• Wa shan Ecological Tea Garden

    Wa Shan is situated in the very remote, subtropical montane forests bordering Burma in the southwest of Yunnan.
  • Wa shan Ecological Tea Garden

    The Wa Shan Ecological Tea Garden carefully managed. Numerous shade trees, grasses, and other weeds are protected to nourish the soil, prevent erosion, and promote biodiversity.
  • Wa shan Ecological Tea Garden

    Clouds and fog enshroud the Wa Shan Ecological Tea Garden throughout the growing season, providing an ideal environment for the tea bushes to mature slowly and develop vivid, intense flavours.
  • Wa shan Ecological Tea Garden

    A range of grasses and reeds grows between the rows of tea trees. The tea farmers periodically hand-chop the weeds down with machetes, leaving the vegetation behind to compost and enrich the soil.
  • Wa shan Ecological Tea Garden

    Wa Shan is teeming with biodiversity.
  • Wa shan Ecological Tea Garden

    Spring rains nourish the Wa Shan Ecological Tea Garden from late April through June, the peak harvest time for making Dianhong black tea.
  • Wa shan Ecological Tea Garden

    The subtropical climate at Wa Shan encourages the tea trees to grow rapidly during the spring and early summer season.
  • Wa shan Ecological Tea Garden

    What makes the Wa Shan tea farm "Ecological"? When the farm was established nearly a decade ago, the farm managers consulted with local Wa villagers to see which types of native plants they should preserve within the tea garden. The Wa people instructed the farmers to preserve a variety of medicinal plants and grasses, and also asked the farmers to preserve the local Qimushu alder trees to protect the soil. The ancient wisdom of local leaders is backed by science: the roots of old-growth Qimushu trees are abundant in a beneficial nitrogen-fixing bacteria called Frankia alni. The farmers preserved hundreds of alder trees throughout the farm, including the three large trees in this photograph.
  • Wa shan Ecological Tea Garden

    Tea farmer Ms. Li Ai Gan picking spring tea at the Wa Shan Ecological Tea Garden.
  • Wa shan Ecological Tea Garden

    Many tea farmers slow-cook their lunch in an iron kettle over a simple fire during the busy spring harvest season.
  • Wa shan Ecological Tea Garden

    Grasses and weeds grow between the rows of tea bushes, and are chopped back to provide composting vegetation to nourish the soil. The weeds are chopped back, not pulled up by the roots, so they can regrow every few weeks during the monsoon season. Notice how loamy the soil is here. It feels spongy and rich underfoot.
  • Wa shan Ecological Tea Garden

    Wa style machete used to chop down weeds and undergrowth throughout the garden.
  • Wa shan Ecological Tea Garden

    Another shot of vegetation composting between the rows of tea bushes.
  • Wa shan Ecological Tea Garden

    Mengku Broad Leaf Variety tea trees, seen here, are noted to be high in polyphenols, which create a rich mouthfeel and mellow fruity flavour reminiscent of dates and plums when made into Dianhong black tea.
  • Wa shan Ecological Tea Garden

    Solar-powered bug zappers are a sustainable, safe alternative to pesticides used in organic tea cultivation.
  • Wa shan Ecological Tea Garden

    Passiflora (passionfruit) trees are preserved within the Wa Shan Ecological Tea Garden.
  • Wa shan Ecological Tea Garden

    Passionfruits, still green, about 3-4 weeks away from ripening into a reddish-purple color.
  • Wa shan Ecological Tea Garden

    Wa Shan Ecological Tea Garden's Farm Manager, Mr. Tian Yuan, is a local Wa farmer who is very knowledgable in medicinal plants, herb cultivation, and organic cultivation techniques.
  • Wa shan Ecological Tea Garden

    Tian Yuan, whom we have nicknamed "Herb Professor", lecturing on the restorative properties of an herb growing wild in the Wa Shan Ecological Tea Garden.
  • Wa shan Ecological Tea Garden

    Abundant shade trees, seen on the left in this photo, are preserved and grow amongst the tea trees in the Wa Shan Ecological Tea Garden. The land grant for the tea farm also includes hundreds of acres of natural forestry, like that seen on the right in this photo, that will remain untouched.
  • Wa shan Ecological Tea Garden

    Recently chopped grasses are left between the rows of tea bushes to compost and recycle their nutrients into the soil.
  • Wa shan Ecological Tea Garden

    Ms. Zi and Ms. Xiao picking tea in spring.
  • Wa shan Ecological Tea Garden

    Spring harvest collected by Ms. Zi and Ms. Xiao. In springtime, the teas are picked according to the two-leaves-and-one-bud picking standard. It takes all morning to pick all of this tea.
  • Wa shan Ecological Tea Garden

    Delicate white teas made from Mengku Broad Leaf Variety tea trees withering in early spring.
  • Wa shan Ecological Tea Garden

    Freshly picked tea leaves wither for 8-12 hours before being rolled and oxidized to make black tea. The withering beds at the Wa Shan Ecological Tea Garden are immaculately clean. Each bed is made of a stainless steel frame. Depending on the ambient conditions in the factory, fans can be turned on or off to add wind to assist the withering process. The tea masters have to assess the environment constantly throughout the day and adjust their tea crafting as they go.
  • Wa shan Ecological Tea Garden

    After rolling, the clumps of tea are broken apart by hand before the tea enters the oxidation stage of manufacture.


  • Zi Juan purple leaf tea cultivar growing on the western slopes, sees the sunset each night on Wa Shan.


  • Our local Wa friends taught us how to enjoy Huangpao golden raspberries: wrap each berry inside a petal from the Moshuiguo flower. The delicate floral aroma curbs the tartness of the berry, making it sweet as nectar. The two plants are often found growing near each other throughout the tea garden.
  • Wa shan Ecological Tea Garden

    Wa farmer Ms. Chen picks and sells mulberries and Huangpao golden raspberries in banana leaf baskets at a local market.
  • Wa shan Ecological Tea Garden

    Wa farmer Ms. Chen picks and sells mulberries and Huangpao golden raspberries in banana leaf baskets at a local market.
  • Wa shan Ecological Tea Garden

    A traditional Wa village home, now part of a Wa cultural landmark located two hours from the Wa Shan Ecological Tea Garden.

Wa Shan Ecological Tea Garden

Introduction

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.

Farm Profile:

The Wa Shan Ecological Tea Garden is situated on the southwestern Yunnan province, bordering Myanmar (Burma). Wa Shan is the name of a mountain, home to the Wa ethnic people, who live in Yunnan and Burma with a very small population of just over 1 million people. The Wa Shan Ecological Tea Garden is an organic certified tea farm specializing in making Dianhong ("Yunnan Red") black teas, as well as special micro-lots of delicate spring flush white and green teas, wulong teas using traditional wulong cultivars, and pu'er teas made from the ancient genetic seed stock of broad leaf variety tea trees.

The Wa People:

The Wa people (佤族) are a small ethnic group with an estimated population of just over 1 million people. The Wa people live primarily in China's Yunnan province and in Burma's Kachin and Shan states, with a small population making home in Thailand's Chiang Rai province. The Wa have their own spoken language that belongs to the Austroasiatic family. The Wa oral language has no written counterpart. Over the centuries the Wa people adopted other written scripts such as Chinese and Shan to communicate in written form. Cave artwork found in some regions of Yunnan traditionally inhabited by the Wa suggest that the Wa may have used a pictographic written language in the far ancient past. The traditional Wa belief system is animist, and placed particular emphasis on ritual sacrifice of cattle. The Wa are known as a warm, inviting, and festive culture which is celebrated through folk traditions that are still practiced today, such as singing and dancing paired the famously strong local whiskey. A traditional Wa dish is said to symbolize their hospitality and communal spirit: marinated free-range chicken shredded with fresh vegetables and mountain herbs cooked simply into a savoury rice porridge. The Wa say that cooking a chicken on its own without the rice and vegetables can only feed three or four mouths. But a chicken prepared in the traditional way can allow even dozens of guests to share the same dish.

Tea Tree Cultivars:

Mengku Broad Leaf Variety
Fengqing Broad Leaf Variety
Yunkang #10
Qingshui #3
Xiang Gui Yun Hao
Zi Juan
…numerous other aromatic cultivars

Elevation:

1,700–1,850m Climate:

The Wa Shan Ecological Tea Garden is situated in the midst of a remote subtropical, mountainous microclimate in southwestern Yunnan. The Tropic of Cancer passes just north of Wa Shan; even at the highest elevations, there are just 25 days of frost per year on average. The rolling hills here are thickly covered with lush tropical rainforest, providing shelter for the tea gardens from the severe drought conditions that have afflicted the northern and central areas of Yunnan in recent years. The forestry here teems with a rich biodiversity comprising myriad species of wild flora and fauna. On average, there are 150 days of dense fog per year at Wa Shan, making for the perfect environment for growing tea. The tea trees, enshrouded in clouds and mists throughout the growing season, mature very slowly and develop rich flavours abundant in plant nutrients like L-theanine amino acids, which are concentrated due to the muted sunlight. In addition, the contrast between warm days and cool nights benefits the tea plant's respiratory functions, intensifying the flavour and rich mouthfeel of the tea.

Local Flora:

Passiflora (passionfruit) trees, Qimushu alder trees (whose roots contain the nitrogen-fixing bacteria Frankia alni), mountain ginger, Bajiao banana, Moyu Devil's taro, various Cyathea tropical tree ferns, Huangpao golden raspberry, Moshuiguo flowering shrub.

Local Fauna:

Gaofeng Niu "Tall-Peak Cattle", wild deer, wild boar, mountain goats, honeybees, and (historically) Indian elephants.

Organic:
Rainforest Alliance:
Fair Trade/Fair For Life:

Wa Shan Ecological Tea Garden

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