A Hani woman in traditional clothing. Known in Thailand and Laos as the Akha, the Hani have imprinted their ways on tea culture throughout southern Yunnan province. Known to wear silver, their beliefs are still mixed with much that is animistic, which seems natural given their proximity to the great forests within which the tea forests subsist.
Another tea sourced by Jeff from one of his favourite go-to zones near Meng Song. San Mai is a kind of experimental offering as Jeff’s only ever found a few kilograms here and there of the tea while wandering around the area. It was a discovery that took place autumn of 2012 when Jeff was served it, in one of his friend’s tea shops in Meng Hai. This sipping inspired a visit to the region and now we have this rare tea on offer to our members. Much of the San Mai tea is known as Meng Song without actually giving credit to the town or region, so the name San Mai is very seldom used, or heard.
Throughout southern Yunnan towns and villages alike rely on tea's economic and health benefits. Remote areas once with little to endear themselves except peace and lush forests have become power-houses through their teas' rising appeal, and rising prices.
Teas like the San Mai are often ‘sleepers’ in the sense that they have all of the traditional hallmarks of a great Puerh but they simply haven’t been given exposure either locally, abroad, or either. In the case of San Mai this is a tea that simply isn’t known and when first started speaking about it and seeking it out even locals weren’t sure which tea or region he was referring to.
Puerh is the one tea that has been known through the ages as the 'tea of shapes' due to its multitude of formed shapes. Bricks, cakes, cylindrical tubes, and these above 'tuo' shaped balls, known to some as nests all travelled far and wide.
Our San Mai offering has some of the qualities that good Meng Song teas are known for: strength, depth, with a vegetal kick. To travel the area one must be prepared to sweat as the roads are primitive and during the summer rainy season the region is often almost shut down. It is one of the adventure aspects of our sourcing, that rarely are the teas that Jeff sources simply sitting there waiting conveniently by the road-side. Much of the delight we have at JalamTeas is sourcing teas that we actually ‘find’, many of which we were not even aware of before Jeff stumbles upon them with his tastebuds.
Our San Mai tea is from bushes which are at slightly lower altitudes (1300-1500 metres) which bring a initial power to the way in which the tea hits the mouth. Locals often speak that if a tea leaf generally receives more sunlight over the course of its growth period, then it will have a stronger character but have less finish in terms of depth. This offering of San Mai should have a depth of character that will develop over time because of ample shading during both the drying and growing periods.
The region where this San Mai tea has been harvested (above) sits at between 1500 and 1700 metres and is utterly devoid of pollution. Much of the region still requires long walks on foot to access, which makes it an area of interest to us. Good earth, remote pollution free lands, and great production techniques are keys to a great tea, beyond simply a name.
What we mean by ‘shading during drying’ is that Puerh’s should typically have a period of drying (after it has been withered and fried) that takes place both in the sun and in the shade. Puerhs ‘should’ also have what many refer to as a “smell of the sun” upon it in its final dried form (either in loose-leaf, cake, brick forms). Too much sun though in some minds will create a tea that shows its strengths too quickly in the mouth and will not be able to continue to develop through repeated infusions. Shade drying on the other hand, will - because it is a slower process of drying - allow a tea to develop strengths that are sometimes referred to as its ‘depth’ or length.
The tea is harvested from bushes that are anywhere from 30 - 70 years old. Because it is a Spring harvest, our tea carries with it all of the characteristics of the season: fresh, vegetal, and a tea that is great for ageing.
JalamTeas’ San Mai is produced in relatively small quantities and is, what Jeff happily refers to as ‘household’ tea. Each family who collects leaves produces it in a slightly different fashion, with the odd variation. It is typical of small yield teas that the styles (rather than the quality) varies. This tea is harvested, withered, fried and dried in the villages before it is then ‘formed’ in a small factory.
A local kitchen near San Mai where Jeff spent many a meal while sipping teas. Simple environments inevitably create some fantastic teas.
Local Hani and Lahu people who harvest the tea often use the tea to treat those who are recovering from illness to induce hunger and build up the strength of the individual. A mild tea will be prepared when illness has weakened a villager and fed in low but continuous doses as it is believed that the tea will keep the organs nourished and functioning as well as encouraging the victim to take in increased amounts of nourishment.
We hope you enjoy this San Mai Unfermented Puerh.
- 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’ San Mai Unfermented Puerh 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.