During the centuries of trade, teas from southern Yunnan would travel aboard caravans up through Yunnan and into the Himalayan spires and onto Lhasa and beyond. Compressed tea bricks and cylinders would spend months travelling. In time, a kind of exchange began whereby the tough mountain horses would be traded for tea. Thus, the Tea Horse Road became one of the most significant trade routes in Asia.
We try to either return to villages that have traditionally provided us with consistent teas or find new, little out-of-the-way villages that carry good quality raw materials. Man Nuo Mountain is one of the latter in this case. A recent summer harvest from this year (2017) this is our first offering from this region and we felt that it carried enough of interesting Sheng goodness that we had to at least try. Long powerful tones, a lemony coloured nectar with great long lasting (and surprisingly quick to appear) vegetal tones of moss and a great finish allow make it an interesting tea to allow to age a month or two more (or even longer) before really tucking in. This Sheng carries with it some genuine strength in the mouth, with some mildly aggressive foretaste that hit the front of the mouth and rolls through, hitting again. The second and third infusions - as always - display more character and evolve with some nice fragrant tones and the odd sharp note, Our procurer, Jeff, suggests not throwing the first-rinse infusion away but rather sipping it. Good Sheng, or raw, Puerhs can handle being sipped on their first infusion and one should feel no fear from doing so as there is already character showing in the first round.
A local at harvest time with the harried look of the season. Spring season is the major time of harvesting, selling and negotiating tea in Xishuangbanna. Summer, Autumn and Winter harvests lack some of the hype - and price - but can be superb tea value.
The Man Nuo region is primarily made up of the Hani minority and lies a little further north from where we usually source. The Hani people occupy some of the prime Puerh zones of cultivation and harvesting and have learned from the Han Chinese the best methods of pan frying, withering, and drying. While having superb raw materials the long held view was that the production wasn’t as good as it could be. This is increasingly changing in small villages as they realize the value of being able to sell and enjoy better quality productions.
Songè, a Tibetan from Shangri-la prepares his horse in much the same manner as his ancestors did when caravanning tea along portions of the Tea Horse Road. Tea’s great overland journeys are one of the great underrated tales of both a commodity and an adventure.
There are many factors that affect a final tea offering but three vitals are unyeilding: raw material quality, attention to the panning or frying stage, and the storage facilities and surroundings. Though a good pan frying will raise the level of an average tea, a bad fry or mildew-infested storage facility or humidity will ultimately change or damage a tea completely.
Within a small ‘second’ kitchen space of a tea villagers home in southern Yunnan. During the prime harvest seasons, feeding hours are intense affairs often requiring an entire home ‘team’ of people preparing food for the all to brief dinner periods.
There has been much discussion about proper storage of Puerhs, as they require ‘open’ storage with aeration outside of air-tight containers. Our view is unwavering in that unless one wants to alter irreparably the flavours of a Puerh and deliberately change the course of the development, one sticks to dry storage. Otherwise one is simply ‘flavoring’ a tea. Our philosophy is that Puerhs (and particularly raw ‘Shengs’) should be enjoyed in as pure a form as possible and thus kept to age in dry and clean surroundings not prone to humidity or scents. Puerhs can and will develop with time anyways so why completely alter those wonderful naturally existing flavour components?
A range of mountains in northern Yunnan through which tea from the south was transported. Upon the route with its variations in temperature, altitude and body temperature of the mules and horses carrying it, tea went through alterations of its own similar in some ways to what happens with a compost.
Panning or frying the leaves is vital, regardless of what tea is being produced. These lighter and smaller leaves get treated delicately and are heated with a specific heat so as not to burn the leaves. Puerh teas are usually fried or panned in larger pans that are angled or biased leaning into the fryer so as to let gravity assist the leaves ‘fall’ so that they might never touch the pan for too long.
Storing Puerh in humid zones, which some advocate, considerably alters the flavour range and essentially obliterates a region’s particular flavour profile. Each mountain and villages has characteristics and in time a sipper can learn to recognize (if not completely, then at least partially) those particularities. A few examples of classics Banzhang’s teas having force and complexity, while Yiwu is known for bright honey tones, and He Kai for its vegetal power and ‘qi’ (force), and so on. Humid storage would take those strengths and natural components and ruin them making them indetermitable.
Harvested from bushes that are 30-40 years old from gardens that lie at approximately 1300 metres, we feel this present Man Nuo offering is a great little northern Banna gem. Enjoy!!
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 Man Nuo 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 power and beautiful sharp notes. 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.
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.