Meng Song is a genuine ‘high altitude’ Puerh with the teas being cultivated and harvested at altitudes ranging from 1,700-2,300 meters and it is one of my favourite teas both because of its big taste and its value. Again and again I have been served this tea by locals in the tea growing regions and I’ve often wondered, “Why isn’t it more available”? Now it is.
High altitude leaves like this are spared the direct sun rays and the damage that direct rainfall can cause. Mists diffuse precipitation and sunlight which is ideal for the camellia bushes. The leaves of ancient trees are huge and in a Puerh tea cake, or loose leaf tea sampling there are a combination of the two which infuse a tea with different flavours.
Meng Song is one of the highest tea regions in all of Menghai County, in Yunnan’s famed southwest Puerh bastion. In tea’s world of ornate names, Puerh names always have their origin in the designation, so Meng Song is both a place and a tea from that place.
One of the many forested 'tea mountains'. Young tea bushes (bottom left) grow within the protective enclave of the greater forest, while invisible to the eye tea trees grow within the forest itself. Tea forests are unofficially 'owned' by families whose ancestors also owned the lands and produced teas. With tea's rising popularity many of the previously poor land owners now find themselves in a much different situation, providing they have tea on their properties. This tea forest near Meng Song is laden with tea and each tree and bush is known to its owners.
A Hani woman plucks the end shoots of young tea bushes during the morning hours. Young tea bushes, provided they are not sprayed, produce excellent teas as well, though teas picked from ancient or very old tea trees will be much more expensive and sought after. Teas collected from towns and villages are generally managed by a collective and decisions are made by an informal council that look after the interests of most. The indigenous have long known that one of the secrets to their continued success is to make a model that is sustainable and to not over harvest for the benefit of the short term. It is from such communities that we source our teas.
Altitudes ‘help’ teas because of the lower temperatures and mists - both of which aid in a tea’s development. Lower temperatures limit a tea plant’s natural enemies and promote a slower growth development of taste. Mists act as a kind of diffuser to both direct sunlight and direct rainfall.
The prefix “Meng” of ‘Meng Song’ is often seen in southwestern China, northern Thailand, and Laos and refers to ‘place’ or ‘country’. It is prominent in the language of the dominant Dai people of the region.
We’ve chosen this tea because of its wide flavour base and an almost malty bit of tone in the mouth. It is best when fresh but because of its strength, and will easily age and become smoother over time without losing its character. It isn’t so much an astringent tea but rather a tea with strength.
One of the vital processes that is played out every harvest season is the tea 'frying'. This process eliminates moisture from the tea leaves and fixes the taste of the tea. Continuous motion and an even heat are essential. This process takes place in every home of a tea growing region, with slightly different results and this makes for many teas from the same region that have slightly different characteristics.
This green unfermented ‘sheng’ (‘raw’ in Mandarin) has a long-lasting flavour which makes it a favorite tea of drinkers in the Menghai region. It is a tea that rarely makes it out of Yunnan.
A Meng Song unfermented Puerh shows all of the requisite qualities that the eyes should take in. Clarity and the deep colour denote only part of what makes a tea 'acceptable'. Tea in the Hani language is "la" and to drink tea is "la ba doa".
The Hani people of the Meng Song region have been harvesting teas for at least 800 years and the tea tree forests are thick and ungainly as they have been encouraged to grow wild. They’ve used teas for its anti-inflammatory agents, ability to soothe fevers, infections and the Hani have also used teas for their abilities to cleanse the system and provide a tonic for the organs.
The Hani people are broken into sub-groups and in Northern Thailand and Laos they are known as the 'Akha' people. They learned from the Pulang and Wa peoples how to cultivate, harvest and produce teas and have become one of the dominant tea producing minorities of Southwestern China specializing in Puerh.
This Hani master fries tea moments after it has been brought in. In some cases a 'master' will be a centre-point where harvesters from the same village will bring their newly picked leaves. Buyers of tea who know a region will often designate and insist that their teas are prepared by such masters to ensure quality and consistency.
It is a revitalizing tea that hits all points of the mouth and is a tea that isn’t a subtle tea but rather more of a tea that hits the palate with an impact.
- 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 Meng Song tea experience. If this is your first tea cake, here is a step-by-step guide on how to break and prepare a tea cake.
Use fully boiled water, as the large leaf 'Camellia Sinensis Assamica' (Puerh) can handle the heat.
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.