Origin Stories from Wisdom of the Ancients
Written by Jordan Overlie and Maria Uspenski
Our sourcing team was most fortunate to visit China last year, and spent a week during that trip in Yunnan, traveling and bushwhacking with local farmers in search of wild tea trees. Yunnan Province is in the southwestern corner of China, vast in size, largely wild and undeveloped. It has legendary status as the birthplace of tea, and touts Ideal growing conditions: rich soil on mountainous terrain with excellent drainage, strong sun, cool nights and humid air, and strong plant diversity. These conditions allow wild tea trees to develop and produce high amounts of phytochemicals, which give the green pu’erh tea harvested here its many health benefits, and naturally sweet and savory taste.
Many experiences were impactful, from the food to the epic city architecture, yet one feature stands out with greater significance than all the rest: the attitude of the rural tea cultivators towards tea shrubs. They seem to see a wild tea shrub as an entity that bears great treasures but only if treated in the proper way. They approach it carefully, with intention, and pluck just the right leaves according to a richly developed skillset. They show respect the way I envision a student paying respect to a valuable teacher who has a unique and rare curriculum. Some tea shrubs were much older than others. The artisans approach each in a calculated way tailored to the age of the shrub. I spotted the deepest reverence reserved for the oldest, the ones scraggly with moss and wrought from decades of punishing weather.
One by one, our team were all attracted to a particular tree in this vast wild tea forest. We took turns, each sitting beneath the tree. It literally drew us in with its energy. We all fell for this master tea tree, and later that evening told our host, the owner of the forests and production facility, about this particular tree and how we were drawn to it. His tea pickers verified that this was the most ancient tree in the local forest, and probably over 300 years old. It was a great honor when special rights were awarded to our company to be the only harvest recipients of this most ancient tea tree. We chose to use all the leaves from this tree to produce and annual batch of tea “cakes”, a beautiful traditional format for producing and aging this type of wild, raw green pu’erh. Blending the leaves from the the full year of harvests produces a superbly well-balanced, mouthwatering tea with notes of orchid and honeysuckle. The mature age of the tea tree brings a strength of character that reveals deep-rooted minerality alongside smooth floral notes. The cakes themselves are of stunning visual beauty, and we designed a wrapper with illustrations of the branches and leaves of our chiseled ancient tree.