A Bulang woman chats about tea and the trunk of wood to the left of the photo. The Bulang are known for their sour teas, which requires a simple preparation of boiling raw tea leaves and then promptly putting the drained leaves into a husk of wood and burying the husk for months, or even years. The waist high husk to her side has just been dug up and its contents will be eaten with rice for an upcoming festival in the village. The Bulang people, along with the Hani, Lahu, and Wa, are considered true mountain dwellers…and all produce sumptuous teas.
For years, we at JalamTeas have enjoyed offering a few ‘staple’ flavor profiles in our raw ‘Sheng’ Puerh offerings. It remains the lesser known Puerh, still today. Nannuo Mountain teas have long provided smooth and floral gifts on the palate, while Meng Song and Zhang Lang have provided bold almost malty liquors. Bulang Mountain teas, and particularly those produced by the Bulang people, have long been known (and adored) for their slightly more astringent and bitter tones. In the Yunnan where Puerh is harvested and cultivated like nowhere else, this reference to bitterness isn’t at all something that is negative. It is a desirable ‘bite’ rather like something with some raw edge to it on the palate. We were delighted earlier this year at the Toronto Tea Festival when a Bulang Sheng from the same region (though a different harvest season) won first prize of Puerh tastings. Bulangs, and their flavor profiles are now more accepted as palates adapt to some of the vegetal zest and raw green force of the leaves.
An ancient tea tree, that is part of the very forest that it lies within.
That bite and astringency fade and finish light and sweet in the throat, and that, say many voracious Yunnan sippers of Puerh, is where the magic is. A little punchy bite in the mouth followed by a fragrant and almost sweet finish gets drinkers in Yunnan coo’ing about a tea.
Sumptuous mists, rolling terrain, and excellent clay soils all contribute to the final raw material. The rest is up to the hands.
The Bulang people, along with their mountain neighbors the Wa, Hani and Lahu people keep many of their animist beliefs intact. These beliefs in keeping a healthy relationship with the land have also assisted in keeping many villages and mountains, entirely chemical free. No fertilizers and no sprays are allowed in the zones we buy from and if one walks through the bushes and tea trees, you will see that many of the leaves are imperfect, chewed, torn, or adorned with spider webs. This is one of the signs that the bushes have been left alone to their own devices to deal with their issues and environment. And this is how we like it too. Within the tea world and particularly the Puerh tea world of southern Yunnan it is precisely this dedication (many thought these regions “backward” at one point due to their isolation and simple ways) to uncluttered methods that now benefits the growers and villagers. Prices increase year upon year for Puerhs grown in pure ecologically healthy domains far away from humanity and some of its ‘tools’ and accelerators of production. This tea comes from bushes high on the mountain at 1400 metres, from a late autumn 2017 harvest. This tea has already had some time to soften and develop a little so a nice first sampling might be in order if you want to feel some of the inherent vegetal power.
Tea is still - and hopefully will remain - very much something that is linked to the people that bring it to life in southern Yunnan.
Bulang people are known for their long list of uses of tea. Everything from tonics for internal organs, to sipping lukewarm strong teas for fever, to using mashed leaves along with other herbs for poultices on external wounds to heal skin.
It used to be that teas from this region couldn’t be counted on for consistency and hygiene. Often dust and the odd chicken feather would appear in a batch, even though the raw materials were always wonderful. Processing of the leaves, too, would be random or haphazard. Those were the days when our procurer, Jeff, would lament because at the core of every good tea is a great raw material. One season great tea, and the next season a complete descent in quality or care. Those days are gone (at least since we now know which producers are consistent) and every year sees more villages and families improve quality because they see the value of a good simple tea that is well made. For locals, a tea is well regarded if sippers can taste the terroir and earthy contributions to the flavor. Many in the west refer to this as the vegetal nature or the slight astringency.
Action central where freshly harvested leaves go through part of a withering process.
With each tea the withering process goes through a slightly different process. Here withering is encouraged in a roller with some heat fan blown in. “It is ready when my hands and nose tell me it is”, said the withering master.
This Bulang offering is a bright and vegetal tea for either those seeking a little boost of stimulant power, or for ageing. Because of the astringency and the strength, this tea will age and soften nicely over months and even years. We urge you though, as always to use the below as a starting point only and hope you experiment a little in infusion times and strengths to find some harmony (or rampant strength) that pleases.
- 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. Try playing with slightly different infusion times as well as the amount of leaves to find the right feel…and that feel may vary depending on the drinker or the time of day. The flavor profile tends towards a slight astringency with florals that sweetens as it escapes down the gorge.
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 [email protected]. You have my ears and I will get back in touch with you.