In the modern-day tea world, “wild tea trees” are a huge debate. There has been an increasing number of tea vendors that use the mystic appeal of wild tea trees as a marketing ploy. Thus more tea enthusiasts start to believe that these teas are not exactly authentic.
The majority of ancient tea trees (gu shu) grown in China’s Yunnan province. Yes, the pu-erh region!
Since they are not cultivated, they can stretch anywhere from 5 up to 10 meters in height, which makes the tea leaves challenging to harvest.
What Makes Wild Leaf Tea Unique And Sought After?
First, we would like to emphasize that there is absolutely nothing wrong with farmed tea. Tea has been cultivated for thousands of years. Thanks to cultivation and to the diligent labor of the tea farmers throughout time, we are able to enjoy such a wide array of teas with different flavor profiles and aromas. While the processing method is what ultimately forms a tea, the cultivar’s role is undeniable.
The appeal of wild tea is that it cannot do what cultivated tea can. Cultivated tea gives us consistent results. They provide us with that taste we crave. We’re sure we all have our favorite types of tea, which we stock up on — anticipating that same wonderful taste we are always used to!
Wild tea is unpredictable. It is an exceptional journey into the great unknown. What we will come out with — no one knows. The flavors of a single batch of wild tea are complex and unmatchable.
What Does Wild Tea Mean?
Wild tea is not just tea picked from untended tea bushes. It can refer to a few different varieties of tea, each in their own right “wild.”
• Ancient Tea Trees
These are tea trees that have been untended and not cultivated for hundreds of years, for many generations. They grow wildly across China’s terrain. Whether they were once cultivated or not is a debate, however now they are as wild as can be. These tea trees are highly sought after by tea farmers, and indeed they are not easy to find. Tea enthusiasts often go on forage hikes in search of these yet to be found tea bushes.
• Forest Tea Trees
These tea trees are borderline wild or semi-wild. While ancient tea trees are scarce, some tea masters choose to cultivate their tea bushes in the “wild.” Meaning growing the tea trees more or less wildly in China’s forests instead of keeping them uniform on a tea plantation. These tea trees are usually allowed to grow freely without the use of pesticides and such. They end up producing unique flavors close to ancient tea trees.
• Minimally Pruned Tea Trees
Farmers plant these tea trees in more or less uniform rows, similar to a typical tea plantation. The most significant difference is that they are purposefully allowed to grow wild, developing their un-uniform characteristics. Biodiversity prevails, and the teas develop their unique tastes, a more extensive array of layers and depth. These tea farms are indeed harder to navigate as the tea bushes do not grow in uniform rows. The tea leaves are also much harder to pick by the farmers.
• Natural Seeding Trees
The absolute majority of tea trees are cultivated by cuttings and the amount of natural seeding trees remains low. Natural seeding is a slow process and such tea trees do not produce the 'safe' and stable results that farmers can get from cultivating tea trees. However, these tea bushes are a big part of the "will tea" industry and produce interesting and delicious teas. Cultivating teas via cuttings vs natural seeding can be compared to cloning and genetic engineering vs natural birth.
It surely requires more work to produce teas made from any of these wild tea trees (the foraging, laborious picking work, and travel all add up). The steeper price tag is indeed justified. However, this doesn’t justify purchasing wild tea solely because of the label. It is important to remember that aside from the tea tree being wild, it should also be sustainably sourced by the tea master (without harming its natural environment) and processed with skill and care. We encourage you to buy teas not wholly based on the label but making sure to purchase the tea from a trusted and knowledgable tea vendor.
Ancient Tea Benefits
The following are some of the benefits of drink tea made from wild tea leaves:
- teas made from ancient tea trees are void of any pesticides that are sometimes present in traditional tea farming (unless you are purchasing organic tea)
- their wild environment and strong roots mean they are typically more nutrient-rich than farmed tea
- the flavor profiles of ancient teas are far more complex and unique, you will never find a tea quite like it
- ancient teas can be brewed many times without producing bitterness; furthermore, they stay flavorful for more brews
- they can be stored for long periods, unlike fresh green teas. some tea enthusiasts even believe they gain value with age