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Origins of Rishi
Mengku River in Lincang
The Mengku River, one of the myriad Himalayan-fed rivers in Yunnan, courses through western Lincang prefecture in western Yunnan. Rishi's Ancient Tree Teas come from several regions in Yunnan, including Lincang in the west and Xishuangbanna in the south. Yunnan province is famous for its cultural, geographic and biological diversity. Nearly half of China's ethnic minority groups reside in Yunnan, many whose histories are linked with its ancient tea forests. The diverse landscapes of Yunnan include the Himalayan foothills in the northwest, a high plateau extending across the east and subtropical rainforest in the south. With so many unique ecological zones, Yunnan is lush with biodiversity and is home to some of the rarest flora and fauna species in the world.
Shen Nong: Discoverer of Tea
A statue of Shen Nong along the Mengku River in Lincang. Shen Nong (the "Divine Farmer") is a Chinese culture hero who is celebrated as the father of Chinese herbology. Shen Nong discovered numerous traditional medicines and herbs and catalogued them in the Shen Nong Herb & Root Classic. According to myth, Shen Nong made his most important discovery, tea, in 2737 BCE. In Shen Nong's pharmacopoeia, tea was considered a panacea for numerous ailments.
Ancient Tea Trees
Ancient tea trees, approximately 80–100 years old, situated at nearly 1,800m in elevation in Xinhua Village in Lincang.
Mengku Da Ye "Broad Leaf" Variety
The ancient tea trees growing in Xinhua Village are related to the Mengku Da Ye "Broad Leaf" tea tree variety, which is noted for its high catechin polyphenol contents and rich flavor. This variety has a robust, full-bodied character and intense cha qi, making it ideal for black tea and shaiqing maocha–a sun-dried green tea that is the base for Pu-erh tea.
Grown from seed
The ancient tea trees in Xinhua Village grow from the natural spreading of tea tree seeds as opposed to clonal vegetative propagation (cuttings). This creates an heirloom character and diverse genetic profile not found through clonal cultivation, helping to protect biodiversity and maintain an ecological balance.
Rishi Tea's Golden Yunnan is harvested from ancient tea gardens in Lincang and Xishuangbanna regions of Yunnan. The Mengku Da Ye "Broad Leaf" tea variety lends our Golden Yunnan its robust character.
Rishi Tea's Pu-erh Classic seen here in an ancient tea tree in Lincang, one of the sources of the shaiqing maocha sun-dried green tea base for Rishi's Pu-erh collection.
Lincang in winter
This photograph was taken by Rishi's tea buyers in December. Throughout Yunnan's growing regions, most tea trees "flush" (produce new tea leaves) from February through October, and go into a semi-dormant stage during the brief winter season. Rishi's tea buyers regularly visit Yunnan during the wintertime to monitor the quality of the Pu-erh fermentation process, which is conducted during the winter when the tea bushes are semi-dormant and there is no tea to be harvested. Notice the lush, verdant environment and healthy soil in this photograph.
Early spring drought
This year, Yunnan experienced one of the worst periods of drought on record during the early springtime. This photograph shows just how dry the ancient tea gardens in Lincang were at the height of the drought. The drought delayed the emergence of new spring tea leaf growth by several weeks. Fortunately, these ancient tea trees are so well established in their soil that they were able to stave off the dought until the late spring and early summer rains arrived.
Harvesting Ancient Tree Tea
Tea farmer Ms. Li climbs an ancient tea tree about 4–6 meters tall in Lincang. Ms. Li is a member of the Yellow-clothing Wa (Huang Yi Ai Wa) ethnic minority group that resides in Lincang as well as some areas of northeastern Myanmar.
Harvesting Ancient Tree Tea
Ancient tea tree gardens yield fewer buds and fresh leaves than pruned, terraced tea bush plantations. Harvesting them is time-consuming, but the added complexity and richness of flavor deriving from their heirloom genetic stock makes it worth the effort and higher prices that these rare teas can fetch.
Ancient Moonlight White fresh leaf
Freshly plucked spring tea leaves withering to make Rishi Tea's Ancient Moonlight White.
Ancient Moonlight White withered leaf
Rishi Tea's Ancient Moonlight White, a spring-harvested Yunnan white tea, drying in Lincang in early April.
Mannong Village has been one source of Rishi's ancient tree teas since we began working there in 2004. Part of the Nannuo Mountain region of Xishuangbanna in southern Yunnan, Mannong and Manmai Villages are home to some of the highest concentrations of ancient tea trees in Yunnan. The tea tree varieties cultivated here are related to the Menghai Da Ye "Broad Leaf" strain, which is known for its balance of medium-full body, full sweetness, and flowery aromatics with intense huigan or "come-back sweetness."
Ancient Tea Trees in Manmai Village
Ancient tea trees spread out before the edge of Manmai Village.
Ancient Tea Tree
One of the most elder tea trees in Manmai Village. This tea tree variety is related to the Menghai Da Ye "Broad Leaf" strain, which is known for its balance of medium-full body, full sweetness, and flowery aromatics with intense huigan or "come-back sweetness."
Spreading out fresh leaf on withering tables
Freshly harvested tea leaves are spread out on withering tables in Mannong Manmai, southern Yunnan. This gentle withering process, assisted by a cool air fan when the weather is especially hot, removes moisture from the leaf and reduces grassy aromas while bringing out the unique flowery orchid-like bouquet found in the teas grown in Mannong Manmai.
Fresh leaf withering
Tea leaves withering in Mannong Manmai tea factory, to be made into shaiqing maocha the following day. Freshly plucked tea leaves have an incredibly floral aroma.
Fresh leaf withering
Tea leaves withering in Mannong Manmai tea factory, to be made into shaiqing maocha the following day.
Rishi's Pu-erh Classic is made with shaiqing maocha from Lincang and Mannong Manmai, two unique origins that create a rich, distinctive taste profile.
After about 18 hours, the tea leaves that were harvested and spread out the day before have finished withering and are ready to be fired using a tumble-roaster.
Withered tea leaves pass through the tumble-roaster in about 1-2 minutes. This tumble-roasting machine is designed to mimic the motion of tea leaves traditionally tossed in a hot pan. As the hot tumble-roaster spins, it carries the withered tea leaves up one side, toasting them along the way. As they reach the top of the spinning tumble-roaster, the tea leaves fall down, turning and landing on their other side as they hit the hot roaster below. The tumble-roaster carries the tea leaves along for about one minute, tossing them dozens of times along the way so they are evenly fired. This firing partially halts the natural tea leaf oxidation process that would otherwise allow the tea leaves to change color from green to yellow, red, or brown. After passing through the tumble-roaster, these tea leaves have the rich, sweet aroma of toasted chestnuts.
After passing through the tumble-roaster, the tea leaves are cooled for a few minutes to prevent them from scorching. Once they are adequately cooled, they are rolled for about 8–12 minutes to develop their long, twisted shape and encourage the development of aroma and flavor. After rolling, the tea leaves smell richly of sweet tropical fruits like mango and pineapple.
After rolling, the tea leaves are spread out on rattan or cloth mats to dry in the hot Yunnan sun. This is a key stage in the production of shaiqing maocha, the "sun-dried green tea" that serves as the base for Pu-erh tea. During this time, a special curing of the tea leaf occurs, influenced by the local healthful cultures and microbes that are indigenous to the area. This helps shaiqing maocha retain its liveliness and potential for later fermentation into Pu-erh tea.
Turning over during sun-drying
Tea leaves drying in the sun to make shaiqing maocha, or sun-dried green tea, which is the base for making Pu-erh tea. Halfway through their sun-drying period, which may last from 8–12 hours depending on the intensity of the sun's rays, the tea leaves are turned over to ensure an even drying occurs. The bright green tea leaves in the foreground were turned over just before shooting this photograph to illustrate the difference in color between dry tea leaves and those that are still a little moist.
During the rainy monsoon season in summer, it is sometimes necessary to dry shaiqing maocha indoors in this sauna-like building which is covered by a clear roof that allows sunlight to penetrate through and dry the tea.
Sunset over Manmai Village
Manmai Village at dusk after a long day of tea harvesting.
Yunnan Ancient Tree Tea (2013 Spring Harvest)
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