For Tibetans, and particularly the nomads, tea or ‘ja’ has always been one of the vitals in daily life. Tea from Yunnan (Puerh or big-leaf tea) would travel along the old Tea Horse Road to access the market towns of the Tibetan Plateau. Few commodities had the bargaining power and currency that tea did.
Another month, another tea as we pass more than four dozen teas that we’ve offered up in the course of JalamTeas’ lifespan. One of the joys of each tea and region is revisiting a particular garden or region in a different season and testing how the teas have come along (or not). It has been years since we offered a San Mai and we’re happy to have a more recent (Summer 2015 Harvest) on the menu to offer up. Close to the more well known Meng Song region, San Mai’s relatively high altitudes and isolation assist in maintaining an ideal zone for the green leaf (‘tea’ is called ‘la’ by the local Akha Hani people).
Much of southern Yunnan, Burma, and southeast Asia is known not only for tea, but for other herbs and traditional healing medicines. Tea has long been regarded as a medicine in these regions.
It is often the way, that a more famous region acts as a conduit and collection point for nearby gardens and villages that don’t themselves have a name. In many cases the ‘name’ designation of a tea in the past didn’t necessarily reflect where a tea was actually from. Meng Song teas of the past might refer to a whole swath of land from which leaves were collected. Now there are small markets where these more isolated communities might market their teas under their own name offering up a chance to sample slightly different palate excursions.
A local Bulang woman forms clay to act as a seal on a bamboo trunk…within tea leaves are stored. The entire section will be buried and dug up at a later date to be consumed.
Both the Akha and Lahu people coexist throughout the hills of the region and like so many of the indigenous minorities of the region, both peoples span far beyond the borders of Yunnan, and can be found in Thailand, Laos, and Burma. In southern Yunnan province the dominant Dai minority generally occupies the fertile valleys while the Akha, the Bulang, the Lahu and Wa, and others remained - or were pushed - into the hills and mountains. It is from these mountains where so much of best tea comes from, throughout southern Yunnan.
Such fires are sacred for their abilities to cook, boil, warm, and protect.
Meng Song teas have been traditionally known for strength in character and the San Mai carries these strengths while perhaps being a little more mild and less forceful. This offering comes from bushes found between 1400-1500 metres that are between 20 and 40 years old. The greater region is known for the ‘ancient tree offerings’, which are far more expensive and are teas that are collected from bushes that haven’t been pruned or cut back. They have been allowed to wander and grow at will and now there are increasing markets to sell the teas which in turn provide an income to some of these very remote communities.
This present offering has had time to settle and comes with some great malty notes and is very much a tea to consume presently or in the near future. It will age nicely we feel, because of its natural strengths and depth, but has a delicious tang and zip right now.
Tibetan butter, freshly made. The teas that so delight us at JalamTeas and others would quickly be stewed, have butter and salt added and consumed as Tibetan churned tea. It has been so for generations.
Enjoy this little tea from the area of San Mai and know that it is a tea that very rarely gets out of Yunnan province. Many of the Akha and Hani families are related by blood and marriage to those in the more well known tea mountains of Nannuo Mountain.
Our tea procurer, Jeff Fuchs talks Puerh tea to an audience of tea lovers in Sri Lanka, where black teas are famed.
Don’t be afraid to consume the first infusion. First infusions are often used to open up the leaves, clean the infusion of dust and particles, and to eliminate some of the astringency. Our tea procurer, Jeff, often consumes the first infusion as do many of the locals.
- 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 Sheng 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. Or conversely to crank things up, increase the amounts of tea used or the infusion times if you are looking for a jolt or prefer stronger cups.
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. With this San Mai Sheng even cutting the total grams down to 5 grams is worth a try.
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.