The mountain’s tea probably experienced the height of its acclaim during the Tang and Song Dynasty eras (~ 600 - 1200 AD), and these days the mountain serves as a living shrine to its long history of remarkable tea production. When you drive from Ya’an up the mountain towards the historic gardens — you get the idea why it was chosen by ancient taoists pretty quick. It’s stupid perfect for growing tea. The climate is misty and cool, the air is super clean, and the plant life is lush, thriving, and diverse. The seasons there are mild — there aren’t harsh cold winters, nor are there sweltering hot summers. Ya’an achieves over 70 inches of rain on average per year (for reference my rainy hometown in the Appalachians gets around 44). Higher climes in the area are enshrouded in mists and fog most of the time. This dims the sun’s harshness, allows for an attenuated photosynthesis process, and results in slower growth for the tea plants, thought to produce superior tea.
As a tea enthusiast and buyer visiting these famous tea mountain areas, as you begin to grasp the stratified points of entry to the market in terms of one given tea's quality and value, an undying quest inevitably unfolds before you: to find the best tea of the highest stratum possible. But how? Who can you trust? Generally, at every level there is an incentive for merchants to embellish or fabricate stories and claims to gouge prices. Let us not fall prey to disillusionment and blame the individual though: this issue’s core is to be found on a systemic level. Compounded with a high degree of competitiveness within its social & economic spheres, in China there is hardly any regulation or accountability in terms of factual advertising and accurate labeling of tea. It's a jianghu. And yet, for all the rackets and pitfalls that this economic underbelly of partiality and obfuscation creates, there's an enticing and subliminal pulse present in a transaction always worth heeding. At the very least, the ability to do so may foil someone's idea to take advantage of you. And then in other situations, given the right conditions and players involved, this ability has the power to open doors unimaginable in the typical business setting of the western world.
Being graced with such well-connected company meant getting around the city, learning about tea there, and meeting folks was markedly easier. This level of access gave us the opportunity to render contacts in the Mengshan area that would allow for us to place a reservation for a small quantity of 2020 first pluck Meng Ding Gan Lu from a source that owns acreage in higher Meng Ding. A huge thank you goes out to Alex, James, and Jiqian. We feel fortunate, proud, and still stoked by the impact that this impish fate-orchestrating leaf has had on us and others. Its reputation as the great connector endures.
Rivers & Lakes Tea's 2020 Meng Ding Gan Lu
Our adventures weren't over yet in the Meng Ding / Ya'an area. We were about to learn about a special type of post-fermented Hei cha, visit an extravagant tea themed hotel, and get a rare gritty look at the production of some of the poorest quality tea out there... not something visitors would typically get access to. To be continued in part II of this series.