Finding consistency and good flavour is always the goal. Each garden, estate or forest has qualities that it is known for with soils, weather conditions and sunlight all playing a role. Here a tasting in Darjeeling unveils qualities not always immediately obvious in a straight purchase.
The Bulang (sometimes called the Blang) people have mixed Theravada Buddhism with traditional animistic beliefs and it is in part down to their local beliefs that they treat the natural world with reverence. The ancient tea trees that are found within the Bulang Mountain forests around Bulang villages are considered sacred and if one wants to walk amidst them, one needs a local guide, as it is part protection and part respect. One of the eternally wonderful aspects of the area is that seldom, if ever, have pesticides or sprays ever made it into the villages, as for many of the population anything other than the natural method is considered injurious to plant matter. Small gardens are kept by families which still supply much of the produce consumed, and because of the altitudes of the villages (and tea) which is 1400-1500 meters, there is nothing ‘above’ them flowing into their soils or water supplies.
One of the storytellers along the Tea Horse Road, whose village of 23 connected via a pathway. Tea’s value only increases when listening to these tales of how difficult it was to access and transport a simple leaf.
Though the raw materials have always been excellent in the Bulang Mountains, what is done with tea leaves after they have been harvested has long been an issue of consistency. Much of the harvests every year would end up as sub-standard tea with dust particles, dirt, and chicken feathers mixed in. Bulang villagers would often try in vain to pawn off their leaves in Menghai, where tea shop owners and middle men collect to sell the tea onwards, but the reputation of the tea itself was never particularly good. That has changed with time as the teas were ‘cleaned up’, the processes to produce teas improved and outsiders realized the value of the characteristic ‘bite’ of the local brews. With that realization, came better methodology in producing harvests.
Salt flats in northwestern Yunnan along the Mekong River. Salt from such sources was added to the Tibetan churned teas, along with wads of butter.
Over the years, appreciation for the characteristic ‘vegetal’ bite of Bulang teas has increased while the quality of tea production has also improved with an attention to detail. Bulang as well as the Wa, Lahu, and Hani peoples are considered mountain-dwellers whereas the dominant Dai of southern Yunnan’s Xishuangbanna region have long been found in the fertile valleys. It has often been the case that change and technology takes longest to reach the more remote regions, but in many ways, this isolation has helped protect the regions as well.
Tea bushes can start to produce decent teas when they are anywhere from 3-5 years old, and as the plants dig their roots into the soil to extract the nutrients and minerals, the bushes begin to produce flavour characteristics linked to their surroundings.
Part of the wonderful weave of the tea regions is consuming all things local, with the locals. Tea buying always waits until the bellies are full.
This present offering is from bushes that are 20-30 years of age and much of the flavor content comes from characteristics of the high clay content of the region and ideal climate. Harvested in autumn of 2016, this Bulang Sheng has had time to mellow a bit but will age beautifully with a few more months, softening while still retaining those wonderful astringent tangs of flavor.
A portion of a trade route in northern India that transported pashmina, salt, and tea. Nearby was a zone that thieves would wait in hiding to make attempts at the cargo.
Sheng Puerhs in their natural form have always given an opportunity to enjoy what is called “du” in Mandarin or ‘bitterness’. Far from being something undesirable, the bitterness here is actually more like a slight astringency that touches the palate but quickly dissipates, finishing almost sweetly once it has been swallowed.
A beloved ‘tuo’ of Sheng Puerh. Half ball, half nest it remains one of the iconic compressed tea shapes of Yunnan.
A beautiful aspect that exists still in the region but falters in many other tea growing regions in China, is the idea of all life forms being interconnected, which some say is down to the animist belief system and that of the later introduced Buddhist ways. Biodynamic and Permaculture principles still flourish but not because of a trend, but rather because of traditions and intuition. We hope these traditions continue to flourish and indeed spread.
- Jeff Fuchs
While we encourage each drinker to tinker with infusion times and amounts of tea used according to taste, the below is a good base from which to begin the JalamTeas' Bulang Mountain Sheng experience.
If this is your first tea cake, here is a step-by-step guide on how to break and prepare a tea cake.
Do not be afraid to tinker with the below recommendations. This tea has some wonderful slight vegetal astringency. Altering power and the amount of leaves and/or the length of infusion time can bring different results, so we encourage playing with times and amounts slightly. This is a great tea to age, as it has the strength to retain flavor over time. Use fully boiled water.
We recommend not less than 6 grams per serving; ideally 8 grams. Locals in southern Yunnan will use as much as 12 grams and wring out more than a dozen infusions, keeping the infusion times relatively short.
When the tongue ceases to enjoy an infusion's strength, that is the time to begin anew with a fresh load of leaves.
Don't be shy to ask me any questions about your tea leaves or anything related at firstname.lastname@example.org. You have my ears and I will get back in touch with you.