Yiwu is probably the most famous tea mountain in the Pu-erh world. It is also the biggest of the six famous tea mountains, the flagship of Yunnan tea industry.
Yiwu is a town and also a vast mountain range. There are many villages included in the Yiwu area and as many different tastes.
On the foothills of Yiwu, a high concentration of Taidi can be seen as we're climbing up.
The most well known village in Yiwu is probably Mahei, 9 km away from Yiwu town. Around Mahei, some other villages: Luoshuidong, Daqishu andManxiu. They form the first group of Yiwu, Their teas have similar characteristics, this is maybe what we could call the ''proper Yiwu'' taste, often seen as Yiwu Zhengshan on the cakes.
In the surroundings of Mahei
This area is mostly inhabited by Han people (the most common ethnic group in China), the explains the differences in architecture. There, we can see more traditional chinese houses. Tea trees can be found all over the area, many in clear grounds and some in forests. A particularity of Yiwu: the ancient tea trees are shaped like tea in a tea plantation, this makes the harvest easier.
Some of the slopes are very steep
This tea field is quite natural, let the shaping apart. There is actually no distinction made between natural tea gardens and ancient tea gardens. All of their fields are considered as ancient tea gardens but there are many young tea trees in it, therefore, in order to get pure old tea trees, you need to order a special harvest.
Most of Mahei tea comes from this kind of trees
Along the Mahei road, one can find a tiny paved road, this is the ancient tea horse road. It goes through all the tea villages in the six famous tea mountains, and ends up in Lhassa, Guangzhou and Beijing. In the ancient time, Pu-erh was compressed to make it transportable by donkeys, it was brought to the emperor in Beijing as a tribute.
A very old tea tree on the ancient tea horse road
At the north of this first area, the landscape is much wilder, the roads are not very well maintained and impossible to use during heavy rain. The scenery is beautiful, it is made of steep tiny hills, almost in a Wuyi mountain fashion. All is covered by a dense jungle, you could imagine a dinosaur jumping out of the bushes. Laos is only a few dozen kilometres away.
This wild area is populated by the Yao minority. They live mostly in Laos, very few of them are found in China. In Xishuangbanna, they live in the eatern part, all along the border. In their culture, all animals should have freedom, hence, pigs and pets walk freely in the streets and live a peaceful living, only, sometimes, troubled by the few motorbikes and pick up trucks passing by, once or twice a day.
Very few tea tourists go that far into Yiwu mountain, most of the visitors only make their way to Mahei and leave on the second day. Fifteen years ago, as the tea cost virtually nothing, the Yao decided to cut most of their ancient tea gardens to grow rice instead. I dare say they regret it now, considering the current prices of Yiwu tea.
Ding Jia Zhai, a Yao village
Few ancient trees have survived, and those who have are very far from the villages. From Gua Feng Zhai, you need to walk for four hours in order to reach the main tea garden. The tea pickers leave early in the morning and arrive at noon, they spend the afternoon to harvest the tea trees, process it on the premises , spend the night in the forest and get back to the village on the next day.
Two hours walk are necessary to reach those fields
The remoteness preserve the trees from any pollution, but it is not without disadvantages, especially on the processing side.
On the opposite mountain, you can see the tea gardens of Gua Feng Zhai. The village is two mountains behind. From the shooting point, we would need four hours through the jungle to reach those tea trees. You can notice the small huts used to process the fresh leaves and rest.
The way to process tea has remained very traditional in Yiwu, most of the tea is hand processed, which means without the use of Sha Qing Ji and Rou Nian Ji. In yiwu, like in Bulang Shan, it can be hard to find perfectly processed mao cha. The farmers' technique is not always good, some don't know, some don't care, some produce excellent tea.
Drying is an important step
Rest area in the Gua Feng Zhai tea gardens
Further in the north, at the border between Xishuangbanna and Simao, the tea traveler will arrive in Manla. This town is a bit smaller than Yiwu, many different ethnic groups live there: Han, Yao, Yi, Hani, Dai. This mix of cultures reminds us that Yiwu was a crossroad in Xishuangbanna, it was the start of the tea horse road. In the surroundings of Manla, there is a lot of old plantations, as well as a few younger ones. The hevea has conquered a lot of land, even in famous places like Yiwu, this crop can be more profitable than tea. Hevea is quite a plague for Xishuangbanna.Some ancient tea trees can be found in small spots whose most famous is the mighty Yi Shan Mo, a remote tea garden, hidden in the rainforest, which is said to keep very old and big tea trees, the very Holy Grail quest for the tea amateur.
Yiwu is the last of the six famous tea mountains where we can mostly find tea. The five other mountains actually only have a handful of villages that continue to grow tea. The hevea and other crops have supplanted the traditionnal tea culture in the east of Xishuangbanna. Yiwu is like a hotspot, an exception in eastern Banna. Most of the tea is grown around Menghai which is the true capital of Pu-erh tea. As an exception, Yiwu tea is excellent, this is also why it is so pricey.
Few tall tree remain in Yiwu, most of them are shaped now.
Yiwu tea is not of the aggressive type. It is sweet but not weak. Its strength is in the feeling, it has a great Chaqi and a solid Kougan. Good Yiwu tea slowly makes you feel high, in this aspect, it is similar to Lao Banzhang tea. Impossible to mistake those two areas though, both give great teas, but Yiwu has a different flavor and behavior in the mouth, also, its Huigan is not as deep as Banzhang tea. Yiwu tea is not fancy like Nannuo or Lincang tea, Yiwu tea has its own personality and that's why it is considered as one of the most important Pu-erh mountain.
Far away from home...