Yunnan Tea Facts
Located in the South West mountainous corner of China, Yunnan is blessed with some of the most beautiful countryside. It is home to a large number of ethnic minorities making for an extremely colourful province. Some of the larger, more well known groups include Yi, Bai, Hani and Dai.
YunNan is primarily known for it's famous PuErh tea, but also it's many black teas including large leaf varieties such as Dian Hong. YunNan tea production has a long history which is rumoured to pre-date records when the raw leaves were used for medicine.
Teas from the region have been popular in Tibet and further afield, with records showing that YunNan teas were offered to the emperors as Tribute teas. The popularity of the tea bought about the Old Tea Horse road, which though not fully documented was believed carry Puerh teas from MengHai via SiMao to KunMing or the long route through DaiLi, LiJiang to ChengDu and beyond.
Up until the Qing Dynasty (1644 to 1912) Puerh tea production in YunNan was dominated by small family operations and small private businesses who collected and processed the leaves. Often these were transported from villages within XiShuangBaNa to YiWu which became a central town for PuErh tea merchants and sellers.
Demand for teas from the region has fluctuated throughout history, meaning many tea plants that were under management by farmers fell in and out of production. This allowed, combined with the rich vegetation of the region, that many tea plants were left unattended for centuries. Such plants became wild allowing seedlings to grow and spread naturally.
Much of the wild tea traditionally produced was harvested from mountains of the region, however with the growing interest and popularity of Yunnan's Pu Er tea's these sources are relative scare verses demand. It is considered that older, more mature trees provide considerably better qualities for the preparation of Pu Er's, interestingly this is the opposite to most green teas & many Oolong teas such as Tie Guan Yin. The reasoning behind this is related to a tea's 'qi' 茶气 or energy. Wild trees leaves have a considerably more complex range of often very subtle flavours that are 'absorbed' from the surrounding area. This include other plants & flowers, the soil, moulds & fungi. The older the tree, the greater its 'experiences', so in turn the energy held within is greater and of a greater intensity, aspects of these characters are passed on to the leaf & bud.
The tea trees of Yunnan are considered by many botanists to be the original source of the tea plant. It has been suggested that due to the altitude of Plateaus in Yunnan, the region avoided the ice ages that came after the Tertiary period in the world's ancient history. From here the original plants may have been distributed through South Eastern Asia via the great rivers such as the Mekong, Irrawaddy and the Yangzi that flow down from the Himalayas 喜马拉雅山 (Xi Ma La Ya Shan).