Verdant Tea

"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 Most Popular Teas

  1. 2021 Harmony Xiao Jin Gua
    2021 Harmony Xiao Jin Gua

    The Harmony Series debuted in 2016 as a collaboration between Master Zhou and the Li Family in Qianjiazhai to select tea from a wide range of trees to get a cross section of flavor texture and aroma that they feel most defines the region. This 2021 pressing exemplifies balance, full engagement of the pallet and beautifully rich creamy texture. Master Zhou blends Gu Hua harvest picking from trees between one hundred and three hundred years of age with older five hundred to a thousand year trees to get the thick powerful flavor and juicy quality of the younger leaf, bolstered by the woody texture, tingling mouthfeel and cooling sensation of the older trees. The result is singular, an opportunity to taste the best of everything Qianjiazhai has to offer.

    $41.00
  2. 2022 Huang Pian Sheng Cake
    2022 Huang Pian Sheng Cake
    Huang Pian refers to the larger, more mature and flavorful leaves that will inevitably be picked after a long day of wild-foraging. These leaves dry differently and finish differently than younger leaves and buds, so Master Zhou separates them out of his cakes before pressing, saving the precious few pounds harvested each year to enjoy himself. Though often jokes that Huang Pian leaves are the ugliest, he treasures his Huang Pian because it has a distinctive crisp texture and bright fruity flavor that becomes deep and rich with just a few years of aging. This year, for the first time ever, Master Zhou was able to set aside much of his Huang Pian as a limited offering for us. Judging from the many cups of Huang Pian we’ve sipped with Master Zhou in Qianjiazhai over the years, this cake has tremendous aging potential.
    $16.00
  3. 2017 Wild Crassicolumna Yabao 100g Cake
    2017 Wild Crassicolumna Yabao 100g Cake
    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 worth the effort.
    $54.00
  1. Hand Fired Black Tea Dragon Pearls
    Hand Fired Black Tea Dragon Pearls
    While the Li Family uses sun drying to bring out rich texture and spice in their sun dried black tea, they have recently started experimenting with a light roasting process, done entirely by hand over a special wood-fired wok. This brings out much sweeter flavors in the black tea. This Dragon Pearl is made with the Li Family's hand fired black tea, closer to a traditional Dian Hong than their Sun Dried Black tea, with savory notes of honey, walnut, fig and a warming hint of cinnamon and tulsi spice.
  2. 2020 Qianjiazhai Hand Fired Black
    2020 Qianjiazhai Hand Fired Black
    The Dongsa cooperative wild-forages the leaves for their hand-fired black tea from trees well over one hundred years old, growing on the cool high elevation slopes of the Ailao National Forest Preserve. The biodiversity and well established root stock makes for deeply nuanced and complex tea, normally reserve for pressing and aging as sheng pu’er. This experimental offering is a new project by the cooperative to hand fire over low heat in a wok for a more classic Dian Hong style. The application of heat makes this more closely related to other Yunnan Black, and indeed it shares a rich sweet potato thickness similar to our Yunnan Golden Fleece, but with Qianjiazhai’s signature tulsi complexity and touches of citrus, and florals.
  3. 2014 Qianjiazhai Yi Ji Shu Pu'er
    2014 Qianjiazhai Yi Ji Shu Pu'er
    Master Zhou works with his students in the Qianjiazhai Dongsa Cooperative to start introducing shu pu’er fermentation and crafting techniques more widely across the mountain. This stunningly clean, rich and foresty example is crafted from pre-Qingming harvest maocha picked from one hundred to five hundred year trees. Even with only three years of aging, it displays the clean rich complexity normally only seen on shu pu’er a decade old or older.

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

Our Teas and Craft

sun drying black tea in the courtyard
Ms. Li and her mother climb tea trees to forage spring leaves
a single tea tree towers over two stories

Here in Qianjiazhai, nature takes care of much of the craft.

Our job is to protect the environment and know when and how to harvest from the wild trees scattered across the mountainsides.

The age of our wild trees gives them very deep roots that take in sweet minerals from the rocky soil, and the biodiversity creates an environment that stimulates deep flavor complexity

Because of the importance of tree age on the flavor of the finished tea, we separate our pickings by tree age, from 100 year tree Gu Hua autumn harvests, all the way to ancient single tree harvests and pressings.

After picking, we spread the leaves thin and allow them to sun dry in the sun. On cooler or cloudy days in the fall, a light firing in a wok helps eliminate moisture more quickly. The key is not using too much heat to avoid the smokey flavor that some young sheng pu’er can have. We store our tea loose for good air flow and aging, only pressing cakes using traditional stone molds as orders come in.

We avoid the use of high heat or machinery, preferring to take the time to let each tiny batch realize its full potential and develop the flavor and complexity that this environment gifts us.

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 Tea to 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, video and interviews.

  1. 2018 Loose Leaf Gu Hua Sheng
    2018 Loose Leaf Gu Hua Sheng
    Craft and terroir have come together beautifully for this 2018 early autumn harvest from Qianjiazhai's wild tea trees. The Dongsa Cooperative wild-forages buds and tender leaves from tea trees between one hundred and three hundred years of age for this loose sheng pu'er blend. Every hand-picked leaf is withered and sun-dried in bamboo baskets, with little or no heat exposure to lock in the most wild and natural flavor of one of the most remote growing regions in the world.
  2. 2018 Single Tree Sheng
    2018 Single Tree Sheng
    Qianjiazhai is home to some of the oldest tea trees in the world. We are extremely lucky this year to be able to offer a single-tree harvest from the oldest tree on the Li Family’s high elevation plot, estimated to 1300 years based on its trunk diameter. Located at 24°16'13.6"N and 101°12'19.6"E, this single tree needs to be carefully climbed to sustainably harvest about ten kilograms of leaf per year. Growing out of a rocky mountainside, and surrounded by a biodiverse wild growth of evergreens, tulsi plants and flowers, this tree benefits from cool misty air, and mineral-rich soil. It takes three people with linked arms to circle the trunk! The deep roots and thousand plus years of fighting for survival give this tea an incredible complexity full of yun cooling sensation and aloeswood incense undertones. The Li Family works with Master Zhou to dry this tea in bamboo baskets in the sun, and hand finish the maocha for traditional stone pressing. Even within a microclimate like Qianjiazhai, each mountaintop and valley has its own unique qualities, and the cooperative selected this tree as worthwhile to finish separate from their blended cakes to show off the stunning terroir and the complexity that is possible with ancient tree stock. Set aside a few cakes for aging and the yun cooling and tingling qualities continue to develop over the years. We’ve been following this tree for five years now and have been blown away with the development we are seeing in cellaring. available this year in both 100g and 250g pressings
  3. 2018 Zun Sheng Pu'er
    2018 Zun Sheng Pu'er
    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.
  4. 2019 Gu Hua Sheng Xiao Jin Gua
    2019 Gu Hua Sheng Xiao Jin Gua
    Master Zhou's Gu Hua harvest is a careful blend of maocha from trees aged between one hundred and three hundred years old, picked for a balanced and rich full body and aroma. Gu Hua is the very early autumn harvest prized for its rich flavor and intense aroma. These truly wild trees grow in one of the oldest and most remote tea forests in the world, on Mt. Ailao. Every leaf is hand picked and carefully sun-dried with minimal time on the wok for a more natural and pure flavor. The maocha is finished with careful stone-pressing in a custom 100g mold carved by Master Zhou. While much of Yunnan has experienced difficult rain and heat in recent years, the high elevation microclimate, and well-preserve forest of the Mt Ailao National Forest Preserve has granted Qianjiazhai spectacular growing seasons, making their new 2019 harvest a great choice for long term aging.
  5. 2019 Loose Leaf Gu Hua Sheng
    2019 Loose Leaf Gu Hua Sheng
    Craft and terroir have come together beautifully for this 2019 early autumn harvest from Qianjiazhai's wild tea trees. The Dongsa Cooperative wild-forages buds and tender leaves from tea trees between one hundred and three hundred years of age for this loose sheng pu'er blend. Every hand-picked leaf is withered and sun-dried in bamboo baskets, with little or no heat exposure to lock in the most wild and natural flavor of one of the most remote growing regions in the world.
  6. 2019 Qianjiazhai Tea Flower Sheng
    2019 Qianjiazhai Tea Flower Sheng
    For a few extraordinary weeks at the beginning of autumn, every wild tea tree in Qianjiazhai puts out deeply aromatic golden blossoms. In recent years the Dongsa Cooperative, led by Master Zhou, has experimented with picking small amounts of the rich evocative tea flowers to blend with their wild-picked ancient-tree teas. Craft and terroir have come together beautifully for this 2019 early autumn harvest from Qianjiazhai's wild tea trees, picked at the same time as the iconic tea flowers are blooming. The Dongsa Cooperative wild-forages buds and tender leaves from tea trees between one hundred and three hundred years of age for this loose sheng pu'er blend. Every hand-picked leaf is withered and sun-dried in bamboo baskets, with little or no heat exposure to lock in the most wild and natural flavor of one of the most remote growing regions in the world. The tea flowers bring out textural depth and even sweeter undertones in this already sweet and supremely drinkable young sheng.
  7. 2019 Single Tree Sheng
    2019 Single Tree Sheng
    Qianjiazhai is home to some of the oldest tea trees in the world. Once again, we are extremely lucky this year to be able to offer a single-tree harvest from the oldest tree on the Li Family’s high elevation plot, estimated to 1300 years based on its trunk diameter. Located at 24°16'13.6"N and 101°12'19.6"E, this single tree needs to be carefully climbed to sustainably harvest about ten kilograms of leaf per year. Growing out of a rocky mountainside, and surrounded by a biodiverse wild growth of evergreens, tulsi plants and flowers, this tree benefits from cool misty air, and mineral-rich soil. It takes three people with linked arms to circle the trunk! The deep roots and thousand plus years of fighting for survival give this tea an incredible complexity full of yun cooling sensation and aloeswood incense undertones. The Li Family works with Master Zhou to dry this tea in bamboo baskets in the sun, and hand finish the maocha for traditional stone pressing. Even within a microclimate like Qianjiazhai, each mountaintop and valley has its own unique qualities, and the cooperative selected this tree as worthwhile to finish separate from their blended cakes to show off the stunning terroir and the complexity that is possible with ancient tree stock. Set aside a few cakes for aging and the yun cooling and tingling qualities continue to develop over the years. We’ve been following this tree for six years now and have been blown away with the development we see in cellaring. available this year in 5g dragon pearls, 100g tea cakes and 250g pressings