Tag Archives: tea history

Hand Made Paper from Man Zhao – Correction

For the last few years I’ve been under the misaprehension that the paper made in Man Zhao outside Meng Hun, the hand-made paper which is used widely for wrapping puer tea, was made from the bark of the Mulberry tree. I was wrong.

The bark now rarely comes from local sources as there are insufficient trees to support the village industry, so most of it is imported from neighbours: Thailand, Myanmar, Laos. It’s called gou pi shu locally – which I somewhat predictably assumed was ‘dog skin’ tree – it is in fact  构树/gou shu, Paper Mulberry, broussonetia papyrifera.

I could perhaps be forgiven as the leaves do look a little similar.

There are a number of photos here

And some links here:





Bada Wild Tea Tree – The end

Bada Cha Wang Shu

In the early 1960’s Yunnan University of Agriculture and Yunnan Tea Reasearch Institute conducted research on an ancient tea tree in the Da Hei Shan rain forest. The wild tree – camelia sinensis var. taliensis (Var. Dali), was at an altitude of 1900 metres, had a girth at its base of 2.5 meteres and was 34 metres tall. It was dated at 1700+ years old. It was said to be the worlds oldest living tea tree and helped add weight to the argument that southern Yunnan is the home of the tea tree.

bada ancient wild tree

The tree is said to have been weakened by termite and other insect infestation and also that wind and rain erosion further compromised its strength.

The trunk had become hollowed, which in turn had affected nutrient absorption. These factors coupled with wood rot caused the death of the tree which fell on the 9th of October, apparently, brought down by the wind.

The photo here was taken a few years ago by a friend, Wang Yun Song. The top of the tree had already been hit by lightening.


See more photos here from http://society.yunnan.cn

Bada ancient tea tree photograph 1

Bada ancient tea tree photograph 2

Bada ancient tea tree photograph 3




Nan Nuo Shan Dian Hong

I  was in Nan Nuo Shan yesterday where a friend of mine gave me some da shu black tea to try.

Nan Nuo Shan has a history of tea making. When Nan Nuo Shan Tea Factory was set up in the late 1930’s, it produced black and green tea, and in its heyday was producing hundreds of tonnes of tea a year, mostly for export. Although they planted large areas of tea trees, initially they made black tea from the old tea trees on the mountain which was, by all accounts, very good.

Fu Hai tea factory was set up later, also in Nan Nuo Shan. My friend worked there as a young man and learned the skills of tea making. He later was employed to teach new apprentices and was one of the first farmers in recent history in Nan Nuo Shan to start making his own tea: prior to that, the custom was for farmers to pick tea and then take the fresh leaves to the factory. Because of this, many farmers at that time had limited experience of making their own tea.

But making black tea is becoming quite popular in Nan Nuo Shan. My friend had made a couple of different batches. One we drank at his home, the other I tasted in Jinghong.

nan nujo shan black tea

It’s not the most beautiful Dian Hong – as Dan San says, there would be more tips in bush tea, but the leaves are impressive. Most people making tea in Nan Nuo Shan ferment it quite lightly. This is a little more heavily fermented. The dry leaves are still quite fragrant, but the flavour is deeper, stronger, more full bodied than typical Nan Nuo black tea.

It’s got what I think of as that kind of peppery sweetness which seems to typify Yunnan Dian Hong. Some hints of caramel and spices whose names don’t come to mind. The flavour is quite robust and has both some bitterness and a little astringence. The broth has that classic bright, golden – orange colour, but deepens somewhat on later steepings.

nan nuo shan black tea old tree dian hong broth

I was expecting this tea to be slightly more fragrant than the one we tasted in Nan Nuo Shan, but it was not obviously so. Muted, elusive, perhaps some hint of flowers, so it’s sweetness is the thing that stays with you – lasting for quite some time.

The leaves after a few steepings. As one can see, this is still not very heavily oxidised. The leaves are still very much intact and a testimony to the trees they came from.

nan nuo shan black tea broth after a long steepingAfter steeping for several  minutes, the broth darkened somewhat. It has nice clarity and lustre.

By the way, the small beaker above is Thai celadon, made in Chiang Mai using an ash glaze. They specialise in tableware and produce this quite ‘costaud’ style which feels very comfortable in the hand and is pleasant to drink from.

Drinking Tea

Zha Bao Ming was in the shop recently so HM wasted no time in procuring brushes, ink and paper for him to whip out some pictures to order. Here’s one of them, on the eternal theme of drinking tea in bucolic surroundings.

Peng Zhe, head of Xishuangbanna Tea Association was also here and had Zha Bao Min do a ‘King of Ban Zhang’ piece of calligraphy – doubtless destined for a tea cake wrapper next year!

Not for all the tea in China

Heading east out of Porto, following the River Duoro, one eventually moves out of the verdant lower reaches and moves up into the highlands that feel more like the North Yorkshire Moors than Portugal. By swinging north-east, one eventually arrives at Braganca, home of Catherine – her father was the Duke of Braganca – the Portuguese princess who married Charles II in 1662, and brought along her penchant for a nice cup of tea.

Tea was first brought to Europe in the early 1600’s, but, having been popularised by Catherine who arrived some 40 years later, by the late 19th Century, tea had ceased to be the luxury item it was at the time of it’s introduction.

‘Not for all the tea in China’ perhaps still alluded to the value of tea, but also, rather more the quantity.

The price of Puer, volatile as ever, reached a new height recently; someone brought us some Lao Ban Zhang Summmer tea (yu shui cha). It actually wasn’t bad, but at 1000 RMB a kilo it wasn’t very attractive. As HM said, “Why would you buy Lao Ban Zhang yu shui cha, when for half the price you could buy the very best Nan Nuo Shan Spring tea.”

Of course, compared to Longjin and what have you, Puer is still inexpensive. But, as Puer tea moves further and further away from being an agricultural product, to being a quality, hand-crafted tea, made by farmers who want to see their standards of living rise (even if that might mean, from many an outsider’s view at least, a decline in quality), and as they become increasingly connected to a larger society which has inflation that’s probably closer to 20% than most care to acknowledge. Who’s going to tell them ‘bu xing!’

Yunnan 'Dian Hong'

nan nuo shan cha chang

Nan Nuo Shan Cha Chang. The building on the right was one of the earlier to be built. The building lower down came later.

Yunnan’s Hui People have a long history in the province; associated with trade (hence tea),  government and rebellion. From as early as the 8th century they dominated the trade routes throughout Yunnan and beyond.

During the Yuan and Ming Dynasties (1280-1644) they settled widely throughout the province, some moving into positions of power, but by the 19th Century (Qing Dynasty), conflict with Han Chinese saw many move into Burma (Myanmar). Under Du Wen Xiu – they established a Caliphate in Dali, only to be overthrown by the Han some years later. Important Hui settlements were established further south, particularly around Tong Hai and Jian Shui. In Xishuangbanna, Menghai had an early sizeable Hui population.

Bai Meng Yu was one such Yunnanese Hui man. He was born in 1893, attended a private school and, subsequently Yunnan School of Politics and Law.

By his late 30’s, Bai Meng Yu had been asked to become the head of the provincial government (under then Nationalist Government of Chiang Kai Shek), a post he declined, having no interest in politics. He was then appointed to work at Mo Hei Salt Works as an insurance officer, where he worked for two years or so.

In 1932 he was transferred to Puer Department of Taxation. In the course of work he travelled extensively throughout the region, visiting Fuhai, Mengzhe, etc.

His interest in the area grew and he became intent on seeing the region develop economically. It was allegedly on these trips that he had the idea of setting up a tea factory: an idea he is said to have mooted to Liu Chong Ren, the then head of Yunnan Department of Finance, who had considerable faith in Bai, and endorsed the plan.

On the basis of this he travelled extensively throughout China to understand more about the tea market. Central to his plan was the idea of creating a modern,highly mechanised factory and, to this end he also visited Japan to learn about tea making.

On his return, he proposed his plan to the provincial government but, according to details from the time, the initial response was that the government “..would solely rely on taxes for revenue and not eat the food off the beards of ordinary people, and only in this way would a healthy, diversified economy develop.”

By the end of 1937 however, Liu had given his agreement to the establishment in Nan Qiao, Mengzhe of an experimental tea factory. It was to be called Yunnan Si Pu District Experimental Tea Factory. Bai Meng Yu was to be in charge.

In early 1938 the first stage was completed. Subsequently Bai was responsible for the planting of more than 100 mu of tea gardens in Nan Qiao.

Nan Nuo Shan, not far from Fuhai, where there were already extensive tea gardens was the site of the second phase. In April of that year the second factory was completed at Shi Tou Zhai in Nan Nuo Shan. Said by some to have been the most modern tea factory of it’s time, it was fitted with equipment from England that arrived 6 months later having been hauled by bullock cart from Rangoon in Burma (Myanmar) up to Kyaintong in Shan State and from there across the border to Daluo and on to Menghai. Ovens, cutting machines, rolling machines, a generator. All that was needed to set up a modern tea factory were installed in the factory that covered an area of 500 square metres.

The factory at that stage had 17 rooms including cutting, drying, rolling and sorting rooms. By the end of 1938 the factory was ready. It was called Yunnan Si Pu Enterprise Bureau Nan Nuo Shan Experimental Tea Factory. Having previously surveyed the market, Bai Meng Yu had already set his expectations high – the factory was to produce high quality black and green tea.

By March 1939 Nan Nuo Shan tea Factory had already produced it’s first black and green tea.

Another man, Fan He Jun was not far behind him. He was setting up another factory in Fuhai (present day Menghai) to be called Fuhai Tea Factory. This was to later become the now ubiquitous Meghai Tea Factory but Bai Meng Yu was a good 6 months ahead of them.

At the same time in Lincang, Feng Qing Tea Factory was being developed and there is some debate about which factory was the first to start production and claim the accolade of pioneering Yunnan Dian Hong.*

In the same year, the government introduced measures to control tea exports, which is said to have given the Nan Nuo Shan factory some trouble, but Bai Meng Yu approached Fan at Fuhai Tea Factory and the two co-operated for a time to produce Dian Hong.

One of the main activities of the factory at this stage was to distribute funds to farmers for an extensive planting programme. The approach was to use high quality, domestic stock for planting tea bushes following modern scientific methods. Bai oversaw the planting in Nan Nuo Shan of over 100 thousand mu (66,000 hectares) of tea bushes.

In 1941 the factory went into production, attracting a lot of interest from other in the industry. That year they made 2000 dan of tea (a dan is a pole and two baskets that is traditionally used throughout Asia to carry goods, but here refers to a unit of weight – 50kg. i.e. 100 tonnes in total).

In order to move further into the export market, the factory concentrated on black tea, and Bai Meng Yu recruited the help of 10 famous tea masters from Shanghai and Hangzhou. The factory made black tea of excellent quality following stringent guidleins: only when there was dew could the farmers pick tea, they had to keep the leaves in the shade, bajiao (a variety of small banana whose leaves are used traditionally for wrapping food)leaves were used to line the baskets and farmers were prevented from overfilling or stuffing the baskets.

At this stage, they were relying on the old tea tree gardens on Nan Nuo Shan for their supply source and there was a high demand that they were apparently unable to meet. At this time, black tea was Yunnan’s single biggest export.

By the early ’40’s, business was badly disrupted by the war in South East Asia. The Japanese army was in Burma and the route to SE Asia had been bombed and was closed. Production at Nan Nuo Shan stopped.

In November 1942 the Japanese army were near Daluo (in Menghai County). Fuhai Tea Factory moved all it’s technical personnel to Chongqing, but Bai stayed in Xishuangbanna. The workers who had stayed at the Nan Nuo Shan Factory formed a civil defense force and fought alongside the Guo Min Dang (KMT) 93rd Army to push the Japanese out of Daluo.

Nan Nuo Shan 'Er Chang' tea gardens

In the foreground is the site of the second Nan Nuo Shan Tea Factory. All that is left are a few bricks.

After the end of the war in 1946 Nan Nuo Shan quickly went back into production and took over some Fuhai resources as they had not yet returned to the factory. For the next two years they made tea non-stop. Bai Meng Yu also set about building a second facility near Xiang Yang Zhai. Planting and research on different varieties of tea tree also continued. Bai’s eldest son, Bai Bing Cong, who had just graduated from Shanghai’s Fudan University joined his father in Nan Nuo Shan.

By the end of 1948, the political landscape was shifting: The upper echelons of Yunnan Government were in a state of conflict. The former head of finance, Liu Chong Ren, had already left for Hong Kong and Si Pu Enterprise Bureau was without anyone in charge.

Bai had been in Nan Nuo Shan for 10 years and was reluctant to leave, but the situation was disintegrating rapidly. He decided to go to Burma and stay near the border, apparently hoping for an improvement in the situation that would allow him to return but, following the exhortations of people in Nan Qiao, Bai Meng Yu, along with a much larger exodus which later would include many retreating KMT soldiers, moved to northern Thailand where there had for centuries been a sizeable Hui population. He lived in Chiang Mai till his death in August 1965.

Surprisingly little seems to be known about his later years, and the man who played a key role in the creation of Yunnan ‘Dian Hong’ Black tea, and also for creating an, albeit embryonic, modern tea industry in the Province, has become little more than a footnote to Yunnan’s ancient, but ever evolving tea history.

Subsequently, the equipment from Nan Nuo Shan was taken over by Fuhai, and the tea gardens near ‘Er Chang’ were put in the hands of Yunnan Tea Research Institute, though in practice the gardens are left to local people to pick.

Little is left. The people are all gone except for one elderly Hui man who worked at the factory as a youngster, married a local Aini woman and remained.

The Shi Tou Zhai factory is dilapidated, with apparently no interest in preserving it. The second factory – a more modest set of workshops – has been raised, and all that is left are a few bricks. What does remain there however, on this picturesque low hill in the shadow of Nan Nuo Shan, is a sizeable, now 70 year old tea garden. A legacy of Bai Meng Yu.

Nan Nuo Shan Tea Factory 'Er Chang' tea gardens

Looking back down the hill. The tea gardens that were planted by Bai Meng Yu and Nan Nuo Shan Tea Factory are on both sides.

*Dian is the old name for Yunnan. Hong means red. Chinese people refer to Black tea as Red tea