X is for Xishuangbanna, Yunnan


It was a challenge trying to find a topic for the letter X.  But I was doing some research on another subject and there was a brief reference regarding the believed birthplace of tea in China – nestled in the Xishuangbanna Prefecture in Yunnan Province and suddenly I had my X!


Is a prefecture located in the southwestern part of the Yunnan Province, in China. The prefecture is renowned for being one of the birthplaces of Chinese tea.  There are six famous tea mountains located in the prefecture, that produce some of the most highly prized Pu-erh teas. These famous tea mountains have more than 1,200 millimeters of rainfall every year, with an average temperature of around 18 degrees centigrade. The thick vegetation and excellent climate, that is warm in the winter, and cool in the summer provides the ideal environment for tea growth. This area is the heart of Pu’er teas.  All kinds of Pu’ers – Sheng, Shou, rounds cakes and bricks – can be found in this area.

In a Nutshell, the history of Pu’er Tea…

Can be traced back to the Tang Dynasty when Pu’er tea was called ‘Pu Tea’ and was cultivated and produced on a large scale for the first time. During the Song and Ming Dynasties, Pu’er tea gradually spread to the central plain region of China. Pu’er tea reached its peak in the Qing dynasty and enjoyed nationwide popularity, and it was particularly valued in Beijing.  The Emperors of the Qing dynasty loved Pu’er teas.  They ordered huge quantities of it. So, from Xishuangbanna, the Tea Horse Road was created, on which traveled long caravans, from the  Capital to Tibet – exchaging tea for horses.

Now here’s the really cool thing about the letter X,

Deep in the jungles of the Xishuangbanna Prefecture there exist trees unlike any other on Earth. The prefecture is home to the oldest tea trees in the world. Some of the trees are hundreds of years old, with some more than a thousand years old. No one has ever watered, fertilized, or sprayed them. Since they’ve survived on their own for so long, the taste of the leaves from each tree is unique, and the tea that is made from their leaves a Pu’er.


Some of tress in these the ancient tea forests, are in danger because they are being cut down in favor of modern-style terrace farming. More tea can be harvested from plantations than from the ancient tree forests. However, tea brewed from the plantation leaves lack the complexity of the ancient tea trees, which have benefited from the biodiversity of the forest. However, there are “guardians” if you will of these forests. Several men have been assuming the role of protectors and are reinstating the ancestral Blang (local indigenous people) tradition of designating “spirit trees” in the sacred mountain’s ancient tea tree gardens. Villagers place spirit staffs next to the oldest trees in the garden, which are “guardian trees” that protect the rest of the younger trees. These staffs must not be damaged in any way; anyone who disrupts the staffs will carry a curse.

Each year, the tea harvested from the spirit trees is taken to a temple and offered to the ancestral princess and prince of tea, Nan Fa and Ai Leng, for a blessing. After receiving the blessing, the tea is collected and processed, and sold at a high – price. The money collected from the sale of the holy tea is distributed to the villagers to help them when their cash flow is tight during the lean winter months preceding the spring harvest.

An unforgivable loss…

When these “spirit trees” die, they will be gone forever.  It took centuries for them to grow to their current state and thus it would take several centuries for any new trees to reach this level, assuming that all other environmental factors are in place.

So, perhaps we should all be like the Lorax, one of Dr. Seuss’s beloved characters, and speak on behalf of the trees.



Next… Xin Yang Mao Jian in my cup…

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