Exploring Puer Villages and Regions - Bulang
The Flavour of Bulang
"Only when one understands Bulang tea, can they truly be called tea folk"
A Puerh Mountain - Bulang Mountain.
The Puerh tea region of Bulang Mountain is an ancient terroir covering an area of around 1,000 km2. To put that into perspective, what is often sold as a 'Single Mountain' is roughly three times the size of the Isle Of Wight. Much of this land is heavily forested mountainous terrain, with an of unyielding wildness, apart from those rare patches of earth given over to settlements. Altitudes range from 500m to around 2000m, ancient tea gardens averaging around 1,200m.The climate is classically sub-tropical with added elements of warm, lush river valleys, the hot, dry air is only disturbed by heavy downpours during the wet, summer months.
Over 1,500 acres of ancient tea gardens lie within this area of outstanding natural beauty, most of which is concentrated in the east. Although not classified as one of the 'Six Famous Puerh Mountains', (that accolade is bestowed only on those tea areas recognised by the Jinghong Government in the 17th century, which, coincidentally or not, were in less "barbaric zones"), it is one of the most famous of the "New" Puerh Mountains and is one of the premier tea zones located within the thriving Puerh region of Menghai.1
For a tea terroir Bulang Mountain is about as remote and far-flung from Beijing as is geographically possible and yet still be Chinese. It is also one of the hottest, culturally rich, and most bio-diverse tea regions in Yunnan, boasting a cultural and physical landscape more in common with the border countries of Myanmar and Laos as well as Northern Thailand. Teas produced in this area are known to be full-bodied and distinctive, exhibiting strong 'cha qi'; a fitting shorthand of this complex and exotic landscape.
There are around 50 villages are located within Bulang Mountain, most of which produce tea, amongst other staples such as corn, sugar cane and fruit crop. Unsurprisingly, the quality of tea from Bulang Mountain can vary quite wildly, and it is for this reason that increasingly tea is sold bearing the name of specific villages. Although not all villages are created equal: less famous tea villages have little marketing appeal and sell their bulk leaf (or mao cha) to larger companies, which are then either blended together and sold as "Bulang Mountain" teas or used for further processing and made into Ripe Puerh.
The more noteworthy the tea, the more famous the village and the more likely they will be able to switch to the monoculture of tea. Of the more famous villages, none can compare with the lustre of Lao Banzhang, a Hani minority village, whose intense aromas and narcotic 'cha qi' have become the Puerh gold standard- both in price and tasting quality. The emergence of Lao Banzhang, probably the first tea village in China to make national news on a regular basis, has raised the profile of Bulang Mountain teas. However, there is more to Bulang Mountain than Lao Banzhang: several other tea villages produce tea of exceptional quality.
1 Lin Shi Xing (ed.), Shan Tou Cha, Kunming: Yunnan Keji Chubanshe