Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Nannuo Mountain Pu’er (Puer, Pu-erh)

 The closest pu’er producing mountain to Jinghong, the capital city of the Shishuangbanna prefecture, is Nannuo Shan. Because of it proximity to “civilization” Nannuo Shan endures a large amount of tea tourism, most of witch is domestic, but they are no strangers to the recent increase of foreigners in pursuit of tea. It is not my intention to sound cinical as I was recently one of these nostalgic foreigners. Take it from me the rewards are great for the minimal amount of travel needed to access a famous pu’er-producing region.
 Your journey begins in Jinghong, the low valley area near the infamous Lancong Jiang (Mekong River). As you leave the city the view from your window is mostly small scale vegetable farming and large scale banana production. Don’t forget to try a genuine banna banana; it’s a memory you won’t soon forget. It doesn’t take long before you begin to drastically rise in elevation. It doesn’t take long for the view to change either. Bananas disappear in exchange for rice, rubber and eventually tea. If your paying attention, the first tea plants you see might just be the first tea plants this American tea fanatic has ever seen. Don’t be fooled though, the tea you came to see isn’t visible from the highway.

 Small villages of indigenous minorities, mostly Eini People, are seen on both sides of the road and in the near distant mountains. When you reach the summit elevation of the highway, there is even a little roadside market selling vegetables, crafts and you guested it, tea. A little further up the road and not far off of it is the gloriously titled Nannuo Shan Cha Shu Wang (Nannuo Mountain King of Tea Trees) an eight hundred year old tea tree surrounded by terraced shrub tea.

 The real gem of Nannuo Shan is much further up the mountain. Navigating a series of dirt roads through many unmarked forks and past wooden gates that look like entrances to strange and mysterious places: really just more villages and tea gardens. Our destination was a trailhead that leads to another eight hundred year old tea tree. Along this two kilometer trail is a bio diverse forest ecosystem with an immeasurable amount of plant and animal life.
At the center of attention was, of course, tea. One to several hundred-year-old tea trees blanket the forest filling in all the spaces between every other species of plant life. Seeing the diversity in the natural ecology these tea trees where cultivated in made me realize how truly “organic” and special genuine gu shu (ancient tree) tea is.
At the end of the trail was another magnificent Nannuo Shan Cha Shu Wang, this time surrounded by the natural forest ecology. Along side this “king of Tea Trees” was a little hut with an Eini woman, dressed in her native attire, posing for pictures and serving tea. Cliché? Maybe. Kitschy? Perhaps to some. A fun and exciting experience for an enthusiastic first timer? Indeed!

 But what is the tea like? I’m glad you asked. Nannuo Shan is known for producing tea that is highly fragrant, and mild in bitterness. If you like tea that is floral in fragrance, complex in profile and soft in finish than I highly recommend seeking out a high quality genuine gu shu tea from Nannuo Shan. Nannuo tea is also a great introduction tea to the world sheng pu’er (naturally fermented tea) because it generally has a mild bitterness and low astringency. An easily palatable tea for one and all. My personal favorite is the 2012 Nannuo mountain spring tea from Yun Hai Zhi Dian. Love love love that tea!


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