This year's trip to the tea mountains was quite a bit less intense than others - driving from tea mountain to tea mountain is no quick task. We are usually exhausted at the end of Spring tea, but we took it a little easier this year, drove a little less, and organised ourselves better. That said, 8 hour drives were fairly common - the scale of the Yunnan tea mountains is huge, and the driving can be pretty challenging.
Below you'll find a review of our journey, with the corresponding story dates we posted at our Instagram account so that you can see videos from those days.
Wuliang Mountains | Bamboo Spring
After flying down to Xishuangbanna and picking up our trusty, but ageing pickup truck, we headed north to the Wuliang Mountains where our Bamboo Spring Tea grows. We hadn’t managed to make it last Autumn, so we still had tea to pick up from the farmers from last year. This will form a significant part of a shu puerh production we plan to ferment later this year. We spent time walking the land and visiting with the farmers while they were picking this year’s harvest. We had ate and weighed out the teas - also purchasing some of his large single tree teas to share with tea club members in a future month.
Coincidentally, a tea farmer who we’d met briefly previously sent us a message online. Since we were in the area (just over an hour away), after lunch we headed down the mountain to visit him and see if he had some nice teas. In the end it turned out that the teas he usually makes weren’t the type of teas we want - a little too commercial for our tastes.
After some discussion, he did mention some trees growing in the forest - they aren’t often harvested, since it requires a bit more work and the leaves aren’t so pretty, but we asked him to ask his neighbours to see if anyone had a sample. He found a small bag from someone in the village, we brewed it up & knew immediately this was the kind of tea we were looking for. We left, asking him to try to collect and process more leaves from this area.
To see photos and videos from Bamboo Spring visit Day 1 in our Instagram stories.
Ai Lao Mountains | Beyond the Clouds
We spent several days with the Beyond the Clouds Tea farmers this year. Once at the first part of our trip and later again when we travelled back north towards the end of the trip. The garden is grown completely naturally with no agrochemicals of any kind. Weeds are hand cut and the tea trees grow with a variety of trees around them. (You can visit the Day 3 video stories we posted on Instagram to see and hear the sounds of this forest. )
The weather has been dry this year, producing concentrated and high quality tea. The yield is smaller, but we’re very happy with the quality of this year’s tea.
After spending time in the tea garden, we returned to the farmers home studio where they process the tea. The tea is first picked, then left to wither overnight (~10 hours) on bamboo mats. If the temperature is too cold, the leaves will need more time. Too hot and the leaves can be laid thicker, which will slow the oxidation process.
At this point the leaves are soft and flexible and can be rolled without breaking. After leaves are withered and rolled they are wrapped in cloth to ferment in baskets, then they are spread on bamboo mats in the sun to dry. This process usually takes three full days, from picking to dried tea, depending on the weather.
It rained in the night, and by morning we were up and ready to check on the fermenting tea, which was then spread on bamboo mats.
Meals in the mountains are prepared fresh from foraged wild food from the mountains, and vegetables that the farmers have grown, along with meats, typically from animals that they raise. They’re one of the highlights of our time in the mountains. We watched some of the traditional curing and cooking methods and had some delicious sticky rice cakes which were toasted over the fire with mountain honey.
To see more on Beyond the Clouds visit Days 3, 4, 10, and 18 in our Instagram stories.
Menghai | Shu Studio Visit
We have been seeking out a studio to ferment a batch of shu for us, and on recommendation visited a studio in Menghai. It is important that we find a studio that is clean, not dusty, and has a good feeling. These factors are a lot harder to come by than one might imagine.
This factory ferments in small batches using spring mountain water, and fermenting in baskets rather than concrete floors. We decided not to go with this studio, but fortunately the studio that presses our tea cakes offered to make a batch of shu for us. We have a great relationship with the studio and have been working with them for many years. The studio is very clean, runs like a family, and has a peaceful energy. We are really looking forward to fermenting a batch of tea later in the year & have been storing and collecting the raw material that we’ll use in this batch.
To see more on the Menghai Shu studio check out Day 5 in our Instagram stories.
Yiwu Mansa | Tall Pole Trees and Forest Tea
This year, we spent a few days in the Yiwu area. Over the years, we’ve spent months in Yiwu and have developed some good relationships and friendships. We decided to focus on finding a few very high quality Yiwu forest teas and had asked someone to collect and process some fresh leaves from specific areas for us. There were a couple of areas with gaogan (tall pole) trees that we were particularly interested in. These trees shoot straight up to get light from the canopy. We tasted some of the best fresh gaogan teas we’ve found in quite a while. These teas are subtle, refined, comfortable. They merge well with the body, and leave the mind feeling clear and bright.
With the dry weather, the old trees were late to sprout fresh buds. During our visit the rains finally came, and the trees began to sprout at last.
To see more on Yiwu visit Days 7 and 8 in our Instagram stories.
Yiwu Da Qi Shu | Guoyoulin (Forest) Tea
On this visit, we were able to visit a Farmer that we’ve known since 2015. These long term relationships are very important to us in tea, and we were happy to spend some time with him this year. Our 10 year Anniversary tea is from his trees.
The Farmer has been tending many old trees which he found in the forest while out hunting many years ago, before tea became so expensive. Since it was the busiest time of the year for him, we limited our stay to one night, booked some of his forest tea and drank some very special teas at his house - he has been careful to store a little of his teas every year and is always very generous in sharing them.
To see more on our visit with our Farmer friend in Da Qi Shu visit Day 9 in our Instagram stories.
Tea Pressing Studio Visit
We arrived at the tea pressing studio we have been using since 2008 to schedule our pressing this year. During our visit they were pressing tea for another company and we were able to take some videos and photograph the process to share with you.
This studio is the cleanest and nicest we’ve come across in our years at this. They use their hearts to make tea as nice as possible and the atmosphere is really peaceful and harmonious. Many of the people there have been working since we first started going and it feels like a big family.
Since returning home, we have sent them our new year’s wrappers and our tea is currently being pressed and the cakes are shade drying.
To see all of the videos from the tea pressing studio check out Day 12 in our Instagram stories.
Menghai | Visiting an Old Friend’s Tea Garden
After our visit to the tea pressing studio, we visited a friend who has been working to restore some old trees on some low lying land outside of Menghai. From his estimation, the trees are over 200 years old. They had been coppiced previously and have since been left to grow taller.
The original trees were quite light in character and he has been experimenting with grafting cuttings from Lao Banzhang, Lao Man E, and Mengsong onto many of these coppiced stumps.
It has been three years since our last visit and the progress has been remarkable. He has been solely using organic practices and was recently awarded Organic Certification.
When it was time to taste some of his teas, we were also quite impressed. The difference between grafted branches and existing trees was quite remarkable. The character of the Bulang mountains really comes through - an interesting experiment and one that seems to indicate that the character of these famous villages is much to do with the specific local varietals that grow there.
We have not offered any of his teas from this land previously, but perhaps will in the future.
To see more of our friend’s tea garden visit Day 13 in our Instagram stories.
Boundless Tea Garden
Boundless seems to be a favourite with so many of you, and we are happy to be able to offer more this year. It was wonderful to return and walk through the forest with the farmer. The trees in the Boundless tea garden are old and there is much biodiversity.
The tea was harvested some weeks ago and we had asked the farmer to save us the tea. As we’ve mentioned, having these long term relationships with tea farmers is important. The farmers feel steady knowing the tea is sold before it is picked and in doing this we are able to have access to this kind of high quality tea. We’re looking forward to sharing this year’s Boundless with you.
To see the Boundless forest see Day 15 in our Instagram stories.
Returning to the Ai Lao Mountains | Beyond the Clouds
We made our way back to the Ai Lao Mountains just in time to see the last of this year’s harvest. This year we decided to try something new - we asked the farmer to make some puerh from this same land as our Beyond the Clouds Red Tea. We sent some loose maocha to the factory to be used as part of our blend for our shu puerh fermentation and we also sent some to be pressed into raw puerh cakes.
For the last of Beyond the Clouds spring harvest visit Day 18 in our Instagram stories.