Why Location Is So Important To Chinese Tea

Why Location Is So Important To Chinese Tea

In Chinese tea, location is the singular most important attribute to a tea’s value. It’s the base of understand the tea on any level of depth and true appreciation. The more detailed description your tea has about its location, chance are the better quality the tea itself will be. A tea that just says it’s from Yun Nan, is akin to a wine company telling you their wine comes from France. So what? That doesn’t provide much nuanced help to understand the tea. Yun Nan Province is the size of New York State, there’s a lot of tea grown in that massive of a region, and the quality of the making varies greatly from heritage tea farmers to plantation farmers.

At a very basic understanding, each tea growing region in China has a long history of ancient traditions and methods around tea. The reason why some locations are valued so much higher than others, relates to the importance that place has in history. But, there’s much more to it today than just the ancient history.

In today’s market, the more specific the location name, the more the valuable the tea is. Everything starts with the price of the fresh leaves which is directly relates to location a tea comes from. This starting price dictates the start of the whole value chain. Which means it then informs the price of the rough tea, which informs the price of the refined tea, and so on.

An example of location value structure would be: a tea called Yun Nan (province) is cheaper than a tea called Xi Shuang Ban Na (city), which is cheaper than a tea called Meng Hai (county), which is cheaper than a tea called Nan Nuo Shan (mountain), which is cheaper than a tea called Ban Po Lao Zhai (village). In this case, Ban Po Lao Zhai is both the name of the village, as well as the micro-plot which one step even more desired. We translated this level loosely as village for the sake of all Chinese tea, but it’s good to note that specifically in Yun Nan, they are not called villages. Here, they are called “zhai” which means more like “camps”. This general structure applies to all Pu Er and ALL other Chinese loose leaf teas.

Many of the Chinese teas we drink, are just named after the specific location they are from. This means teas are often inextricably tied to a place because of its name. A Keemun red tea can only be this if it is from the county-level city of Qi Men (Keemun). Just as with wine, a Burgundy can only be a Burgundy if it is from Burgundy, France. You cannot have a Keemun tea from another region.

The location can tell you a lot about more about the tea than just where it was grown. Different regions are known for different styles of tea; different flavor profiles because of the land; and different cultural histories. The tea industry has adopted the wine term “terroir” to have an understanding of the importance of environmental factors such as climate, soil, altitude, biodiversity, and location. 

For example, Wu Yi Shan is located on very rocky, cliff-like terroir. Tea from here is called Yan Cha, which translates to Cliff Tea. The best growing region on this mountain is the protected UNESCO World Heritage site. We know that because this region is a historic heritage site, it is home to the most skilled heritage tea makers for Yan Cha. Better regions have longer history with the tea, which gives them more generational knowledge of their specific styles of tea as well as the terroir and varietals of the region. Teas from this very exact location are called Zheng Yan or True Cliff, where as teas from the immediate surrounding areas are called Ban Ya, or Half Cliff. You can probably guess that the value of something true would be higher than something that is half. Half Cliff teas tend to fall short on the most distinct characteristic from teas of the region, which is the “rock bone” feeling. So simply put, better location = better tea makers and better terroir. 

With Yan Cha wu longs, we don’t stop at Zheng Yan, even though that is the most prestigious area for this region. We source even more specifically from only the best micro-plots within that designated areas. There are dozens of micro-plots in a place as famous as Zheng Yan, and even when you get that granular the plots range in value on the market. Some plots can consistently be at least 10x more than other plots in this region. An example of this is the Niu Lan Keng, where we have one of our Rou Guis from. This plot is way more valuable on the market even compared to other micro-plots inside of Zheng Yan. It’s so prized, that it is often referred to as the crown jewel of Zheng Yan terroir.

You must be careful to know your source for tea is trustworthy, because unfortunately there is an entire world of counterfeit teas. Often you will see a tea sold as “Bing Dao” when really, it’s just plantation tea from the Ling Cang city limits. This is a wide-spread issue in the tea industry, and is very important to mention, as our goal is to create more informed buyers to stop this bad behavior. At Tea Drunk, we guarantee transparency on all of our teas growing regions down to the villages and plots they come from. On all of our product pages, you’ll see not only the location, but the vintage (year it was harvested) as details before checkout. We love sharing this level of depth with you, because it’s so important to the world of Chinese teas. It also makes the experience of drinking and sharing tea that much more enjoyable, when we feel connected and educated on the origins of our tea. We pride ourselves on only sourcing the most historic teas, from their most historic locations.

Now for the real creme de la creme, we can even get as nuanced as to the exact tree a tea comes from. Yes, we literally mean this tea comes from one specific tree. Let’s travel back to the micro-plot in the village of Ban Po Lao Zai. We have a Single Tree, Ban Po Lao Zhai from Ban Po Lao Zhai, in Nan Nuo Shan from both 2015 and 2016. This is the pinnacle of Pu Er, harvested from a single ancient tea tree. Before we can gush over the quality or desirability of a single tree tea, we need to make sure all the other factors of location, varietal, and cultivar align. Single tree teas are designed to show off the vitality of a specific tree and its age. The entire batch of this tea specifically is harvested from a single tree that can produce 30-40 pounds of fresh leaves during one tea season. This level of rarity and location is a treat to say the least, as harvesting and crafting need the most optimal conditions. The same tree might not bud evenly every year, so the maker must do all of the plucking in one day to be sure there will be enough for a batch. 

We hope this breakdown helps you in your entire tea journey, and has you thinking differently about understanding labels and the importance of location to tea! 

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