Sorting and drying freshly made tea leaves in southern Yunnan atop a roof. For many such villages in the Puerh producing regions tea is ‘the’ crop which both provides an economic base and the fuel needed to harvest this most labor intensive of yields.
Meng Song is one of southern Yunnan’s oldest regions of Puerh big leaf cultivation and one of its highest. For close to a thousand years, the Hani people have been elbows deep in the leaves. Many will site high altitudes as being indicative of a great tea source but altitude isn’t a guarantee of anything, though in the case of this present Meng Song it is a genuine high-altitude offering coming from zones of just over 1700 metres.
Punchy and full-bodied, this Meng Song has some power that begin to unleash and open up after a couple of infusions. Light hints of floral give way to some cedar tones, though in the wonderful words of a local grower “I’m not sure what cedar tastes like, but it has some sort of hint of a tree in it”. Locals often speak rather simply about the teas and their qualities and there is something genuine in this. They will speak of power, astringency, bittersweet, and they will speak of the hit in the mouth and the finish but avoid too much overly decorative language.
Tasting cups lined up for a tasting where Puerh leaves will be looked at, smelled, felt, and ultimately sipped. It is in such a way that teas are selected and purchased.
Meng Song hasn’t always been known for consistency or good production and certainly hasn’t been one of the famed tea mountains, though there are always exceptions. There are always examples of Meng Song’s being a very average tea but that is almost entirely down to sub-standard production methods. That has thankfully changed to a degree and now there are some great teas coming out of the Meng Song region. Like many of the tea zones of southern Yunnan, the raw materials and soil quality has been good. The problems begin with production, storage and lax conditions when withering, frying and drying the leaves themselves.
A town along the Tea Horse Road in northwestern Yunnan Province deep within a recess of mountain. Such villages played a huge role along the length of the Tea Horse Road both consuming the teas and trading and distributing it further into even more remote communities.
Because of the strength of this tea it is, we feel, a great tea to age as it will get smoother with time. From 35-50 year old bushes the tea has punch in the mouth, while carrying some floral notes but is known for a great finish.
This is a late summer 2015 harvest from Meng Song, which is a region which seems for the moment at least to remain ever-so-slightly-away from much of the crush of travellers that come to Xishuangbanna.
Stacks of ornately formed Puerh sit as a decoration as much as a consumable. In the days of the dynasties, the appearance of tea shapes were almost as important as the quality of the tea itself. Such teas were often used (or demanded) as tribute to emperors or leaders.
Locals will often take tea strong and raw first thing in the morning and few – if any – consume the ripe ‘Shou’ version of Puerh. Here the Sheng’s are a mainstay taken day and night in amounts that are staggering at times.
Freshly sieved mulberry pulp will dry as wrapping paper for tea cakes. In this Dai village, it was long ago agreed that the members of the community would produce such paper providing a stage for the production and export of tea.
If one prefers a lighter tea hit, this is a tea to cut back on in terms of both grams per infusion and time of infusion. Cutting back to 5-6 grams instead of the recommended 8 and going for infusion times of 12-20 seconds should notch the intensity down a little bit.
Meng Song is located close to the Mekong River, north of the tea collection point of Menghai. Floral yes, but this tea has some real power.
- 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 Sheng 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.
Do not be afraid to tinker with the below recommendations. This tea is floral but packs some power and decreasing the amount of leaves and/or the length of infusion time can help. Use fully boiled water.
We recommend not less than 6 grams per serving; ideally 8-10 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.
However, again, if one prefers a lighter tea hit, this is a tea to cut back on in terms of both grams per infusion and time of infusion. Cutting back to 5-6 grams instead of the recommended 8 and going for infusion times of 12-20 seconds should notch the intensity down a little bit.
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.