Spring 2021, First flush, Ancient tea gardens of Banpo Lao Zhai
A classic Menghai experience
Well-rounded strong tea
Medium bitterness and astringency, restrained fragrance that comes our in the back of the mouth.
Nannuo mountain was on the Pu-erh tea scene from the beginning. This is largely due to its convenient location, halfway between the two main cities of Xishuangbanna: Menghai and Jinghong.
Nannuo is a fairly small tea mountain, you can explore it on foot within a day. Many tourists take a bus from Jinghong and spend the day in Nannuo, they take pictures of the ancient tea gardens and buy tea as gifts.
This touristic activity has driven the economy of Nannuo for years. Yet, their advantageous location hindered them in the exploration of their soil. Indeed, the constant flow of tourists meant they didn't need to work hard to make quality tea. Any tea would sell anyway.
Buying Nannuo Shan is hit and miss. The terroir does have a great potential, but the tea you get in the cup is often disappointing.
Fortune was on our side when, in 2012, we met Da Fa, the most conscientious guy we know in Xishuangbanna. He was born in Banpo Lao Zhai, the most famous village of Nannuo, but he chose to move out and now lives on the mountain facing Nannuo. His family manages his gardens in Banpo Lao Zhai and he is in charge of the processing and distribution.
Da Fa has great engineering skills and loves to fix motorbikes in his free time. We found out these skills translate well to tea processing. His factory is ingeniously designed and he puts thinking into every aspect of the processing.
Like all of our Pu-erh teas on Farmerleaf, his leaves are cooked in a wok. While most farmers use wood as an energy source; Da Fa uses natural gas. It is a common option for machine processing but rarely for woks; he adapted the gas pipes himself to perfectly fit his woks and deliver the heat in a specific way. Using gas has a few advantages: you don't need to gather wood, you don't have smoke (gas only produces water when burnt) and the fire strength is controllable by a handle besides the wok. No need for a second person to tweak the fire.
Da Fa's perfectionism can be felt in the cup, the tea is as good as Nannuo can be. While Nannuo often means flowery high fragrance and flat mouthfeel, this tea is juicy and plush. You get a well-rounded classic Menghai tea, this is what Nannuo should be.