We thought a sacred mountain would be appropriate and a little special for this December yuletide offering. Meli Xueshan to the Chinese and Kawa Karpo to the Tibetans this stunning sentinel is worshipped by the local Tibetans who circumambulate around its great base. Pilgrims view this ‘kora’ as something to cleanse and start afresh in all things ‘life’. It is seen as a dwelling place of deities and it rests along the Ancient Tea Horse Road in northwestern Yunnan Province.
Much dependent upon who one speaks too, altitude can play a role in not only the quality of a tea but in its desirability and price as well. There are many who suggest that if all other aspects of tea production are exactly the same, the higher altitude teas will be ‘better’. One of the reasons is that temperatures are lower and the leaves and their flavors develop more slowly. Many of the little natural pests which exist prefer the higher temperatures of the lower altitudes as well. However, a tea still needs care and great hands during production to become something wonderful, regardless of the altitude or season when harvested.
Part of tea’s great story isn’t simply the leaf itself but the context of tea in terms of Asian history. Caravans like these carted teas across the Himalayas along the Tea Horse Road and Puerh in particular underwent changes to its structure, in effect ageing. Puerh teas have some of the longest history with trade in the world from its origins in southwestern Yunnan.
Zhang Lang teas have always had the benefit of true high altitude at 1500-1700 metres, and local Bulang and Hani tea farmers consider the ensuing filtration of sun and rain with mists a “gift”. Rich soils and 75%-85% humidity levels are well known in the region and both are essential for ideal raw materials. Zhang Lang has benefited as well from the fact that it is only in recent years that its teas have been known, so its bushes and trees have never undergone the overharvesting that has burdened many plants in southern Yunnan’s Puerh regions.
Every leaf has its role as a contributor in a tea. Buds, small leaves, and even the larger leaves all have different flavours that make up a tea. It is part of the mixing of leaves which is the art of balancing out tones, astringency, and vegetal bite. This mixing is one of the underrated parts of creating a tea and requires sampling and determining how much of each collection to mix with what.
Locals have long regarded tea as something far more than a beverage, using the leaves for everything from a poultice for wounds, to a vital organ stimulator after being ill. The local Bulang and Hani people are true mountain folk, having been pushed up out of the valleys by dominant Dai, and having mastered living within the mists.
A pathway through a literal tea forest. Each of the trees is a tea tree and it is from these older trees that teas are harvested with the “old tree” or “ancient tree” label. The older the tree, the higher the value, though a bad fry or other issue in the production can bring quality down immediately.
This present offering is something of a classic for JalamTeas in both its flavor profile and its age. Harvested in the summer of 2014, it has had over three years to develop in ideal dry conditions. Dry storage maintains (according to many Puerh buyers) the integrity of the leaf as it was harvested in terms of flavors and profile, whereas humid storage tends to impart a new series of hints and flavors. We prefer the dry storage simply because the tea will more consistently reflect the unique situation and circumstances of the time and place of harvest.
One of the better teas made along a trade route was made by this woman who insisted that "tea leaves needed to have strength to have meaning”. In much of Asia the idea of a tea being subtle and overly complex is an anomaly rather than something coveted. Puerh teas carry both subtle tonal ranges and strength, along with the fact that they evolve with time and age.
Many locals of southern Yunnan insist that Puerh leaves age better when compressed into cakes or bricks due to the friction and contact that they leaves have with one another causing a kind of alchemic reaction. Seldom does one find Puerh ageing in loose leaf form.
The Zhang Lang experience from a flavor perspective has long been a favorable one with deep notes of slight malt with its inherent vegetal strength remaining for many infusions. It is one of the teas that handles many successive infusions but we encourage drinkers not to be afraid of limiting infusions and to make full bodied offerings. Multiple infusions show quality but at the same time we often feel that this Puerh starts opening beautifully upon the very first infusion and continues nicely until the 5th or 6th, where it then requires new leaves.
Enjoy the Zhang Lang over the Holiday Season for what it is. A long in the mouth slightly thick Puerh with great roots and hands along the way, that has benefited from its years of ageing and slight softening. One of our perennial favorites, we feel fortunate to be able to offer it up consistently. Best of the Season to you and yours.
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 Zhang Lang 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. A classic bit of vegetal flavor that has softened slightly and broadened in its profile with the 3+ years of ageing, it remains a classic. Try playing with slightly different infusion times as well as the amount of leaves to find the right feel…and that feel may vary depending on the drinker or the time of day. We suggest too, that you consume that first infusion. It carries beautiful flavors.
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@example.com. You have my ears and I will get back in touch with you.