2 tribes, the Puzi tribe and the Wang tribe. Today, the Puzi are the Blang and the Deang tribes, and the Wang are the Va tribe, The Puzi people used to be experts in the cultivation of tea arid kapok trees. The millennium-old tea trees in the mountains in Dehuang and Xi Shuang Ban Na areas were probably planted by the ancestors of the current Deang and Blang people.

The Lincang City area has more than 266.8 square kilometres of ancient tea tree and tea plantations. The Xiang Zhu Jing Ancient Tea Tree in Xiaowan in Fengqing County, an area formerly settled by the ancient Pu people, was certified by Professor Cai Xin of Yunnan Agricultural University to be 10.2m in height, 5.67m in diameter, more than The Pu in Lincang were the earliest tea farmers in Lin Gang, and they planted the Xiang Zhu Jing Ancient Tea Trees in Xiao wan in Fengqing County. They were the ancestors to the Blang, Deang and Vu tribes in Lincang City.

The Pu in Lincang were the earliest tea farmers in Lin Gang, and they planted the Xiang Zhu Jing Ancient Tea Trees in Xiao wan in Fengqing County. They were the ancestors to the Blang, Deang and Vu tribes in Lincang City.

It says in the ancient records that the Blang tribe of the Pu people who used to live on the west of the Yuan River and the Mekong River have now settled in districts including Menghai, Shuangjiang, Zhenkang, Linxiang, Gengma, Yuxian, Lancang, and Jingdong. These places were the principal production areas of the Yunnan large-leaf tea before the communist government took over China, Therefore, when people talk about the earliest tea farmers and producers, they will always trace it back to the Pu people of the Mekong River. The provinces that the ancient Pu once settled would all later become important tea producers and tea farming areas for the ancient tea trees and tea plantations.

The Pu migrated to the Yongchang Prefecture in Yongshou County (now an autonomous county) during the Jin Dynasty (A.D 265-420), hence large distributions of ancient tea trees are found in the county too. Many of the Pu migrated to the Fengqing County in Lincang City and constituted the majority of the population in the county during the Ming Dynasty. This in turn made Fengqing the top tea-producing county in the Ming Dynasty. By the end of the Qing Dynasty, the manufacturing of tea leaves in Fengqing underwent another wave of development, linked to the migration of the Pu, who specialise in tea farming, into that area.

More than half of the first generation ancient tea farms are in Lincang City

The agricultural production of tea in Yunnan developed in the most natural and economical manner. Therefore, the trees were not planted side by side like in farms or plantations; instead, there was considerable space between the tea trees. Holes were dug with set distances in between, and in each hole, a single tea tree was planted. This is the most ancient method of tea cultivation and tea garden structure, whereby the tea trees grew side by side with other plants in the forest until today. Scholars call this a first generation tea plantation; occupying less than 2% of the province area, a highly valuable area deserving conservation.

The first generation wild tea tree communities and ancient tea plantations mainly lie in the tea producing areas in Dianni and Diannan, with some others scattered throughout the lower reaches of the Mekong River, like Lincang, Puerh, Xiban Shuangna, Baoshan, Dehong, Honghe and Wenshan. Roughly estimated, this type of tea occupies about 18 thousand square hectometres, of which ten thousand square hectometres are in Lincang City. That is more than half of the total area of wild ancient tea tree communities.

The first generation ancient tea tree plantations in Lincang City are mainly distributed as follows: Ban Ma Xue Shan, Bang Mu Da Qing, Da Lang Ju Qing Ba, Qi Ma Lin and Nuo Wu Liang in the Shuang Jiang County; Shi Li, Guo Da Zhai, San Cha He, Yao Jie Township, Mang Hong, Si Pai Shan Township in the Feng Qing County; Da Xue Shan Township in Yong De County; Da Hei Shan in Cang Yuan County; Xing Fu, Yong Bao Township in Yun County. The wild tea tree community in Da Xue Shan is grown at the highest altitude and density of all the Dali tea tree communities discovered in China.

Ancient tea seeds propagated in Bingdao made a name for Mengku large leaf tea

According to records, the cultivation of tea trees in the city of Lincang dates more than a millennium.There are huge cultivated tea trees which are centuries old in Fengqing, Shuangjiang, Cangyuan, Yun County and Linxiang areas. There are also thousands of acres of ancient tea plantations in Fengshan, Mengyou, Dasi, Sancha He and Xueshan in Fengqing County, as well as in Mengku in the Shuanjiang County and Manwan in Yun County. The most representative of all is the ancient tea plantation in Bingdao Village, Mengku Town, with a history dating back 600 years. According to a field study conducted in 2002, there are more than a thousand tea trees with trunk base diameters of 0.30m to 0.60m. The seeds of these ancient tea trees were propagated in Mengku, forming the famous Mengku large leaf variety of tea trees.

Mengku large leaf variety tea trees are stout plants with succulent flushes, and have high polyphenol and catechin contents; therefore, when made into Puerh tea, the taste by gaiwan tea cup is mellow and thick. A century ago, if any people in Yunnan wanted to go in for the tea business, the first thing that came into their minds was to import tea seeds or plants from Mengku. According to the records, during the reign of Emperor Kangxi, Chieftain Mengmeng sent Mengku large-leaf tea variety seeds to Shun Ning as part of his daughter's dowry. Districts including Yunxian (during the reign of Emperor Guangxu), Mianning (during the reign of Emperor Xuantong), Teng Chong in 1912 and Zhen Kang in 1913 all sent people to buy tea seeds in Mengku. After 1960, Mengku large-leaf variety tea seeds were further imported into places including Fujian, Guangdong, Guangxi and Sichuan.

Cliff paintings of tea harvesting in Cangyuan date back three thousand years

How did people harvest tea in the past millennia? It was impossible for us to imagine something so long ago, until the cliff paintings in Cangyuan were discovered. The details of the lives of the Va people were sculpted and painted on the stone cliffs, taking us back in time to revisit how tea was an integral part of their existence.

The ancient people used natural colours to paint cliff walls and the inner walls of caves, This cultural heritage treasure in Can Yuan, according to researchers, is more than three thousand years old. Several of these cliff paintings are related to tea or tea cultivation: On the right side of the cliff painting in District 2 of Location 1 in Cangyuan, we can clearly see an adult leading chil (during the reign of Emperor Guangxu), Mianning (during the reign of Emperor Xuantong), Teng Chong in 1912 and Zhen Kang in 1913 all sent people to buy tea seeds in Mengku. After 1960, Mengku large-leaf variety tea seeds were further imported into places including Fujian, Guangdong, Guangxi and Sichuan.

Cliff paintings of tea harvesting in Cangyuan date back three thousand years

How did people harvest tea in the past millennia? It was impossible for us to imagine something so long ago, until the cliff paintings in Cangyuan were discovered. The details of the lives of the Va people were sculpted and painted on the stone cliffs, taking us back in time to revisit how tea was an integral part of their existence.

The ancient people used natural colours to paint cliff walls and the inner walls of caves. This cultural heritage treasure in Can Yuan, according to researchers, is more than three thousand years old. Several of these cliff paintings are related to tea or tea cultivation: On the right side of the cliff painting in District 2 of Location 1 in Cangyuan, we can clearly see an adult leading children in tea harvesting, with a tea tree below his right hand and harvested leaves in his hand. On the top right-hand corner of the painting in District 2 of Location 4, there are two people picking and throwing down tea leaves from a wild tea tree and another collecting those leaves under the tree. In the middle of the painting in District 2 of Location 5, a child climbs a tea tree to harvest the tea, while an adult waits under the tree. These tea harvesting images in the Cangyuan cliff paintings are the best proof that the tea culture and agriculture in Lincang has a long history.

Cangyuan County is an autonomous county of the Va people, who are the native inhabitants of Cang Yuan. They branched out from the Pu people during the Han and Jin Dynasties, and are descendants of the Wang people. Like the Blang and the Deang people, the Va share a common reverence for tea. They have maintained customs of worshiping and protecting tea trees, and tea agriculture is a key element of their lives. This shows that their common ancestors had long ago begun using tea leaves, training wild tea trees into a cultivated species. There is a saying amongst the Va "You see ghosts and spirits tea" meaning that tea trees symbolise the ghosts and spirits of their ancestors.

Today the Va people in Cangyuan still retain the custom of using ropes with hooks or bamboo ladders to climb and harvest ancient teas. Furthermore, every year when they pray to the cliff paintings, everyone will make offerings of tea and scattered dried tea leaves, Tea has thus become an instrument in their customs to show their respect to, and memory of, their ancestors, ghosts of their ancestors.

Millennium-old small tea roasting pot unearthed proving the history of tea drinking culture in Lincang

More than 360 years ago, geologist and traveller Xu Xiake walked to Shunning (Now Fengqing) and Yunzhou to survey the lands. In his book The Travels of Xu Xiake, he noted the joy and pleasure he found when he roasted tea in small pots and smelled the aroma rising as he was tasting tea in Longquan, Shunning and Guanyin Pavilion in Yunzhou, The eccentric poet Zheng Banqiao of the Qing Dynasty thus wrote a great poem for these little pots:

"With a small mouth, large stomach and tall selective ears, It takes pride in just keeping warm and away from hunger. It is too small to contain huge things, Finger-deep water is enough to cause turmoil within."

In 2004, a small copper tea-roasting pot was unearthed in Paling Village in Ma Yidui Township of Linxiang District, which lies en route to Yunxian from the southern area of the Chama Ancient Trail. This small copper pot was intricately forged, with its convex parts polished into copper-red and concave parts copper-green. Preliminary research showed that this pot was made in the Sung or Yuan Dynasty, indicating that the practice of roasting tea in small pots and with other instruments here dates back more chan a thousand years.

Transport hindered by terrain, development of the tea business hindered by transport

Lincang is the hom of tea trees; Lincang City has more than half of the surviving first generation ancient tea tree plantations; the huge cultivated tea tree in Bingdao (more than 600 years old) is the base of the agricultural tea plant breeding for the Chieftain of the Dai people. The Bingdao tea species is now distributed throughout over twenty counties including Lincang, Fengqing, Yunxian, Zhenkang and Menghai. After several hundred years of selective breeding, Bingdao tea is now the finest breed of all the big-leaf tea species in China.

Besides the huge forests of ancient tea trees and Bingdao tea tree seeds, the ancient cultural records also speak of a long history for the famous Mengku large-leaf tea. The ancient Pu people who are said to be the forefathers of tea cultivation settled on the plains downstream of the Mekong River, and were the first humans to cultivate tea plants. The Xiangzhu Jing Ancient Tea Tree in Xiaowan in Fengqing County was verified by specialists to be more than 3200 years old; on the inner walls of caves, the Lancang cliff paintings have enriched the arts and culture of mankind for more than three millennia; the thousand-year-old copper tea-roasting pot, albeit small in size, is proof enough that tea culture was common and popular in Lincang way back then.

Why is it that, with the above-mentioned geographical advantages and long history, Lincang is today reduced to just a supplier of raw materials in the development of tea industries? The reason is simple: transportation affects all developments.

Lincang is located on the upper streams of the Mekong River and the Nu River; more than 800 rivers and streams branch out from these two river systems, with valleys and tall mountains crisscrossing the land. Lincang City is described as a place where "The tea is as tall as the mountains, waters, and lands." Unlike cities located with major thoroughfares such as Dali, Xiaguan, Menghai and Yiwu, the path Lincang took many days, up to a month by horse.

Another reason is that modernisation in Lincang progressed very slowly; Shuangjiang only changed

from a tribal chieftainship system to modem governmental system in 1904. Before 1939, the population of minority tribes was more than that of the Han people. The Lahu, Blang, Dai, Va, Yi tribes all speak their own languages and have different religious beliefs: there were on-going conflicts between them that only those with power and territorial control could resolve. Social disorder, high crime rates, primitive practices and complicated political situations were all reasons why tea traders did not dare to venture into the place.

However, it was also because of the primitive practices and the high proportion of minority tribes in the city that Lincang could preserve huge I areas of ancient tea plantations, for the control and utilisation of tea trees follows the development of economy. From a preservation point of view, perhaps the slow rate of modernisation and development was a good thing for these ancient tea tree plantations.

Because of inconvenient transport links to Lincang City, paths and horse trails became special features on the ancient trade routes to the city. In the 1950s, transport into the city was still very dependent on the weather even though roads were paved; many traders and travellers shunned the place because the roads would be inaccessible whenever it rained, and this became its main hindrance to development. In recent years, transport into the city has been greatly developed, and National Highway 214 runs from Yunxian, Lin Xiang, Shuangjiang all the way to the Qingshui River in Mengding.

In the last decade, Lincang City has started to plant in large scale in order to tighten its grasp on the tea market as a major tea producer. The area of tea plantations has increased from 133.4 square kilometres in 1949 to 433.55 square kilometres in 1998. In 1999, the city started cultivating tea plants using gamogenesis methods. Today, Lincang City has a total area of 867.1 square kilometres of tea plantations and is gradually realising its dream of becoming the biggest tea city in the world.