Wild tea can be confusing because multiple factors can constitute a tea to be called wild. There isn't one singular definition. Today, any tea tree that does not receive human interference (for example, pruning and maintenance) can be labeled wild. But, if we look deeper, there are a few ways tea can be "wild" that cause vast differences.
These wild teas are the ancestors of the cultivated tea we know today. They are the most actual definition of wild, and they do not represent the cultivar forward style of tea we understand and appreciate today. This plant is a primitive type of tea, and they are not necessarily edible. Wild varieties grow massive, sometimes over 50 feet tall! It is often illegal to harvest these trees today, although some people still do so. Tea Drunk does not sell or recommend consuming this kind of wild tea.
Planted By Nature:
These wild teas sprout from seeds dropped by birds or burrowed by squirrels; they are seeded and grow naturally like how other trees in the forests came to be. While naturally grown and not planted by humans, they are still from seeds of cultivated versions of tea trees. We typically see these trees not far from those maintained by humans. But a significant difference is that there's no formation, and the trees are pretty scattered and have to compete for space and other resources with other trees in a forest. It's complicated to harvest from these wild tea trees as one has to search for the trees before any plucking can happen. And needless to say, the difficulty of navigating its rugged surroundings and likely unruly height and canopy.
People have cultivated tea for a long time, and many times throughout history, entire villages have relocated, died out, and their tea fields have become abandoned. Or, when tea commerce saw a decline, farmers left tea trees to attend to other livelihoods. Today, many of these areas that once grew tea but abandoned the practice are now being revitalized.
There are tea fields that have sat dormant without human intervention for tens to hundreds of years. It's domesticated tea trees gone feral. These abandoned tea trees have hugely varied age differences. For example, in Yun Nan, people left trees after the decline of the mass tea trade from the Ming and Qing Dynasties that are now 200-600 years old. Or wild tea trees in Huang Shan, where only a few most senior folks in the village recall that there used to be a village nearby decades ago but have since moved out and abandoned their tea trees altogether. Or, in cases like Fu Ding, where traditional white teas are produced, the current generation went to cities to look for jobs and left their tea fields unattended for 20-40 years. But many have now moved back to the areas because of the recent popularity of white tea. These wild teas have owners; they just haven't been actively maintained by humans for a long time. There's been time for nature to take control back. Even within a few years, weeds and grasses grow tall among tea trees. In decades, other larger plants start to compete and claim space.
The critical distinction here is that someone had once planted this style of wild tea - they weren't wild to start but have since become so.
How Does Wild Tea Taste Different?
Because wild teas have to struggle and compete with other plants for resources, they usually appear skinnier but are packed with flavor! One might indeed say they taste wild. They are often sweeter, brighter, and richer in flavor. The most common distinction people tend to notice in wild teas is that the taste is more intense and exuberant, with a very long after taste. These taste profiles make these teas wildly popular (no pun intended).