Project Profile for the Mannong Manmai Ancient Tea Co-op, FLO ID: 5061
The Mannong Manmai Ancient Organic Tea Co-op was initially founded in October of 2004 to meet the requirements of USDA, EU and JAS organic certification programs. In 2006, the project became Fair Trade Certified™ by FLO International. The co-op comprises three villages: Mannong Old Village, Mannong New Village and Manmai Village. Making their homes in the co-op are 244 families totaling around 1,200 people.
Geography & Environment
Mannong and Manmai are located in subtropical Xishuangbanna, in the southern tip of China's Yunnan Province. Orienting further within Xishuangbanna, the "natural villages" of Old Mannong and Manmai are part of the Hekai Official Village of Menghun Town, in southeastern Menghai County. Hekai Tea Mountain belongs to the northern section of the famous Nannuo mountain chain, which is considered by some scholars of Pu-erh tea trade history to be one of the "Six Famous Ancient Tea Mountains." The main ethnic groups living in this area are Lahu and Hani. This is one of the oldest tea cultivation zones in the world that still produces "commercial tea." The villages and surrounding forests contain some of highest population densities of ancient tea.
The ancient tea gardens are primarily distributed along mountains and hills ranging from 1,500 – 1,800m above sea level. Groves of tea trees span the villages and spread into the surrounding forests. Manmai Village yields the majority of the fresh leaf, while Mannong Old Village yields are less and Mannong New Village contributes less than 10% of the total yield from the co-op.
Mountains cover more than 90% of the co-op's land area. The climate in Mannong and Manmai Villages is southern subtropical and monsoonal, with an abundance of rainfall. The annual average temperature is 64.6°F, with a relative humidity of 82%. This mild, warm and moist climate provides superior natural conditions for growing tea trees, resulting in dense and rich tree growth and strong flushing.
Mannong Manmai is a truly natural environment with an excellent tree canopy cover and a biologically diverse environment that is blessed with rich soil and an ecologically pristine tea garden landscape. This area was established by ancient tea planters more than 1,500 years ago. The local Lahu understanding is that the tea groves already existed when the Lahu settled in this area.
Ancient Heirloom Tea:
Most of the tea trees are the Menghai "Da Ye" antique cultivar and other antique Da Yeh varieties. The average height of the tea trees ranges from 10 – 23 feet (3 – 7m). Today, nearly 1,650 acres of ancient tea gardens exist in the Mannong and Manmai tea growing area.
This area has no clonal or newly cultivated, terraced tea gardens even within reasonable motor scooter distance. That was one a key factor in our decision to source tea here. This area only contains ancient tea tree resources, making it impossible for the processors to blend in cheaper, mono-crop tealeaves. A reality of the current tea market in Yunnan is that many ancient tea mountains that have some ancient tea trees also contain newly cultivated mono-crop plantations. Often, this inferior terraced tea is blended with ancient tea, then still labeled and sold as "ancient tea." All of the gardens in Mannong and Manmai are ancient tea tree groves, and there is no terraced plantation tea to be found.
The local tea variety is quite special because it was planted 1,500 years ago and has evolved in the same soil and mountain for such a long time. It has spread through open pollination and natural seed dissemination, so it is truly of an ancient genetic origin and represents a locally specific flavor. The key to ancient tea is not that each kilogram of tea we sell is harvested solely from thousand year-old trees, but rather that it all derives from an heirloom variety. That is, it comes from antique seed stock that has evolved within this area since ancient times. In the ancient tea forest, you'll find tea trees ranging from fifty years old to one thousand years old, even tiny saplings sprouting from the seeds dropped by the elder trees. The signature taste of this origin is in the ancient seed stock and local flavor that flows through all the trees in this ancient tea garden.
The Impact of Fair Trade:
Although Mannong and Manmai Villages are rich in ancient tea culture and traditions, the area is very underdeveloped and poor. Fair Trade (FLO) Certification has greatly benefited the tea co-op members and their community. For every pound of ancient tea imported from Mannong Manmai we have sent "Fair Trade Social Premium Funds" back to the co-op.
The co-op representatives are elected by villagers and represent the interests of all 1,200 co-op individual members. The co-op representatives vote how to spend the "FLO Social Premium Funds" to benefit the three villages. The money has been used for clean water access, education and schooling, health care for all villagers, sanitation system, road, communication and infrastructure development, temples, cultural activities, community centers, organic management and technology, quality improvement training programs for co-op members, a co-op owned organic tea factory and multiple other community based programs.
Through 2011, Rishi Tea's Yunnan tea imports and Fair Trade market has contributed 75% of the global total FLO premiums that have been sent to Mannong Manmai since this project's establishment in 2006, totaling approximately $155,000 USD.