by jennifer on May 8th, 2013
After Nan Nuo Mountain Jennifer and Alice head to Hekai Mountain to meet an astonishing young tea master.
The next morning brought a couple of hour’s drive in the other direction and on the way up the bumpy dirt track we stopped off to see our first 800 year old tea tree. At the top was a cluster of houses of the Laku people who welcomed us with the customary tea drinking.
At 1700m Hekai Mountain is less densely forested but has thousands of big old tea trees that were once cultivated but now grow wild.
They were abandoned many years ago but as the rare puerh tea market has exploded in recent years, the Laku now pick the leaves but choose not to prune or fuss with their trees in any way. To the disapproval of Xiao Yen, some of the old trees even die. She felt with a little more care and nurturing this could be prevented and she had some fairly stiff words about the character of this specific minority group.
On this part of our journey we were joined by the handsome and charismatic Zhong Xin, a brilliant young self-taught Tea Master. The romantic story goes that 8 years ago he took himself into the mountains and learnt how to make tea, at 29 he now has 5 apprentices throughout Yunnan and Burma – all tea farmers who he is teaching the art of tea making. To be a Tea Master at such a young age and to have such a wide-ranging and dedicated following is an extremely rare achievement and it was clear from people’s reaction to him that he is something of a legend.
Zhong Xin has a business collecting teas from different mountains and producing the maocha and black teas. He has his own special technique for firing the fresh leaves which means that the flavour develops more slowly but matures to make outstanding puerh cakes. He is experimental and doesn’t just blindly accept the traditional ways but questions and tests new methods. I’m sure you will hear much more from us on Zhong Xin over the years. Perhaps once the documentary is made he will become China’s new superstar Tea Master.
After another lunch cooked up between the wok used only for firing the tea leaves and the piglets nuzzling for scraps, Zhong Xin fired some leaves with bare hands, tossing them casually into a beautiful swirling pattern.
Yes we all had a go – it felt clumsy, surprisingly sticky and extremely hot.
Later he took us to his house within the Da Yi puerh factory village, a strictly secretive place which doesn’t allow visitors inside the processing area. Zhong Xin showed us his hand-pressed puerh cakes which he made himself in his kitchen (not for sale of course) and we sampled some of his incredible sundried black tea which he made from leaves he picked in Mengku. Soft and sweet with fruit, caramel notes, we bought 5 kg – so delicious.