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 their unique sun dried black tea. This kit is an invitation into a little-seen side of tea and its ancient wild origins.
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.
This new blend of 2014 gong ting shu pu'er and Autumn 2020 tea flowers was pressed in the cooperative's small 100g cake stone mold. This is the first time Master Zhou has pressed tea flowers with Gong Ting Shu in a cake, and the result is a beautiful visual contrast. The floral boost to the textural complexity and nuance of this budset shu pu’er is a welcome addition. The clean natural fermentation preserves the herbaceousness of the tea, and the florals bring it out even further.
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.
This blend of wild-picked tea is heaped in thicker piles in bamboo baskets and allowed to oxidize under the bright Yunnan sun before being turned out for drying. No roast has been applied to the black tea in this tea cake, giving it a higher natural moisture content and the potential to age like sheng pu’er, even with its oxidized and sweet black tea flavor. The addition of tea flowers brings even more sweet, sunny goodness to an already complex base, making for a darker deeper ginger molasses cookie profile, and a rewarding floral complexity.
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.
This tea is wild-foraged by the Li Family of the Dongsa Cooperative within the Mt Ailao National Forest Preserve. The silvery buds and twisting golden leaves are picked from ancient tea trees between one hundred and eight hundred years old scattered between other evergreens, and wildflowers on the rocky mountainside. This labor-intensive tea to harvest is actually allowed to sun-roast and oxidize without applying heat in a wok. Because more moisture is retained in the leaf, this black tea is a fantastic candidate for aging like traditional sheng pu’er. Only a high-elevation remote place like Qianjiazhai can count on enough sunlight in the spring for this old but rare finishing technique. The result is a tea with the sweet malt of a black tea but the staggering complexity and herbaceous undertones of a sheng pu’er. A true standout!
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."
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.
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.
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.
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.
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