A Rare Treat: Sun Dried Teas from Yunnan Province, China

The story of tea begins in Yunnan, a mountainous and remote region of southwestern China. In 2737 BCE the revered Emperor Shennong (meaning “Divine Farmer”) discovered that the leaves of wild tea trees, when brewed, made an invigorating and enlivening elixir. 

emperor sits in front of tea tree holding a cup of tea

Folklore has it that one afternoon, Shennong sat down to take a rest under a Camellia sinensis tree and boiled some water to drink (he is credited with saving his population from the plague by mandating that all water be boiled before it was consumed). Leaves from the tea tree above him floated down into the pot of boiling water and infused the water, making the first-ever pot of tea. Intrigued by the aroma, Shennong took a sip and found it refreshing.  Tea brewed from the leaves of the Camellia sinensis plant has been an important part of Chinese culture ever since. 

The tea that Shennong made was an un-processed tea leaf of the indigenous Camellia sinensis assamica varietal steeped in hot water — the most basic and pure form of tea. The closest tea to this style is Wild Harvest Green Pu’erh, although that tea does undergo a “kill green” step to stop oxidation, keeping the tea leaf green.  Some of the trees from which this tea is produced are the most ancient tea trees in Yunnan, which are hundreds of years old, and they crown up over the tea farmers’ heads. Our Wisdom of the Ancients tea cakes are harvested from our personal favorite ancient tea tree. 

Yunnan, which means “South of the Colorful Clouds” is one of the most ecologically pure areas on earth. Camellia sinensis assamica grows native here. Vast, ancient, aromatic (because remember - tea is a cousin of the camellia flower), canopied tea forests cover the beautiful hillsides, watered by high mountain streams and basked by persistent, warming sunshine. Today, Yunnan is probably best known for its aged and fermented Pu’erh production. It’s a favorite component of many of our breakfast blends and is named for the village from where it first hailed. 

The collection of sun-dried Yunnan teas includes a rare black tea, which is also harvested from wild tea trees growing in this pristine environment. Our tea makers in this region are experts at hand-plucking tea leaves at the moment when they’re most flavorful and then allowing them to bask and bake out in the sun rather than dry in a tea roasting oven.

 This can only happen in a high-altitude place like the remote Ailao mountains of Yunnan Province where there’s enough strong sunlight during the spring tea harvest. The result is a rare black tea that is both robust and remarkably smooth, with naturally sweet and malty notes. Taking a sip of this tea feels like getting a sweet hug from the sun. Taking a sip of Yunnan Sun-Dried Black Tea is like getting a sweet hug from the sun, and we reach for it when we need a little boost of warming sunshine in our days!

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