Early Spring 2023, Man Nong village, Ancient tea gardens, small and big trees picked together.
Soft Menghai tea, good mix of fragrance and depth
Hekai is one of the softer mountains of Menghai, it shows low bitterness and astringency. Yet you can clearly find the menghai character in the type of sweetness you'll find here, the soup has a medium body and displays good minerality. Huigan can be felt after a few cups, relaxation and sweating is expected if you are that kind of tea drinker. Interestingly, hekai has something in common with Jingmai tea, even though you can still easily tell them apart, Hekai will display a stronger character overall.
Hekai is located in the West of Menghai. If you go there, I recommend you stop in Menghun for some barbecue, they are the best of the region. You'll then cross expansive paddy fields and start climbing the mountain.
Hekai was a very secluded area before the Puerh tea boom in the mid-2000's. The Lahu people who inhabit the place are known to be shy, when you went there back in 2010, they would barely talk to strangers. Since then, their business skill has improved... slightly. You don't go there to practice your small-talk anyway, you're in for the tea leaves.
Hekai has the largest ancient tea gardens of Xishuangbanna. The trees are big and grow mostly in forested areas on steep slopes, around the villages. They have been well-preserved.
Interestingly, the leaves look very much like Jingmai tea, they are medium-small varietal. Yet, the taste of Hekai tea is very different from Jingmai. There is not much orchid fragrance, it's not a charming tea at a first sip. It's a tea made for long sessions, over which the sweetness will build up in your mouth and which will leave you sweaty and relaxed, sitting at the bottom of your chair, but elevated to a new plane of consciousness.
Hekai is made of three villages: Man Mai, which has the largest ancient gardens, Man Nong, with fewer gardens but of equal quality, and finally Banpen, which is only three kilometers away for Lao Ban Zhang.
Despite being on the 'road of the great teas', a loop that goes through Hekai, Banzhang and Bulang Shan, the place is not particularly touristy, and the company of the shy villagers makes for great tea sessions. They won't tell you amazing stories about their teas, but they have maintained their gardens for centuries and do a conscientious job. It's one of my favourite place to visit, because you can sit at the farmer's table and enjoy great tea without having to do small talk.