Second Chapter, first season
Variations of flowers, honey, and wilderness
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We descend the gentle slopes of Nannuo and we cross the Mekong river going to East direction: it is the end of the rainy season and the roads are bumpier than ever, yet the valleys that surrounds us are breathtaking. We reach a strip of land that shares the boundary with Laos: its main town is the ancient Yiwu, and here we see the golden sunset on its surrounding peaks.
Yiwu 易武 is a sequence of basins and peaks, steep hills and villages built in gentle hollows of the terrain. The roads that connects them are rich in ancient and modern stones, that dates back at least the Qing dynasty's tea trade: the history of pu'er tea here has tangible traces, beyond the legends wild tribes bequeathed generation after generation; here there are Imperial sigils and letters, old signs and stones: here is the history, and the contemporary step of modern pu'er tea.
Yiwu is part of the Mengla county, that includes the Yiwu neighbouring mountain Manzhuan 蛮专: together with Yiwu (old name: Mansa) they represents two of the ancient six mountains at the east of the Mekong river, tributary to the Emperor since the Qing dynasty.
In Yiwu it was where the modern pu'er started its journey to the world, and thus here is the center of our story.
During the Tang Dynasty (618–907) Yiwu was already called “利润城”, profit city, because it was rich in tea, salt and silver, thanks to its fertile soil, good climate, and its placement in the early tea horse road. However, regarding our beloved leaves there is an interesting sentence by Fan Chuo 范绰 that during Tang dynasty wrote in "Yunnan Chronicles” 《云南志》: “茶出银生城周围山中，散而采，无法可制。” "Tea comes out of the mountains around Yinsheng City, and it is scattered and harvested, but there is no way to make it.” It refers to the old jurisdiction of Yiwu, called Yinsheng (that means silver city), and on one side witness its ancient richness of tea, but also it says how difficult and not organised the area was: the land was mainly wild and impervious, and the tea plantations were far from being homogeneous and organised.
We know that a production district needs many different aspects: a suitable land and a perfect climate, skilled professionals and a reliable workforce, roads and means of transportation, merchant and buyers, and we have to wait for just a few historical transformation for seeing the Yiwu area becoming the first tributary of the Emperor teas.
The first change started to happen during the Yuan dynasty (1279–1368), when the Yunnan chieftains built unprecedented ties with Central plains of China (thus are called the fertile plains around the Yellow River, Henan, Anhui, Shanxi, Shandong, Hebei): it allowed a flow of farming techniques that was going to change the whole organisation of the area.
During the Ming dynasty the transformation continued, until the peak of pu’er tea that was reached during the Qing dynasty: the quality of Yiwu environment produced fragrances that enchanted the Imperial family, and the pu’er tea became the first tributary to the Emperor tea storage.
Beijing commissioned every year 66.666 Jin of tea from Yiwu, that is more than four times the entire amount purchased from other areas.
In 1963, when the tea storage of the Forbidden City was unveiled, they found over two tons of outer tea, mostly from Yiwu.
Ancient tea houses
In the early Qing dynasty, a massive wave of Han migrants arrived in Yiwu from other areas of China (sources talks about 100.000 of people); they built temples and schools, but above all they brought tea techniques and opened prestigious tea houses which gradually shaped its flavor. Many of these houses are still visible in the historic center, although with different degrees of conservation and ownership.
In this photo there is the Cheshunhao tea house: legend has it that its founder, Cheshunlai, participated in the imperial exam; due to the long journey, however, he was unable to make it to the exam and simply sent her complimentary tea. Apparently his gift was very welcome, because he received the rare imperial 瑞工天朝"Ruigong Tianchao" plaque - unique in the tea world - with his tea given to members of the royal family and foreigners envoys. In its heyday this teahouse sold up to 50 tons of tea; it finally ceased its activity in the troubled year of the late 1930s, and is now a private home in the city of Yiwu.
Layers of cultures
Historically Yiwu was represented by its geography: a boundary land enclosed in its mountainous valleys, covered by the rainforest and inhabited by low-numbered tribes that often migrate from one area to the other.
It is told that 3000 years ago were the Pu people from the northern plains that started the cultivation of the tea trees and what later would have been called pu'er teas, starting the cultural civilisation of Yuannese agriculture;the Hani, Yi, Lahu, Bulang, Wa and Deang ethnic groups became the main ethnic groups growing tea.
From the Yuan dynasty onward there have ben a new wave of agricultural technique from the central plains, and from he Qing dynasty large wave of migration of Han people coming from the central lands and the East coast brought new specialised professionalities, a considerable workforce, and a knowledge of the market that was previously unknown.
Yiwu is included in Mengla 勐腊 county, that in Dai language means "a place rich in tea".
The succession of valleys and mountains at different altitudes, with an incredible variety of micro-climates and environmints, and a forest coverage rate of up to 88%, make Mengla a region with the densest plant growth and the richest plant species at the same latitude in the world. It is known as the "Kingdom of Animals and Plants" and the "Species Gene Bank" reputation.
The highest altitude in the jurisdiction is Heishuiliangzi in Guafengzhai, which is 2,023 meters high, making it the second highest peak in Xishuangbanna Prefecture after Huazhuliangzi; the lowest altitude is Huiwa Village, which is 604 meters high. The average altitude is 1,400 meters.
The annual precipitation is 1,800-2,100 millimeters, making it suitable for planting. Tea, rice, corn and other crops.
There are 13 ethnic groups living in the town, including Han, Dai, Yi, Yao and Miao. The town governs 6 village committees, Yiwu, Namotian, Mahei, Manla, Manai and Luode, 68 natural villages and 73 villagers group. At the end of 2021, there were 5,408 households with 20,895 residents people. The tea planting area was more than 100,000 acres, and a large number of cultivated ancient tea trees were distributed in the dense forests of the town.
"The soup is pure, the taste is rich, the aftertaste [huigan] is sweet and long lasting, and it refreshes the heart and spleen. It is an auspicious product among teas."
Thus spoke the Emperor Daoguang (1782-1850）
Yiwu Tea has been described in many ways, and many verses of poetries tried to catch its essence; yet, every single sentence talks about harmony and, more broadly, to a close affinity with the Chinese culture intended as a balance of a gentle, elegant and restraint exteriority, and a gentle yet harder and lively interiority.
In the ancient"Guoyu" it is written:
"No [single] sound can be heard, no [single] color can be written, and no [single] taste can be heard."
As a result, there is no explanation for anything. "The general meaning is that a single and isolated taste, like a single note, a single color, or a single thing, cannot bring people high sensory enjoyment, but we need the whole to experience the harmony of the moment.
Yiwu tea is generally suitable to be drunk even when young, without clear bitterness and astringency. Yet, it is with time that its more intense and vigorous spirit emerges.
The flavour areas
Mr. Zheng Shaohong created a smart flavour map of the Yiwu area that specifies three different areas of flavour: a flowery fragrant in the nord, a honey area around the town of Yiwu, and a wilder fragrance in the east.
The flowery-fragrant belt is characterised by smaller village and low yields, with the tea trees surrounded by an excellent environment and very rich forests; it has very high quotations, rarity and a high praise in the high-end market. The honey-belt tea fully represents the Yiwu flavour: the infusion is darker, richer, and fragrant like honey; it supplies most of the output of the whole area.
The wilderness fragrant area developed around the Tongqing river: it is a remote area where the tee trees are scattered along the river growing on thick layers of humus and organic deposits, under deep forests, in well-maintained plant symbiotic ecosystem. One of the best adjectives I have heard for this fragrance is uninhibitedness: and we would stick to this one, while we sip the teas chasing the harmony of Yiwu.
Within each area, flavors vary according to many different factors, including the micro-environment and the treesì; generally talking, the pattern is valid and you can notice an overlap of the flavours at the boundary of two - or three - different areas.
Note: we reveal here-under to which belt each tea belongs, under the "spoiler" tab!
2021 Spring, Bohetang 薄荷塘 - Pazhahe Village 帕扎河, big trees
2023 Spring, Tianmenshan 天门山 - Maba village 马叭, big trees
2023 Spring, Gaoshan 高山, ecological trees
2021Spring, Yiwu 易武, ecological trees
2021 Spring, Guafengzhai 刮风寨, big trees
2023 Spring, Tongqinghe 铜箐河 - Zhongshan village 中山寨, ancient trees
2023 Spring, Manzhuan 蛮专, ecological trees
2023 Spring, Walong 瓦竜, ancient trees
Bohetang: right in the core of the floral area
Tianmenshan: in the north of the floral area
Gaoshan: at the highest entrance of the floral area, close to the honey one
Yiwu: the pure Yiwu-wei, the Yiwu taste of the honey area
Guanfengzhai: in the north-east wilderness
Tongqinghe: the real core of the wild area
Manzhuan: one of the ancient six mountain, western neighbour of Yiwu
Walong: an highly praised village that belongs to Manzhuan
*we spoke about the Yiwu three main areas: where would you place Manzhuan? With which characteristics? Let us know!
An ecological tea plantation is a former intensive plantation that was recovered in 5-8 years toward a forest environment; a forest plantation is a semi-wild tea garden where the tea trees grow freely in the under-forest; an ancient tree is an older tea tree aged 200-500 years (officially is 100 years of age) that grows in the under-forest.
How to brew
We suggest to brew these pu'er shengpu teas in gaiwan or Yixing teapot, with a ratio of 1 gr. of tea every 20 ml of water.
Use quick infusions with boiling water starting from 10-15 seconds, increasing with each successive brew as needed.
Each tea can be brewed 10-12 times.
We remind that gong brewing is purely subjective, and the parameters should be adapted to your vessels and personal taste.
A mesmerising travel
We invite everyone of you to taste the teas at your own pace, creating your own maps of flavour for this wonderful area, which made the history of our beloved pu'er tea.
In the middle of the trimester we will invite you to a webinar with our Vivian, talking about our story with the mountain, the reasons beyond the choice of these teas, and some more stories that accompany these leaves.
In the meanwhile, we look forward to hear from you in our community: click on the button below to access, and share your leaves journey with many other fellow drinkers.
Pu'er Tea: Ancient Caravans and Urban Chic
A fundamental book for all lovers of pu'er tea, especially regarding the Yiwu area: written between academic and literary style, it is rich in content, reliable data and influential people who have made pu'er modern in Yiwu and in the world.
2020 Bohetang Shengpu 薄荷塘 - Yiwu Terroir
An earlier version of an extremely praised tea, included in this chapter selection: it comes from the core of the floral area, and - almost four years after being harvested - it has already developed the full harmony of Yiwu.