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Pu'er Teas from Nannuo Mountain 南糯山普洱茶

We are excited and proud to be able to share these teas from Nannuo Mountain with you and the tea community.  Nannuo mountain is a classic and favorite terroir in the world of pu'erh tea, and for many it needs no introduction.  The mountain features an average elevation of 1400 meters (about 4600') and produces teas that have an enlivening flavor, texture, and aroma that is unmistakably "Meng Hai" (in reference to the county Nannuo Mountain is in) in character.  Unless otherwise noted, these teas predominantly originate from our friend's gardens in Shitouzhai 石头寨, a village with surrounding natural areas resting at around 1700 meters.  Read more about the producer of these teas below, and look forward to blog articles detailing our adventures there.

meet the tea producer

Without a doubt, some of our most fortuitous and memorable tea adventures began once we befriended Dá É in Nannuo Mountain.  She is of Akha 阿卡族 ethnicity and her family has been in the area as long as can be traced back.  Her family owns a significant acreage of old-growth tea tree arbors in the area and has long held accounts with the original Menghai Tea Factory 勐海茶厂.  In 2003, she began producing her own tea and has become an accomplished and celebrated member of her community.  She mostly maintains tea gardens in (from her father's side) Shitouzhai 石头寨 "Stone Village", but also some (from her mother's side) in Banpo 半坡寨.  Her now deceased husband's father was 杨开当 Yáng Kāidāng, the director of the old original Nannuo Mountain Tea Factory 南糯山一厂 built in the 1930s.  Her two sons, his grandchildren, are now of the age where they are beginning to help her with production.  And to the question we often get: yes, she is from the same area as Li-yan in The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane by Lisa See, is around the same age, and personally knows the woman who Lisa See based the character Li-yan on. Read our interview with her below!


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Interview with Dá É

Below is a video-recorded interview Shunyu conducted over WeChat in 2023:
(Be sure to turn on the subtitles)
Broadly, there are about 25 ethnic minority groups in Yunnan, with most groups containing many recognized subgroups.  Culturally and ethnically, the minority groups that populate this region can differ significantly from the rest of mainland Chinese society.   Often these tribes are polytheistic, can be buddhist and/or taoist in their beliefs, and celebrate their ancestors and seasonal events with festivals and feasts.  Dá É and her people are recognized by the government to be of the Aini 爱尼族 subgroup within the larger Hani 哈尼族 ethnic minority, yet they continue to be known as the 阿卡 Akha to themselves.  To us, the specific customs and beliefs that these minorities hold -- especially ones pertaining to tea -- are precious heritages worthy of respectful study.  Unfortunately, over a surveillanced media channel such as the one this interview took place, her reservation and polite positioning was palpable when asked about these matters.  Nonetheless, we are pleased with the information gleaned.  (Interview below takes place in 2020)

Rivers & Lakes Tea:   我們第一個想問你的問題是「你怎麼開始對茶業感興趣呢」

The first question we would like to ask you is, how did you start to become interested in making pu'er tea?

Dá É:   我出生在普洱茶的原产地,从小跟着父辈们接触采茶,制茶等!感兴趣,应该是我长大成家后吧!我2002年成家,2003年开始自己手工制茶一点点!当然,首先也是为了生活,我们的经济收入也就只有靠茶叶了!

Just being born into a place where tea is grown and produced. Since I was young I have been picking tea and making tea with my grandfather.  But, I didn't really start to have a big interest in it until I got older. In 2002, I got married and had children. Then in 2003 I started making small amounts of my own tea. Of course, in the beginning making tea was how I supported myself financially because all of our financial resources come from tea. 


R&L:   你可以解釋一下你的家人怎麼開始做茶呢,他們原來的工作是做茶嗎? 還是茶流行了之後才開始做茶?

Could you tell us a little bit about how your family started making tea? Was their original job to make tea or did they start making pu'er tea after it became popular?

Dá É:   我记忆当中的家人们不止做茶,还种水稻,玉米等等的农作物!茶叶在我们这里是祖祖辈辈留下的古树茶,历史悠久,有1000多年的历史了,是一代代相传下来的!解放后,70~80年代为了更好的生活,为了更多的经济收入,在国际政府的支持带领下也开始种植小树茶园了,也就是今天的生态茶园,灌木茶园等!

As I recall, my family not only made tea but also planted rice, corn, and all other types of agricultural crops. Tea has passed down generation to generation here and the history is long. There is more than 1000 years of tea history where I live which has all been passed down. After the foundation of China, during the 70’s and 80’s, in order to have a better life and a more sustainable source of income,  some international governments started encouraging us to plant small tea trees. These tea trees are now part of our ecological tea garden!


R&L:   我們想知道您是哪個民族的呢

What ethnic minority group are you part of? 

Dá É:   阿卡族

the Akha people


R&L:   你覺得哈尼族語言有沒有一些不能用普通話表達的概念

Do you feel like there are any concepts that are hard to express in standardized chinese that you could easily express in the Akha language?

Dá É:   會有的,特别是民族的风俗有些时候很难用语言来表达,只是说我们会努力的想办法表达完美

Yes there are. Especially involving some cultural elements of minority people. Sometimes it is really hard to use language to express these concepts, but we try hard to express the concepts as perfectly as possible. 


R&L:   你們民族對茶的關係跟別的民族有什麼不同呢

In what ways does your heritage’s relationship to tea differ from other people’s?

Dá É:   这个不同的关系,怎么说呢,古斯,每个人对茶的理解,分析,爱戴,呵护都不一样,所以就产生了每一个人不一样的传统关系!总之,达娥对制茶就像对待自己的孩子一样想要呵护,想要爱戴!

Everyone has a different relationship to tea, hmmmmm how do I explain this? Gus, every person’s  understanding, interpretation, love, and fondness for tea is different, so this produces every minority group’s cultural relationship to tea being different as well. In short, I have a fondness for producing tea just like the fondness I have for my own children. I want to give it love and affection. 


R&L:   關於茶你有沒有宗教信仰呢

Do you have any spiritual or religious beliefs involving tea?

Dá É:  我们哈尼族不可以对任何教派有信仰,不过达娥自己有三个信仰:1,信仰山神,2,信仰共产党,3,信仰普洱茶!

Hani minority people are not allowed to have faith in any sort of religion. However, I have faith in three things, 1. The God of the mountain 2. The chinese communist party 3. Puer tea 


R&L:   對你來說,制茶的最重要的元素是什麼

In your opinion what are the most important elements in producing good tea?

Dá É:   首先是原料,其次是制作工藝

Most importantly it is the quality of the actual leaves, secondly it is the way you process them.


R&L:   你觉得制作工艺中最重要的步骤是哪一个?

What do you think is the most important step in tea processing? 

Dá É:   杀青

Pan frying or kill the green. (Shāqīng 杀青 is the step in which the recently plucked and withered tea leaves undergo a temperature-specific pan searing to deactivate enzymes present in the tea leaves that would oxidize the leaves.  Almost stop-frame, this process fixes and halts the early enzymatic breakdown state while lending characteristic flavor.  While green tea most famously undergoes this process, pu'er tea experiences a modified version of shāqīng in which some oxidation-causing enzymes are allowed to stay viable).

R&L:   那在杀青的过程中,要特别注意什么

When you are pan frying tea, is there anything you are especially paying attention to? 

Dá É:   这个要怎么说呢,比如,火温,锅温,鲜叶的数量,还有炒茶叶过程中每一个小细节,不过,这些细节需要现场体验,要不然我也说的不太清楚!

Hmmmm, for example, the temperature of the wok, the fire under the wok, how much fresh leaf material is in the wok as well as some minute details when you are actually working the tea in the wok. However, these small details must be experienced, otherwise you won't understand what I am talking about.


R&L:   你在杀青时候锅温应该多少

When you are frying the tea how hot should the wok be? 

Dá É:   280℃到330℃左右, 我们一般都凭经验,感觉,手感来杀青的

Around 280-330 degrees celsius. We usually rely on our experience, feelings, and the way the tea feels in our hands to do the pay frying correctly.


R&L:   你觉得南糯山普洱茶的特点是什么

What do you think the special characteristic taste of Nannuo tea is?

Dá É:   南糯山茶的特点是:苦涩味重,但是化开的快,不会挂舌,回甘来的快,香气浓郁,汤色透亮, 不苦不涩就不是南糯山茶

Nannuo mountain tea’s specialty is bitterness and astringency, but the bitterness goes away quickly and doesn't stick to your tongue. The Huigan comes really quickly, the fragrance is thick and pungent, and the tea soup is clear. If it’s not bitter and astringent then it is not Nannuo tea.  (Huí gān 回甘 means 'returning sweetness', and refers to a favorably sweet and cooling residual effect on the throat and mouth as the tea drinker breathes after their sips).


R&L:   你觉得南糯山的土地或者环境给南糯山普洱茶这些特点吗

Do you feel like the soil and the environment of Nannuo Mountain give the tea these qualities? 

Dá É:   是的,不管哪一座山的茶叶,它的特点都跟它的土壤,环境有很大的关系!

Yes! No matter which tea mountain, the tea that comes from those mountains and the soil environment which it was grown in have a huge impact on the taste of the tea!


R&L:   你们家的茶园多大,而且除了南糯山的茶园之外,你们家在别的地方也有茶园吗

How big is your family's tea garden? Also, besides the tea garden y’all have in Nannuo Mountain, do y’all have tea gardens in any other places?

Dá É:   我们家的茶园有200多亩左右, 别的地方只有合作的朋友的茶园

Our tea garden is 200 mu (33 acres), all the other teas we offer are from people we partner with.


R&L:  謝謝您接受我們的採訪,我們很期待未來跟您繼續合作,還有去南糯山玩

Thank you for this interview.  We look forward to continuing business relations with you in the future, in addition to visiting Nannuo Mountain again soon.

Dá É:  谢谢, 古斯

Thank you Gus


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