Mrs. Zhang selected the oldest natural tea gardens of her village to make this tea. She processed it with her husband in her tea factory in Nanzuo village. Located 10km away from Jingmai main village, this village enjoys unique climatic conditions, distinct from the rest of Jingmai Mountain.
With a different raw material and processing technique, this tea is an interesting sibling of our Jingmai Miyun. While coming from the same mountain, it features different aromas and has a more feminine profile. Delivering less bitterness and astringency, it flows like oil in the mouth, offering its flowery fragrance in the process.
This cake has a graceful harmony; it contains a bit of everything we like to find in a pu-erh tea and hence makes a good introduction to this family of teas.
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Jingmai Mountain is famous for its vast ancient tea gardens. Yet, two-thirds of the cultivated surface is occupied by younger plantations called natural tea gardens. The first plantations of this kind were planted in the 1970s around Jingmai. During this era, increasing production was the main objective; the tea had to be cheap in order to be affordable for the masses.
At the time, these new plantations were seen as an improvement over the ancient tea gardens. They were fertilized chemically, protected from insects and disease by pesticides; weed was controlled by herbicide and picking tea was faster than ever thanks to the well-pruned picking tables on top of the tea trees.
At that time, Pu-erh tea was not seen as an exceptional product. It was a tea for every day, blended and pressed in a handful of county-scale factories; only a couple of different cakes were available each year. Therefore, the logic behind the implantation of these gardens in Jingmai was clear: upgrade the tea garden management techniques, taking advantage of Jingmai’s high altitude and necessary skill of the locals regarding tea farming and processing. The Green Revolution was on its way in Jingmai.
The tea made in the plantations of Jingmai was especially fragrant and praised by the large tea factories of Menghai and Lancang. At that time, many tea plantations thrived in Yunnan; it was supported by the slow price increase and the rise in general domestic consumption. From 2003 to 2007, the Pu-erh boom lead to an increase in tea plantation surface, every mountain wanted to make more tea, more and more tea businesspeople would drive directly to the mountains and wanted their ton of the famous Pu-erh tea.
In 2007, the market crashed, and the tea world understood this growth was just a brief episode in the broader history of Pu-erh tea. The price of old-growth tea continued to rise over the years because surface can’t be extended. The Pu-erh tea production in Yunnan had increased several-fold compared to what it was ten years before. Despite the rise in demand, the tea price wouldn’t increase; competition was too fierce in the low-end market.
At that time, the local government decided to convert the conventional tea plantations of Jingmai Mountain into so-called “natural tea gardens”, or Shengtai Cha Yuan in Chinese. The project would lead to a decrease in the use of fertilizer and pesticide, a reduction of the plantation density by cutting 4 out of 5 tea trees and the establishment of shade trees in the tea gardens. This project officially started in 2010 and went quite successfullly. Through local monitoring and financial incentives, the locals changed their techniques, and there has been a dramatic decrease in the use of pesticides since then.
The natural tea gardens of Jingmai Mountain are not organic. The tea farmers may spray herbicide, usually when they don’t have time to clear the weeds mechanically; spraying insecticide or fungicide, however, is subject to local government approval and would be done collectively. To our knowledge pest and disease outbreaks are rare nowadays, why is it so?
The decision of cutting 80% of the tea trees in the tea plantations may sound crazy; yet, the purpose was to allow space between each tree. In a conventional tea plantation, the trees are so close that the picking tables form a carpet. This makes the whole tea garden much more vulnerable to pest and disease spread, and this is why such gardens most often need a chemical protection. In the natural tea gardens of Jingmai, the space between each tea tree creates a buffer that slows down the spread of insects.
Moreover, the implantation of shade trees along with the absence of insecticide creates a favorable habitat for spiders. These natural predators offer a further protection against pest and disease in the tea gardens. As the shade trees grow, they offer more ecological services: they limit sunlight, regulate temperature, reduce weed presence, provide firewood for cooking and tea processing, bring in organic matter, pump nutrients in the deeper layers of the soil and provide more comfortable conditions for the tea pickers.
Finally, the limitations on fertilizing, only once every two years, limit growth and increase quality.
The impact on yield has been severe, but the trade-off was largely worth it in the current context. Low-quality tea doesn’t sell well; Jingmai pursues an image of excellence, and the quality of the young tea garden leaves has increased since the new policy was implemented. Since 2010, the price of the fresh leaves has quadrupled, and Jingmai has no problems selling its tea production.