After more than 20h arriving to Yong De totally exhausted. Realizing that bus is not really an option for trips like this one. Bus drivers are no longer allowed to drive over night ( due to safety ) so need to stop for 8h somewhere , which left us sleeping in small uncomfortable beds with another 60 people in the bus , crying baby and snoring old grandpa. Smelly socks of some farmers adds to the whole “authentic” environment.
Not many tea shops around , as we would expect and finding one in sort of “tea market” with 4 shops.
Young tea shop owner is quite eager to lets us try all of his teas and we are getting pretty “tea drunk” after few hours , when I lost the track of how many teas we tried.
His white tea is very interesting and we are comparing Yue Guang Bai processed by two different ways .
traditional ( left ) / new ( right )
The main difference is in the last step – drying , in which the new one is dried quickly on the hard sun . Traditional way is in dark dry place ( according the story in the night under the moon , that’s where is the name “yue guang” – moon light – coming from , “bai” – white ) . Places like Fujian produces this tea by new technique and call it Bai Mu Dan.
Appearance differences are noticeable as the black leafs in new processed one are missing. Speak of the taste difference , the new way processed tea leafs are missing the bitter touch of the traditional ones which makes an impression they are much sweeter.
The tea boss also trying to do his own white processing and experimenting with different steps like withering.
We are also comparing sheng pu-erh . Trying two same area teas , which apparently one of them is organic and the other is also organic 🙂
The first tea apparently comes from the garden where soil hasn’t been treated with fertilizer. The other one was. Understanding of “organic” term differentiates from area , tea farmer or vendor. This guy basically told us that non organic teas are being treated by various methods against pesticides, organic are not, but treating the soil with fertilizer doesn’t count as non organic approach in both cases.
Simply said, the one is from arbor tea tree and other is bush tea “tai di cha” , which is noticeable from the first cup. His organic differentiation makes sort of sense in point of using the pest solutions on bush tea ( table land tea ) and due to commercial boom of sorting the trees into the “taidi, qiao mu, gu shu, dan zhu,mu shu” …etc. he decided to use this one.
The main problem in recent years , as he complaining to us , is the way which tea farmers picking / plucking the tea leafs. In Mangfei is normal to pick in ratio 1 bud 3-4 leafs, but the problem is that tea farmers don’t leave a spare leaf on plucking stem and even worse the rip out a whole lot with piece branch bark known as ” ma ti ” the horse hoof.
That wouldn’t be a problem if it happens in small amount , it is common after all. But in past years the “ma ti” and long stems are present more and more.
Farmer can fill the basket faster and make more money , but badly plucked tea leafs make a bad impact on the next harvest because those ripped places is hard for tea tree recover. Besides those “ma ti” are quite bitter and excessive amount doesn’t make any good for overall tea taste.
The other problem is the outsiders. Many tea makers or dealers come from various places like Menghai and trying their luck with occupying tea trees by simply putting their sign next to the tree saying “this tree is property of ……” Local farmers had to pull out few of those this year but sometimes it returns later in the way of revenge by breaking branches for example. Some tea business people don’t believe farmer claimed tea tree age so they stick big nails into the trunk to see. What they see? Apparently if the wood under the bark is white, the tree is still young.
There were cases, not here though, when people even steal or try to steal the tea tree over night. Usually it ends up badly in both cases. Tree will just die.
The tea farmers here also have money related issue in way of non paying customers. As we learn later on , many farmers have been owned lots of money from many tea vendors , companies or other contractors. Usual scenario is that some “big” boss shows up and buying few tons of tea with promise to pay later. Simple farmer in faith of long term cooperation goes for this naive deal and unfortunately in many cases not getting paid.
After few hours of sitting in his tea shop being flushed by tons of information and the “tea shower” we are invited for traditional Dai people dinner.
Next day morning we decide to try some local – Yongde tea factory , just to see what / how quality differs from small tea biz owners. We are also curious about the storage conditions here in Yongde , since the humidity is not that high as in Xishuangbanna for example.
We are trying their sheng puerh from 2017 which is not rally good and “shui wei” , the watery taste could be experienced all over. That’s what most of last years teas are like that unfortunately. ( due to the bad weather ).
2014 was kind Ok ,but traditional way of processing still has left the smokey notes imprint in to their 357g tea cake. We really liked 2011 sheng and thinking of taking few tongs but after all we decided to go for the last stock of their 2008 Ye Sheng Sheng Puerh and 2014 Da Xue Shan which impressed us with it’s settled taste in matter of the storage.
Getting hands on their 2010 shu puerh and like the the taste due to the unique fermentation and storage specific for this region.
Afternoon we are heading to the Mang Fei village to see the tea farmers. Visiting one family with two generations of tea making tradition.
Mr. Zhai’s family has substantial amount of small arbor trees below 100y age which most of them being harvested by big companies like Mengku Rongshi and used for the various blends.
He has a decent selection of teas from this and last year ( gu hua ) autumn harvest but unfortunately we couldn’t find a any outstanding flavor which would consider to buy except one “dan zhu” . The single tree growing in the hard accessible place and has very deep sweet notes coming out from the back of the tongue and vaporizing trough out the nose. Really nice!
Just one problem. …..The have only half kilo left , because this tea tree just can’t offer more ( 2kg this year ) .
When we are back in hotel , trying some older teas from the tea shop next door which has been just closed down due to the owner problems. The boss went into the money owning problem and was found in the river.
There was not much difference between his 2007 and 2003 year in taste , only in wet notes intensity, which makes me understand the way of this business was rolling down.
Later on we are visiting other areas around , villages, tea farms and tea makers / factories . Except of pu-erh and green tea they are also trying to make here white and black tea.
Black tea processing requires a bit of extra skill and equipment which unfortunately they are lack of , so it is noticeable in taste. Most of their black teas are “shai hong” style and their “ye sheng hong” – a Balck tea from wild trees – concept offered to us is not that impressive.
Having a nice dinner with local “bai jiu” ( home made spirit ) and very good conversation about the future tea business in this area. Seems like locals are aware of pu-erh tea boom and overpriced market which going to deflate one day, or even it’s happening already in some places. Tea farmers have no any other income and we believe that those around 60 tea producing families in Mangfei village are going to have a problem soon. From local statistics we know that tea farmers can’t sell 30-40% of their tea each season in past few years. And yet, they still keep their prices quite high which is not really competitive with other surrounding areas.
Apart of the few places , the most of the tea trees are around 100y old only . Despite of locals calling “gu shu” everything what is not just “tai di” ( table land tea ) small bush tea , they still can’t to succeed / compete in national tea business.
Most of Chinese tea drinkers are focusing on the tea tree age and size rather than taste and so the vendors. During the conversation we also agree , that organic tea is the way to go in the future. Some of the tea gardens already have Chinese organic certificates. At this time the international one is still very expensive for them to get. Although we are not entirely sure if that would be necessary for them , since exporting such a already pricey tea material ( compare to regular bush tea ) would be a profitable business.
Picking up the tea leafs from even very young arbor trees is done by hand and it is not easy labor as harvesting a bush ( table land ) tea by using tools or some machine.
That’s why many big tea companies got some arbors cut down to the easy accessible picking size and this way caused their , sort of , devaluation. ( big tree is vaulted higher ) . If leafs from originally high tea tree are better / tastier than ( from the exactly the same tree ) after being trimmed – we can not confirm. We haven’t got an opportunity to do precise comparing yet, but as mentioned above , in way of the tea has been evaluated in China , this “adjustment” does have an impact on the price .
After spending a week in the area , running around many villages and tasting various teas which tasted almost the same , we come up with decision not to buy here anything this year. That’s the failure which tea lovers and traders , who search for good quality tea / equivalent price, have to face.
The problem with a dull and vegetable taste of most of the Mangfei sheng puerh this year is the weather and processing. Of course that “qing wei” ( green taste ) is normal in fresh teas , but apart of that , no “hui gan” or “sheng jing” . We tried the last years ones and despite mentioned “shui wei” ( watery taste ) they were much “thicker” in body, had some after-sweet kicking and “zhuang hua” ( natural fermentation ) which gives to the tea at least some front taste.
The high price problem comes from few reasons and the one of them is that tea farmers are ” contracted” with local vendors and tea processing companies , so they are not willing or can’t offer a wholesale price even with bigger purchase ( a ton might make the difference ,but we are not in this case ). They know the price for which is sold their tea by local vendors so their offer is same without any space for negotiation. We keep hearing common excuse around ,that price has been raised by government in order to help farmers improve their economy and live , but in fact that’s just a little part of the truth.
The price gone up on fresh leafs not on processed leafs or work like picking those leafs , and its not that big difference from previous years. We founding out, that the massive margin on top of the tea price is set by mentioned vendors and contractors , who keep farmers in believe, that this is the value of their tea which they should be selling it for to any other “outsiders” like us ( who try to get tea directly from them )
Simple tea farmers have no idea about the tea trade world out there and competitive prices. They just know famous villages like Bing Dao or Lao Bang Zhan, where tea is sold for thousands, so they just “play the ball” with all that mentioned group ( local vendors, tea processors , contractors ) . Somebody might object : “poor farmers are trying to make more money for living” and we agree with that. But tea business like any other one is about the offer / demand . Demand is related to quality / price ratio mainly , and of course supported marketing development. Non of it is there 😦
Mangfei tea is well known as the base tea for blending due to the low price and sustainable taste / quality. The price has significantly gone up not due to the mentioned demand or quality increase but due to the desperate marketing strategy of retailers or processing companies. ( as already mentioned )
Trying to explain that for the price of their 1 kg tea we can buy 2-3kg of the same quality / grade tea in any other village in Xishuangbanna , is not helping at all . We are just getting a stubborn reaction : ” But our tea is special ”
At that moment we “got a point” and decided to leave:-(