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Exploring Pu’er from China’s Oldest Tea Forest

Exploring Pu’er from China’s Oldest Tea Forest

Regular Price $30.95 $25.38

This bundle includes four 25g bags of pu'er tea for 100g total (20 sessions).

The Zhenyuan Dongsa Cooperative of Qianjiazhai is a loose-knit coalition of families across the remote mountaintops of China’s oldest tea forests dedicated to sustainable stewardship of the wild tea plants, and careful foraging from trees that can be over a thousand years old.

Master Zhou founded the cooperative to refine the finishing craft and picking techniques across Qianjiazhai and bring more well-deserved respect to one of China’s most important but also most unknown tea regions. This tasting kit is an introduction to the incredible diversity of flavor, texture, aroma and aftertaste that wild-foraging in an ancient tea forest can bring.

In this kit you’ll taste the careful heat-free sun dry craft of Qianjiazhai’s sheng pu’er and the fermentation of their shu pu’er, while also tasting the rare near-tea relative camellia crassicolumna, naturally caffeine-free and incredibly intense and aromatic. This kit is an invitation into a little-seen side of tea and its ancient wild origins.

 Explore Pu’er from China’s Oldest Tea Forest:

2020 Loose Leaf Zun Sheng Pu’er (25g)

Zun, a designation chosen by the cooperative, means ‘reverence’ of the ancient Qianjiazhai tea trees themselves, an awareness of the human collaboration with a living tree that has existed for generations before us and hopefully will continue to exist for generations after us. The Zun series cakes use the first early spring growth from only the old-growth (500-1000 year) wild trees above the Li Family’s home high in the mountains, and accessible only on foot. The wild nature of this tea’s provenance come through as a flavor texture and aroma experience that is both reverent of its source, and worthy of reverence for its commanding beauty, full of honey and dried apricot with a hint of wild mountain tulsi, and intense textural depth.

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2014 Shu Pu'er Nuggets (25g)

This tea is a new experiment from one of Master Zhou's former students, another member of the cooperative. Qianjiazhai one hundred to three hundred year wild-picked leaves and buds are pile-fermented until they clump together in tight balls in the heat. The balls ferment and age differently than loose tea and yield a rich vanilla-heavy flavor that is impossible to steep out.

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2014 Gong Ting Shu Pu'er (25g)

Qianjiazhai Gong Ting Shu Pu'er is still a very new practice, made only by one of Master Zhou's students in the cooperative. Using the giant buds of QIanjiazhai's wild trees between 100 and three hundred years of age, this tea is carefully and slowly pile fermented to bring out a deep rich sweetness unlike any other shu pu'er out there. Master Zhou was so excited by this experiment he is sharing the technique across the cooperative and encourage more members to keep developing the craft.

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2018 Crassicolumna Yabao Tea (25g)

This tea is picked from the early spring buds of the Camellia Crassicolumna (厚轴茶) tree, a close relative of tea native to Qianjiazhai. Crassicolumna is naturally caffeine-free and rich in antioxidants. Yabao buds are extremely sweet and packed with flavor since they are the early shoots of the plant that would otherwise become new branches. The giant buds picked from this wild-growing tree stock are allowed to gently sun dry without any heat processing to keep the most natural flavor. Wild crassicolumna trees can be anywhere between several hundred and over a thousand years old, and are incredibly tall and difficult to climb to harvest these precious buds, but the rich nuanced flavor and lingering aftertaste is worthwhile.

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"The Mt Ailao National Forest Preserve is a special place.

Within it, our home Qianjiazhai is a protected microclimate that shelters some of the oldest tea trees in the world. We believe that to call a tea “wild,” it should mean no intervention - no planting tea, no watering, no pesticides, no fertilizer and no trimming. We forage tea growing between evergreens, walnut trees and herbs.

We have banded together and formed a small cooperative in order to make a sustainable future for tea in our home, encouraging stewardship of our forest through ownership of the process.

We do not sell to big brands or workshops to blend our leaves with other regions. We sun dry, hand finish and stone press our teas and sell them ourselves to show the community that if we care for the land, it can care for us and provide a better future.

We hope that by tasting our tea you will get a sense of the beauty of the place we call home, and that by respecting our environment and perfecting our craft we will bring Qianjiazhai fame, recognition, and protection for future generations."

- Zhou Baitong // 周佰通

Our Home: Qianjiazhai

Ms. Li climbs a tea tree in the springMs. Li climbs a tea tree in the spring
Ms. Li climbs a tea tree in the spring
a single tea tree towers over two stories

 

Qianjiazhai is a region within the protected Mt. Ailao National Forest Preserve, home to some of the oldest tea trees in the world, and one of the most biodiverse forests of China.

Only families that can trace back their presence in Qianjiazhai for generations have the right to sustainably wild-forage in the National Forest, and the Dongsa Cooperative was formed in large part to coordinate sustainability efforts to protect this special place.

The mountains of Qianjiazhai soar to well over 2000 meters above sea level, creating a cooler climate that’s well-suited for tea. The environment here is so perfect that Qianjiazhai may be one of the ancestral origin points for all tea today; the forests are still some of the most biodiverse for tea in the world, including many close tea-relatives like Camellia crassicolumna.

One of the most powerful protections for the region is it's remote location.

We are almost 20 hours by bus from the nearest airport in Kunming, and then another long day's drive into the mountains. Most of the tea trees we forage require a half days' hike off road. This keeps away development and pollution, and protects us from being taken over by big brands and investors.

Our isolation protects our wild trees, and our self-reliance gives us the will to hand pick and hand finish every batch of precious leaves.

Meet the Cooperative

Master Zhou

Zhou Baitong is the current organizer for the cooperative, and travels between each family’s remote workshops to learn and then share the skills of picking the right mix of leaf, bud and stem, sun drying, and finishing sheng pu’er, shu pu’er and black tea between all members of the cooperative. He founded the cooperative as a framework to unite families living in isolation on mountain peaks across the region and to provide a better future for the next generation through tea.

Mr. Zhou doubles as the middle school teacher in Jiujia, making sure every child in his classes has the tools to succeed in life with fluency in Mandarin Chinese and all the knowledge they need to go on to high school and college in the nearest city of Zhenyuan and beyond. He believes that a good life for the community is tied to success in education and in tea, and has devoted his life to this cause.

Mr. Zhou visits the Wang Family's giant tea tree
Mr. Li with his daughter and granddaughter

Li Family

The Li Family lives in one of the most remote mountain townships of all. Mr. Li proudly serves as the environmental conservation officer for the Qianjiazhai region of the Mt Ailao National Forest Preserve. His job is to make sure that neighbors or even outsiders and poachers are not picking from illegal-to-harvest wild Crassicolumna trees to make yabao, and to help safeguard the land for future generations.

Mr. Li’s view on conservation in such a remote region is that it only works if everyone can be enlisted to help the cause through mutual benefit, not fear of punishment. This goal to raise up the region motivates him to teach tea crafting alongside Mr. Zhou, and to allow farmers to forage in small sustainable amounts from the wild old trees that are already growing on their own land, as long as they do not over-pick and help protect their trees from outside poaching.

Deng Family

Mr. Deng is newer to both tea and the cooperative, but joined Master Zhou through shared passion for education. When he was a child, he lived so far from school that it took a full days' hike for him to get to class. His teachers were skeptical he would be able to keep up with the other students, or even afford to keep attending school, but they agreed to let him try.

On his long hikes to school, he picked walnuts all the way into town, and set up to sell the walnuts before and after school. In this way, he was able to raise enough money to stay in classes. At night between school days he slept at school, only returning home once a week.

Mr Deng had to struggle to teach himself reading and writing, but with his knowledge, he started a business picking, roasting and distributing walnuts, and eventually raising the money to establish a new sleep-away elementary school, providing more access to education to children across the region. Now he works with Mr Zhou to reach more remote farmers like himself and teach them tea craft for an even better future.

Mr. Zhou and Mr. Deng
Sun drying spring maocha in the elementary school courtyard

Learn more

Pu’er is dominated by fakes, big brands and ad money, with the true origins of teas often hidden behind secretive blends and white label wrappers. We are fighting back, selling our tea as a true single origin offering.

We have worked hard with our international partner Verdant Teato make sure our story is told. If you want the best value in pu’er, buying from real family producers, demand the transparency of photos, videoand interviews.

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