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In Search of Wild Tea: Exploring Mountain Villages in Southwest Lincang, Yunnan

[2024.04.28] Posted By


We are currently sourcing tea in the southwestern part of Lincang City, Yunnan Province. One of the crucial products for us is wild tea. While tea processing is important, securing the raw materials poses the biggest challenge.

Recently, we received information about a new location where wild tea supposedly grows. To verify this, we visited the site in person to survey the actual growing condition of the wild tea trees.

Visiting a mountain village at an altitude of 2200 meters.

The village we visited this time is located in the southwestern part of Lincang City, Yunnan Province. Situated at an altitude of 2200 meters, this village is at an elevation that wild tea prefers, so we had high expectations.

In Yunnan Province, wild tea is commonly the mountain tea known as Camellia taliensis, a closely related species to the more familiar Camellia sinensis. This tea has a preference for sub-alpine zones and is typically found in areas with elevations ranging from 2200m to 2400m.

Cultivated Wild Tea

Upon arriving at the village, we met with the local villagers and proceeded to hike uphill for about an hour. There, we found a garden of Camellia taliensis. According to the villagers, these tea trees were unearthed from the mountains by themselves or their ancestors and planted on their own land.

Being isolated from other common agricultural plants such as potatoes, wheats, maize and walnuts, there’s absolutely no concern about pesticide or herbicide drift. However, from our perspective, we might question, “But isn’t that tea not truly wild?”

Yet, in reality, people in Yunnan Province don’t often differentiate between truly wild tea and tea transplanted from the wild. In Japan, for instance, there are cases where cultivated wild vegetables sprouts are sold as “mountain vegetables,” so it’s somewhat akin to that sensation.

If the tea trees are dug up from the deep forest of the mountains and replanted closer to the villages, it’s still better, but recently, Camellia taliensis has been planted everywhere and they are all called wild tea.

Even if you say “Camellia taliensis” to the people of Yunnan Province, most of them won’t understand. For them, mountain tea species equals wild tea.

In reality, whether the tea is truly wild or artificially cultivated wild species isn’t as important, as Camellia taliensis tea is being circulated as “wild tea”. From my experience, majority of the “wild tea” sold in the market refers to cultivated Camelia taliensis, either naturally cultivated wild tea gardens or artificially cultivated wild species of Camellia taliensis.


Camellia taliensis saplings planted in fields.

The value of wild tea comes from its natural ecosystem.

While exploring the Camellia taliensis tea gardens, I encountered grazing cows. Strangely, the cows showed no interest in the tea leaves and instead grazed on the undergrowth. In a way, it was a blessing for the tea farmers.

However, cow dung was scattered throughout the tea gardens, indicating unintentional but regular fertilization. Even with wild tea trees unearthed from the mountains, once cultivated around human settlements, the wild tea trees begin to be influenced by livestock and other factors, leading to a taste generally lighter than that of mountain-grown tea, lacking the lingering aftertaste characteristic of wild tea.

 

In the search for wild tea, such results are quite common. However, by persisting and continuing to explore, one may encounter unexpectedly excellent wild teas. At our store, we often look into the growing environment and the ecosystem of the wild tea trees, and it has to be the independent trees found in the nature.

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