Late April 2022, Man Nong village, Ancient tea gardens, small and big trees picked together.
Robust Menghai taste with just the good mix of bitterness and sweetness. Strong overall profile, but not overwhelming. A good daily drinker for woodcutters.
This tea is a classic from Menghai. Man Nong village in Hekai Mountain, second-flush Spring harvest from the ancient tea gardens.
You get some interesting fragrance, but it is not the main point of this tea. You're here for the mouthfeel and a good kick. The tea is well-layered, you can feel the soup coming down your throat as the short-lived bitterness dissipates. This bitterness is of moderate intensity, it's nothing like Lao Man E. Astringency is low, the liquor seizes the mouth without being too aggressive. You'll get a good amount of brews from this tea if you enjoy the bold sweetness of the later infusions. This makes it a suitable premium daily drinker if you like your tea on the stronger side.
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.