In our previous article we explored Pu-erh tea production areas' history and talked about the Six ancient tea mountains in Yunnan. Today, we'll witness how the main Pu-erh tea production areas transformed over time, and how that impacts their terroirs.
In the 300 years following the late Ming dynasty, the Six tea mountains experienced major ups and downs. They were due to the change of times in China and the neighboring countries that purchased tea from the mainland. Slowly, the focus of tea production has shifted to the new Six major tea mountains.
The New Six tea mountains:
1. Nannuo mountain
Nannuo has mostly large-leaf tree species. Tea from there is sweet, with slight and well-controlled bitterness and strong "sheng jin" (producing saliva) properties. The soup color is yellow-orange, bright, and clear.
Nannuo Pu-erh tea has a clean, honey-orchid fragrance.
Nannuo has a rich pu-erh tea-producing history. It is the home of a tea king tree that has been cultivated for more than a thousand years.
2. Bulang mountain
Bulang's large-leaf tree species is very intense, with strong bitterness and astringency and a quick and powerful sweet aftertaste. The aroma is unique, with plum, nectar, and orchid fragrance. It is of collector's value for many Chinese and foreign tea people and Pu-erh tea lovers.
3. Bada mountain
Bada is rich both in cultivated tea trees and wild, large-leaf tea forests. There is a wild tea king tree at roughly 1800 years in Hesong village. Bada tea has a strong taste with pronounced bitterness and astringency and a lasting sweet aftertaste. The aroma is intense, with dominant plum and honey notes.
4. Nanqiao mountain
Nanqiao has mostly middle-leaf tree species. The tea plants in the area are shrubs rather than arbor trees. The taste of the tea soup is somewhat thin and sweet. The tea grade is considered lower than in other areas.
5. Mengsong mountain
Again, here we mostly find middle-leaf, shrub-like tea plants. The tea taste from this area has a pronounced bitterness and light sweetness.
6. Jingmai (Huiming) mountain
Jingmai is among the renowned tea mountains in modern days. It has a great concentration of ancient tea tree forests, known as "10,000 mu arbor ancient tea garden". The tea has bright yellow soup color with expressed astringency that outshines its bitterness. It also has strong sweetness and a prominent orchid fragrance, which this region is famous for. There is a parasite growing on the arbor tea tree here, commonly known as "crab feet". Local people believe it has medicinal properties that reduce inflammation and effectively treat stomach problems and diabetes.
The old and new Tea mountains today are known under the common name "12 big tea mountains".
Today's Pu-erh tea production areas
As we mentioned before, the Tropic of Cancer is an imaginary line that crosses through Yunnan. It interferes with the "magical" 100º eastern longitude parallel. The crossing point between the two marks the axis that splits Yunnan into four parts. Those parts represent the main tea-producing regions. Each of them encompasses many signature areas and villages with a distinctive terroir.
Northwest Pu-erh tea production area
The Northwest tea area is abundant in ancient tea tree resources. Its high altitude has created the phrase "high mountain, clouds and fog produce good tea". The tea grown in this area is an important quality mark of Yunnan Pu-erh.
The Northwest tea area is considered the hometown of Yunnan's big-leaf tea. Here, in Fengqing village, you can find the oldest and largest cultivated tea tree in the world.
Some of the signature tea-producing areas and villages in the northwest area include Bingdao, Xigui, Daxueshan, Bangdong, Nanpo, and Nuowu. The star is Bingdao, where presumably the most expensive Pu-erh is produced.
Southeast Pu-erh tea production area
The Southeast tea area is surrounded by the Jinsha River, Lancang River, and Yuanjiang River. It has a mild, pleasant climate and a suitable environment. Tea from Southeastern Yunnan is fragrant, with a smooth entrance and without strong stimulation. It is best characterized as "soft".
All of the six ancient tea mountains lie in this area. It is the place with the most mentions in the existing tea books in Yunnan. It is also the starting point of the ancient tea-horse road.
The Southeastern area includes Yiwu, Youle, Geden, Yibang, Mangzhi, Manzhuan and Mansong, among others.
Northeastern Pu-erh tea production area
The tea trees in the Northeast tea area are scattered and scarce. Due to the natural environment and high altitude, the tea trees in this area are mostly middle and late-harvest species. There is a big temperature difference between day and night, which greatly improves the quality of tea leaves. Tea in that area has an expressed bitterness.
Some signature tea-producing places here are Qianjiazhai, Zhenyuan, Wuliang, and Jinggu.
Southwestern Pu-erh tea production area
This area falls in the middle and lower reaches of the Lancang River. It has gentle mountains and lower altitudes. The humid natural environment is perfect for the growth of tea trees. The soil is yellow-red, and the organic matter content in most areas is above 3%. It indicates first-class, high-quality soil, very suitable for tea growing.
The Southwestern area of Yunnan has a long history of growing tea. Thus, there is an abundance of ancient tea gardens, mostly made of large-leaf species. The tea from here has "three highs and one low" (i.e., high content of tea polyphenols, high content of alkaloids, high content of water extracts, and low in amino acids).
Some signature tea-producing places in the Southwestern region include Banzhang, Naka, Jingmai, Bulang, Nannuoshan, Bada, Menghai, and Pasha, among others.
The "Menghai" flavor
Menghai region lies within this area. The local Shu Pu-erh has a typical "Menghai" flavor that some tea professionals can recognize by sipping the tea. Here's the secret behind it. The soil in Menghai contains a specific white sandstone. It is rich not only in minerals but in a variety of beneficial local bacteria. The underground water of Menghai accumulates the minerals and bacteria on its way through the sandstone. And so, the cooked tea fermented with this water develops the unique "Menghai flavor".