Man Zhuan Mountain in China is famous for its tea, but what’s so special about the teas and the mountain? After all, China has lots of mountains on which tea is grown – some cultivated and some wild. Some are better than others for a variety of reasons.
Man Zhuan Mountain is one of the historical “Six Tea Mountains” – these are the original ones that are located north of Lancang River in Xishuangbanna, Yunnan province, China. This mountain plus its five companions (You Le, Ge Deng, Yi Bang, Mang Zhi, and Man Sa) were key areas for growing tea since the mid-1700s. The area has perfect natural conditions (what some call terroir) for growing the leaves needed to make the finest pu-erh and produce unique flavor profiles. (Over time as populations shifted and the market for these teas changed, tea growing and production shifted to six tea mountains south of Lancang River: Nannuo, Menghai, Bada, and Nanqiao near Menghai town, Jingmai in Hui Min County, and Mengsong.) Man Zhuan Mountain is beside Ye Xiang Mountain and the Mo Zhe River. At its peak, the mountain yielded over 500 metric tons of tea per year.
Unlike massive tea gardens covering hundreds of hectares and comprised of neatly cultivated rows of tea bushes kept trimmed to about waist height, the tea from Man Zhuan (aka Manzhuan) Mountain and the other five of those famous tea mountains comes from tea plants that have grown to tree height. They are usually tended by people living in nearby villages, who also harvest and process the leaves. Man Lin Village and Man Zhuan Village (very small with less than 30 families living there) are on Man Zhuan Mountain. The people doing this today could be descendants of those who did it for over 270 years of tea-growing history on those mountains. The locals on Man Zhuan Mountain were particularly astute in seeing that the demand for pu-erh, which had dropped off over the years, was on the rebound. This was even before the Chinese government approved a special designation for pu-erh tea in 2008 that went into effect in 2009. (Prices had dropped in 2007 due to a fall off in demand and a rise in fakery.)
Quality Leaves & Processing
The ancient tea trees are ideal for leaves that make the best pu-erh tea, providing a more natural taste and healthful qualities. Revival of old techniques of processing these leaves assures that character consistently. Cakes dating from 2001 and later are part of that revival. Leaves are harvested 5 times per year by the family members in the villages there. Contrary to concerns of over-harvesting, the frequency causes the trees to produce more fresh buds that produce better máochá which sells for a higher price. The leaves are dried on larger, round, woven bamboo trays out in the open air.
The nice thing here is that you can store that sheng cake or enjoy it right away. There will be virtually no bitterness. Storing it, though, will enrich the flavor. Maybe we should just say that a bit of patience is a good thing but not necessary. Supply can be hard to come by, but we managed to round up a bit of Manzhuan 2007 Pure Old-tree Maocha. It infuses nicely in a gaiwan.