For the feared Khampa nomads of eastern Tibet and northwestern Yunnan province, there were few commodities or luxuries more exhilarating than their beloved Ja (tea). So vital, caravans would often employ them as guardians for the tea caravan and in return proffer up extra tributes of tea to the guardian’s clans as a form of tip.
An early – late winter last bit of earthy Shou Puerh from Nannuo Mountains Zhu Ling Village. This Hani stronghold and zone of incredibly smooth Puerhs sits between the capital of southern Yunnan, Jinghong, and the tea hub of Menghai in Xishuangbanna.
Zhu Ling ‘old’ village sits higher than its newer version further down, where younger generations have moved to be closer to the main road and activity that comes with being close. The region’s teas have long been known for being on the gentle side rather than the more astringent or vegetal teas of the Bulang Mountain area.
A vital stage for Puerhs is the rolling and expunging stage after the pan fry to remove the last bits of moisture and to give the leaves a slight twist in shape.
A cooked dark earthy delight that is deliberately fermented in a process that is called pile-fermentation. Leaves that have been shade and sun dried are piled within a room and kept at a constant temperature of between 45 and 55 degrees Celsius for anywhere between a couple of weeks and over a month. When the producer has judged that enough time has passed through judging the leaves, the temperature can be adjusted to room temperature.
Fermented leaves of a ‘shou’ version of Puerh. Pile fermentation introduces bacteria, humidity and temperature at controlled intervals which artificially ‘ages’ and ferments the leaves to give it a ‘cooked’ appearence.
What makes this Shou Puerh special is the addition of Aspergillus Niger bacteria and/or Blastobotrys adeninivorans. These microbes combined with spraying water and covering with materials help to encourage the bacterial growth within the tea piles. All of the while, flavours are developing into distinctive (and for some, awful) powerful earthy tangs. The loose tea leaves are then dried, turned for even aeration, and then the bacterial micro organisms are ‘shut off’ through a sterilization process.
Those who can properly judge the correct timing do this shutting down process so that the desired flavours are achieved.
Young tea bushes in morning light. Partial forest or tree cover is preferred to both shade the sun and diffuse precipitation.
The Hani minority has benefited from investment from outside tea interests who have come in and standardized tea production methods and in some cases come in and do the entire production of harvested leaves themselves step by step.
Being mild in flavours and neutral in strength, this is a tea for immediate consumption or within the 12-16 months. This tea will develop but in this development the leaves will soften further in tones and strength.
From the top…a bud, a young newbie leaf and the main flags or larger leaves below, and all are used in various ratios to make teas, though it is the buds and newbie leaves that are the most coveted.
Leaves are harvested, then sit withering, after which they are thrown into a pan. The angled pan sits so that gravity pulls the leaves down as a master frier will continuously maintain a churning motion, never letting the leaves rest or settle lest they burn…and ruin the entire batch.
We recommend playing with or increasing times of infusion or amount of leaves used with this tea as for some it needs more strength. For others, its mild flavors are perfect as they are.
- 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' Zhu Ling Shou 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 make a stronger brew than you might be accustomed to. The tea can use some extra leaves or time to strengthen the infusion. This is a great neutral tea and can easily handle flexible infusion times. One can always sip the first infusion…Jeff often does.
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.