Scattered in ancient tea trees, the pristine terroir of Lincang mountains is true to its mythical tea beginnings. It is precisely within this landscape, where our Wild & Raw sheng Pu-erh hails, it is believed Emperor Shennong discovered the sweet infusion left by a single tea leaf that fluttered into his cup.
At an elevation of 2000m, the remote Lincang terroir offers favorable conditions to conform tea leaves with a complex structure. These come from trees that are around 50 to 100 years old and cultivated in a wild and organic manner. Free of fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, and other chemical inputs to unadulterate the biological reactions of fermenting and aging, unique to Pu-erh production.
Forming the category of dark tea, Pu-erh has the most unusual processing and flavors you'll find. We must go back thousands of years to the long trade journeys made between China and Tibet on the Tea Horse Road, where accidental exposure to environmental stress factors like heat and humidity transformed green tea leaves into the unique flavors of Pu-erh we know today—you can learn more in this journal post.
It was a significant discovery! Fermentation has since become a favorable technique to evolve flavor characteristics in tea. It involves harboring microbial culture to breakdown compounds within it. In the production of sheng Pu-erh, this process occurs slowly in a stable environment over a long duration of time. It is left to ferment naturally and hence considered raw. Unlike its ripe counterpart, shou Pu-erh such as our Vintage Lotus, has reached end fermentation through a ‘’cooking’’ technique that came about in the 70s. Speeding up production time to just a few weeks and allowing fans easy access to Pu-erh’s acquired taste of deep, earthy foliage at a fraction of the time.
Aging is the next important stage and refines the tea to bring out flavors, unlike any other variety. Prepared green tea leaves are usually compressed into cake form which with time transmutes to infuse flavors of more depth and texture, much like a good wine. Its evolving nature makes it a ‘’living tea’’ that captures the wonder of a fleeting moment, as an aging Pu-erh will never brew the same cup twice. One can think of it is an essence that nurtures patience and appreciation of the present moment.
Furthermore, Pu-erh is highly regarded by connoisseurs as one of the best teas to experience cha qi. Directly translating to tea energy, cha qi is a term used to signify tea quality that cannot be described with the flavors alone. A tea with a strong cha qi generates energetic responses in the drinker to which a discerning novice may sense as a metaphysical connection with the spirit of nature and intention of human-craft that has gone into its production—we like to believe.
To say the least, Pu-erh has amounted to considerable cult status and even a collectible investment among tea geeks.
Whether new trends require not the patience of old times, or simply a change of taste—we observe a growing interest in young Pu-erhs. Mao cha as it is known is kept in its loose-leaf state and enjoyed without much aging for its floral aromas and brisk characteristics. Our Wild & Raw is one such sheng Pu-erh and infuses an aromatic cup of fresh foliage, birch and honey.
Main image in courtesy of Nicolas Turland.
WILD & RAW N°602
Tasting notes: fresh foliage, birch, honey