April 2020, tea is only harvested twice a year!
Made of selected old tea trees which grow at extreme altitude (2200 to 2500m)
You will enjoy the freshness and pine like fragrance of this tea, until the Cha Qi creeps on you...
Low bitterness, low astringency.
A tea of apparent simplicity that will surprise you in the middle of the session. Recommended if you have at least an hour free to fully appreciate it.
Our discovery of Ao Ne Me started in Jingmai in Spring 2018. While waiting for tea pickers by the side of the road in the tea gardens, a stranger stopped by. He was visiting Jingmai to expand his knowledge of tea processing. I had never heard of the place he mentioned, somewhere in Ai Lao mountain, right in the middle of Yunnan, a pretty remote area. He left us a sample and left. This approach was highly unusual, never in Jingmai someone tried to sell us tea by the side of the road.
We forgot the sample on a shelf until the end of the season, when, on a slow day, it fell under our eyes. We tried it, it was ok at the start, until the Cha Qi crept up, after four or five brews. The mild and pleasant high pushed us to contact the producer, whom we had met for 3 minutes on a roadside.
Buying on a sample is always a gamble, trust matters more. We felt we could trust this guy simply because his approach was unusual. After all, trust is a gamble too...
We received the tea and it was of similar quality as the sample, maybe even better. The village name was Ao Ne Me. A peculiar name that doesn't sound Mandarin. Actually, the village is inhabited by the Yi minority. It is very remote, about 9 hours away from Puer by car, and that's the shortest road. We will visit one day.
It's always hard to talk about a tea without having been to the place, but that's what most tea sellers have to do. Fortunately, Wang Qing Cong, the street salesman of Jingmai, who produces this tea, told us his story. It is fascinating, and we have it on video, look down here!
Ao ne me is located at an altitude of 2200m, the mountains surround the village peak at 2800m. The tea gardens are located on the upper slopes of the mountain, above the village. This is the limits of what Camellia Sinensis can tolerate, and we can guess the varietals have had to adapt to the harsh climate. Frost, especially, is a common killer for the tea trees, and only the naturally more robust trees would survive in such an environment.
The cold makes the harvest very scarce. Wang Qing Cong picks these gardens twice a year only. In Spring, the harvest only lasts for a week, during which he and his team make about 500kg of dry tea. As tea producers, we can tell you this is very hard work if you're short handed, that means 2 tons of fresh leaves, 300kg a day. In Jingmai, our maximum capacity is 150kg/day.
High altitude is often paired with better fragrance, and we can say that is the case here. Wang Qing Cong likes to process the tea on the greener side, like we do in Jingmai. A high temperature start, followed by a long low-temperature marathon towards a well made tea. With this processing, the fragrance is not explosive but rather contained in the tea soup, it only comes out after you've swallowed the tea soup. Due to the high altitude, you get a bit of both, you can get fragrance both in the nose and in the throat with this one.
But fragrance is just a detail for the hardcore Pu-erh aficionados, isn't it? If you're still reading this lengthy description, you're probably here for the mouthfeel, Huigan and Chaqi. The tea soup is on the lighter side, it has low bitterness and astringency, do not expect a Menghai style brew.
The soup does have a certain oiliness, characteristic of big tree tea. It flows down easily through the mouth and leaves a trace of sweetness throughout. But once more, this is not the main selling point of this tea...
What will stun you in this tea is the body feel, like a lot of fine pu-erh teas out here, you won't have a blast at the first brew, you need to be patient and let the tea deliver its power over ten or twenty minutes. Do not be tempted to brew the tea strong at the start, you'd surely get a more powerful brew but you would miss the fine fragrance, which shows variations around a common theme in the first couple of brews. Feel free to increase the steeping times later in the session. It will be hard to outlast this tea, you will probably end the session before the tea has given out all its content, unless you are in search of lost time.