Three generations of a Tibetan family pose on a portion of the Ancient Tea Horse Road in eastern Tibet. Tea (called jia by the Tibetans) was - along with salt - the great commodity of choice for many of the indigenous groups.
Meng Zhr teas, while known, don’t get a lot of attention from those outside of southern Yunnan. Jeff was only fully introduced to teas from this region in the past two years, with his preferred teas generally coming from further west. Teas from Yunnan’s southwest are known for being generally more robust, and slightly less predictable from season to season. The Meng Zhr unfermented offering from JalamTeas is a tea that has benefited from having its rough ‘edges’ softened with some great processing that has become more consistent.
Many of the more remote tea zones haven’t had the benefit of ideal processing habits but the Meng Zhr has benefitted in recent years from a gradual improvement and the arrival of master producers. As with so many regions in southern Yunnan, Meng Zhr’s teas have long had superb raw materials, but not necessarily any consistency to make tea more widely popular.
Getting to a tea garden in Meng Zhr needs a bit of time, and it needs knowledge...and in this case a brief rest for Jeff.
Our Meng Zhr offering comes from close to the border of Laos, which is known for its heat, and biodiversity. Hani (also known as Akha in Laos, Myanmar, and Thailand) are the dominant minority of the region. Our tea has been harvested between 900-1100 metres and is a tea that soothes rather than assaults the palate. Lingering but light hints of green vegetal flavours are noticeable in the tea and it is on the mild end of green unfermented Puerhs. Cultivated and harvested by Hani pickers the tea’s strength is notable more in the subtleties and aftertaste than in its potent punch in the mouth.
Teas in this region were often blended with peppercorns and chilly peppers and consumed luke-warm in both ceremonies and for medicinal use. Tea or ‘la’ to the Hani people, has long been a medicinal panacea. This particular tea has been fried at lower temperatures so the pan frying takes slightly longer to fully expunge the moisture. Our Meng Zhr unfermented Puerh has been entirely shade withered as some producers prefer a slower general process (shading slows the process) with less direct exposure to the sun.
An area near Meng Zhr where young tea bushes (and the future income producers) grow unobstructed. One of the vitals for tea plants is proper drainage, so slopes are essential.
JalamTeas Meng Zhr is created with tea leaves from bushes no older than 50 years and no younger than 20. Many producers in the region prefer to blend the different leaves to give a more complete tea experience. Young tea buds and leaves from younger bushes and trees give aromatic subtleties, while the leaves from the older plants add a smooth depth to the tea.
Another area of young tea bush growth near Meng Zhr. Bushes generally need 3-5 years before they will begin being harvested to produce teas.
Not only a well-balanced tea, sipping Meng Zhr also offers up an opportunity to sample another in a long line of ‘off the grid’ Puerhs from some of Yunnan’s more remote areas. This is one of our desires: to introduce some of the people and teas from lesser known parts of Yunnan.
Many of the indigenous tea cultivators of Yunnan point to the frequent sharing of earth and geography between bamboo and tea. Some growers go so far as to say that both tea and bamboo become better with the presence of the other.
Important to note in the world of Puerhs is that not all minorities or drinkers necessarily preferred strength in their teas, though there are inevitably those that do. Many actually preferred teas that were well-balanced and neutral in the mouth rather than potent and stimulating doses. More mild teas generally are good teas to consume earlier, whereas stronger more vegetal teas can benefit (or not) from a bit of ageing which brings their sharp tones down a bit.
As with many of our teas, this Meng Zhr was harvested in autumn 2012 so it has already had time to develop and settle. Jeff encourages slightly longer steeping times (add perhaps an extra 10-15 seconds per infusion) simply because the Meng Zhr is already less astringent than many other green Puerhs. The extra infusion time may help bring out more flavour if you crave a bit of bite.
- 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 Zhr 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.
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.