Wa Shan Ecological Tea Garden
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 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
Xiang Gui Yun Hao
…numerous other aromatic cultivars
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.
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.
Gaofeng Niu "Tall-Peak Cattle", wild deer, wild boar, mountain goats, honeybees, and (historically) Indian elephants.
Fair Trade/Fair For Life: