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The Mother of All Teas The Fengqing Xiangzhuqing Ancient Tea Tree

Article/Photos: Jiang Wen Zhang

If one who researches tea does not understand Puerh, then his research is incomplete. If a Puerh lover has never sipped Yunnan Lincang Fengqing Xiangzhuqing Ancient tea, then their understanding and experience of Puerh is incomplete. Yunnan's Puerh tea enjoys a high prestige in the tea world, and the 5200 year old "Mother of all Tea Trees" further allows us to sense the mystery and holiness of Puerh.

Some fifty odd kilometres to the East of Lincang's Fengqing county town, ancient wild tea trees grow abundantly around the splendid mountain village of Xiao wan in Western Yunnan. 2000 acres of the surrounding countryside are dedicated to the cultivation of old tea trees, while wild tea trees occupy 3000 acres of local land. These old tea trees include Fengqing top grade large-leaf tea, and Dali tea and are grown in regions spread between the Longtang River in the east, the Tengmie River in the west, to the Zhafang River in the north, and south as far as the regions of the Maiu Well and the Huangcao Reservoir, The tea trees are grown at elevations of between 1750 metres and 2580 metres above sea level. The largest tea tree is the famed Xiangzhuqing tea tree, called "Splendid Tea Ancestor" by locals and "Mother of All Teas" or "Grandmother of Tea" by those in academic circles.

This tea tree stands at 10.6 metres in height, the crown of the tree stretches 11.5 metres from north to south and 11.3 metres from east to west, the base of the trunk stretches 5.84 metres; no other trees grow in a 10 metre area surrounding the tree. In 1982, Mr Wang Guangzhi, director of the Beijing Agricultural Museum used the isotope method to deduce that this tree had existed for more than 3200 years. Later, in a separate study, Doctor Ye Chuangxin, a botanist at Sun Yat-sen University in Guangzhou came to an identical conclusion regarding the age of the tree.

At the start of 2004, Dr Lin Zhi of The Tea Research Institute, Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences and Japanese Doctor of This tea tree stands at 10.6 metres in height, the crown of the tree stretches 11.5 metres from north to south and 11.3 metres from cast to west, the base of the trunk stretches 5.84 metres; no other trees grow in a 10 metre area surrounding the tree. In 1982, Mr Wang Guangzhi, director of the Beijing Agricultural Museum used the isotope method to deduce that this tree had existed for more than 3200 years. Later, in a separate study, Doctor Ye Chuangxin, a botanist at Sun Yat-sen University in Guangzhou came to an identical conclusion regarding the age of the tree.

Agriculture Omori Masashi determined that the tree is between 3200 and 3500 years old.

In 200$, after a visit to the famed tree, the president of the American Tea Association stated that this tree is the largest old tea tree yet discovered, if we ponder the fact that the tree may well have started life as a cultivated tea plant, then this tree has unmatched significance in the history of human tea culture.

The Second of the Ancient tea trees is located in Jinxiu village, behind the residence of Ye Wencai; the girth of the trunk is 2.28 metres, with a diameter of 0.9 metres and a height of 10.4 metres. There is also a third ancient tea tree with a diameter measuring upwards of 0.8 metres.

If we calculate that the Xiangzhuqing tea tree has lived for over 3200 years, the tree is one hundred years older than the last of the Shang emperors, nearly 700 years older than Confucius who lived in the Spring and Autumn period, and nearly 1000 years older than the First Qin Emperor,.. Alongside this king of tea trees, more than 1400 of its offspring grow, it is truly a sea of tea and waves of green! On New Year's Day, tea lovers come to the tree to make offerings of incense and wine.

In May 2006, members of the tea world from Taiwan, Hong Kong and Malaysia as well as members of a total of eight ethnic minorities including Miao, Dai, Wa, and Zang groups amounting more than 5000 people gathered in Xiangzhuqing in order to pay their respects to the biggest old tea tree upon earth.

The land surrounding the Xiangzhuqing big tea trees is also home to over 14,000 cultivated tea bushes. Among this mass of plants, the largest, oldest cultivated tea tree still grows: a flourishing example of human stewardship of nature. The roots of the trees are all unique, resembling deer antlers, Olympic torches, embracing couples, tortoises, cascading down the mountainside along the banks of the Lancang River, etched with the marks of time in this sacred place. These ancient tea trees are priceless living fossils at the heart of the land where tea first grew, a powerful testimony to human tea cultivation.

"Grandmother of Tea" Stands in robust majesty over a canyon along the Lancang River, displaying 3000 years of history in the greens of its luxuriant foliage; simple yet noble, it exudes the fragrance of time, whispering of every breeze that has 'er blown through these mountains, softly suggesting the sun falling gently, smiling upon its myriad leaves. The tree's existence is a riddle, it is as if she emerged horizontally into the world, arising as a symbol of natural ecology in the homeland of tea, accumulating 3200 years of energy, displayed a matchless spirit of life.

The Classic of Tea says: "Tea is most suited to men of careful action and thriftiness." The local people say that the ancient tea trees protect their villages from disaster. Hence the ancient trees are spirits, to pick one leaf may cure a multitude of ailments, while cutting off a branch might invite injury, so the local tea growers do not dare to randomly harvest the trees, "A thousand year old cedar, a ten thousand year old fir, neither is match for one leaf from an ancient tea tree." After picking such tea leaves, the growers put the tea aside for three months before having a brew on gongfu tea tray. Drinking such wild grown ancient teas over the course of the years may protect drinkers from illnesses throughout the seasons.

During the 2007 Lincang Puerh tea culture festival, a tea cake weighing 499 grams was made of leaves picked from this ancient tree. At auction, the opening bid for this tea cake was RMB 250,000. The tea eventually sold for RMB 400,000; each gram costing more than RMB 800, four times more expensive than gold, creating a new record price for the auction sale of a new tea. Drinking Xiangzhuqing ancient tea by glass teacup is like sipping "The the fog of a thousand mountains, the clouds opening over endless valleys, splendid fragrance everywhere!"