Tenzin in his day was a guardian of tea caravans that travelled along the fabled Ancient Tea Horse Road. One of the very last of the ancients who journeyed along the route, he remarked, "There was no more valuable a commodity of trade than tea. If one had tea, one had wealth".
In another first for JalamTeas, we’re offering up what is known as an ‘ancient tea tree tea’ as a way of expanding the tea we offer and opening up the tea vocabulary a little. The leaves of this offering are off of tea trees that are over a hundred years old in the Pulang Mountains, which spray east and west close to the Laos, and Burma borders.
This isn’t an ‘old’ tea, but rather newly clipped buds and leaves from ancient tea tree. It differs from our other teas in that as a tea tree or bush ages, it mellows slightly, losing some of the potent bitterness of the younger trees. Crucially too, it develops more complex flavours.
Tea harvesters - with bags of tea over their shoulders - make their way home along a portion of the ancient Tea Horse Road. Much of the road has been forgotten but locals still use it's ancient stones to access tea tree forests.
Pulang teas are already slightly astringent so we thought, why not offer up the best of both: bitters and complexities in one tea. Harvested in the heart of ancient tea tree forests, Pulang Mountain, by the Pulang and Lahu peoples, this tea (called ‘gu shu’ in Mandarin, or ‘ancient tree’) is one that is actively sought after by tea connoisseurs. More expensive, harder to find, it is a tea that for most westerners is simply another tea. Far from it though as the older the ‘source’ of the tea (in this case older trees) the more mellow and easy on the digestive track it gets; all of the benefits of a great unsprayed green tea without so much of the power.
Such was tea's importance in ancient times (from the ancient tea trees of southern Yunnan) that villages' and communities' fortunes lived and died along with the tea caravans. Here an almost-ghosttown in eastern Tibet, who's status died with the ebbing of tea in the 1950's. Residents moved on after the caravans' traffic and precious tea supplies ran out.
A tea tree’s root systems plunge downward in almost a straight line so the older a tea tree (not a Tea Tree like in Australia) the deeper it goes, extracting what minerals it can…thus a little more complex in taste.
As we’ve made mention of before, the Pulang are some of the globe’s most ancient tea cultivators. They are considered mountain people and when the Dai minority (the dominant minority of southern Yunnan) moved in to the plans and valleys, the Pulang (or Pu as they are sometimes known) moved up into the mountains..
Newly pruned tea bushes. Bushes are pruned to keep them easier to pluck the leaves. If left uncut, they would become trees.
The Lahu are another of the more secretive and withdrawn of the minorities and occupy hillside regions in amidst tea forests in the south and southwest of Yunnan. Our yield of Ancient Tree Pulang is a summer 2012 harvest that Jeff discovered in Spring of this year. The tea remained in a friend’s village so Jeff sampled it, sampled some more, and purchased the remaining stock and had it pressed. It isn’t common to have such teas available as they typically sell out but that is one of the benefits of seeking out teas in person: there are always gems awaiting a palate to discover them. It has been harvested at around 1600 – 1800 metres so it rates as a true ‘high mountains Puerh’.
Young tea bushes near Pulang Mountain grow on the slopes for drainage. One of the great evils for tea bushes, trees, and half-lings is non-efficient drainage systems. If too much water collects around the root-systems.
This tea was harvested in September of 2012 so it has had time to mellow slightly so a slightly stronger infusion is possible, either through more tea leaves or slightly longer infusion times. Older tree Puerhs can be infused even more than regular Puerh’s, so experiment for yourself to see how much more flavour can be enjoyed.
One thing to note not only with this offering but with all of our offerings: we hope you’ll find some time to sample each of our teas, without any strong flavours present in the mouth or palate, which many conflict with the tea’s character. In this way one can fully appreciate (or not) what the tea has to offer. Older tree teas also are less astringent than their younger bush or tree relatives
- 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’ Pulang Old Tree Tea 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 make a stronger brew than you might be accustomed to. We like to recommend using a ‘gai wan’ or flared cup with lid, so that you can not only prepare the leaves, but also watch, smell get used to hands on preparation.
Use fully boiled water.
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.
All of the above suggestions on serving are only a starting point, as there are many tried and true preparation measures for tea. If you can wring more tastes and joy out of the leaves than ten infusions, wring away. And if, like Jeff, you prefer more potent servings and less total infusions, do that as well.
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.