Rich alpine moss, blueberry pastry, and deep cavern spring meets the nose as the first vapors rise from the leaves. Cooling forest broth playfully excites the tongue upon entrance as notes of stone cistern and cereal grains return to the palate chamber as each sip is taken down.
The liquid leaves a pleasant orchid funk residue on the empty cup. However young this tea is, the liquor already pours a golden olive oil, thick, lazy, and playful in the fair cup. Punch in a bit harder-hotter and this tea will folly right back with finesse and english on it all its own. Each brew is couched in a sugarcane minerality that maintains beyond the crescendo of the session and into the later steeps. This little batch of mountain essence is an entertaining and trustworthy ally for those that make space for reliable sustenance and inspiration.
张家湾 Zhāngjiāwān is a small village in Mengla county in Xishuangbanna, about an hour's drive north of Yiwu township, just above Bohetang and Yishanmo village. It sits at about 1400 meters in elevation, an hour's walk from the Chinese-Lao border, with brick-red soil, supporting tea gardens predominantly of old-growth 3-5 meters tall. Famous in the earlier old school days of Pu'er, Zhangjiawan was the first stop for the tea-horse road caravans hailing from any of the original six great tea mountains that were to head through Vietnam.
Zhangjiawan and its tea has a somewhat harrowed recent history, with the last 100-200 years seeing newly arrived ethnicities like the Yao people fail to properly implement slash and burn farming methods, experiencing tumult from the Youle uprising, as well as seeing first-hand friction from the second sino-japanese war. It may have been these events that lead to burnings of ancient tea arbors like the one this tea is from, and the eventual naming of this particular garden as the 火烧茶园 Fire Garden.
The trees were burned to the ground, essentially coppicing them (a forestry term for cutting a tree's trunk to the ground so it sends up new growth). The returning growth from its still-alive rootstock typically doesn't display a wide trunk as it may have originally, but rather a network of more slender and flexible boughs, referred to as 藤条 téng tiáo — Rattan Tea or Wicker Tea — as it resembles the weavings of a basket. Rattan Tea can be found in other tea growing areas in Yunnan where coppicing techniques are implemented and is said produce gushu tea with higher aroma.
More on the Hé family
If you have checked out Jinghong Zhang's book Pu'er Tea: Ancient Caravans and Urban Chic then you are already familiar with the Hé family, as senior Mr. Hé is written about as a prominently featured tea producer that proves successful in his endeavors to retain the classic feel of the home production Yiwu tribute tea while meeting new QS standards by investing in new state of the art production facilities. See both Mr. Hé and his son (who has now taken over the business) in this episode of Jinghong Zhang's fascinating mini documentary.
More teas from this family:
original wrapper artwork by Arulu Gallagher