M is for Ma Liu Mi

Ma Liu Mi is a greener, lightly roasted Monkey Picked variety of oolong from Anxi county, famous for producing Tie Guan Yin. The origin of “Monkey Picked” oolong tea dates to the early 18th century, when this variety was discovered in the county.

But what does Monkey Picked actually mean? Do Monkey’s really pick the tea?

The name of this tea comes from a popular myth passed down in the oral tradition. There were tea bushes growing in the rocky crags of the Wuyi Mountains, which were favored for their flavor but were extremely dangerous to pick. The local farmers trained monkeys to harvest the tea leaves. Although nimble, the monkeys were not careful pickers and grabbed both new and old leaves. The result was a blend of leaves that created a tea with a special character and light flavor. The monkeys were then rewarded with food when they brought the tea leaves back to the farmers. Yet there is another, perhaps more plausible explanation. Tea farmers would tie ropes around their waists to safely climb up to the top peaks of the Wuyi Mountains to harvest the precious tea leaves. The farmers would resemble monkeys, thus the tea’s name. And though we love the stories and myths that surround Chinese tea culture, you can be sure that there are no monkeys involved in plucking this tea!

But wait, there is more to the story… In the late 1700s, a traveler by the name of Aeneaus Anderson made a trip to China. There he met tea merchants, who told him the story of the monkey’s that picked tea leaves. Now, while he visited numerous tea plantations, he never once saw any monkey’s picking the leaves. But shrewd Chinese tea merchants, who wanted to sell more tea, perpetuated the myth. Years before tea became a standard beverage in Europe and North America, tea for westerns was a wonder. They loved the unusual and exquisite taste. However, since tea took so long to make its journey from China to Europe and North America. Most people were utterly clueless about how tea was grown and processed. However, the myth the merchants persisted in telling, of the monkey’s picking the tea, continued and kept tea drinkers in the west interested and craving more tea was that was picked by brilliantly trained monkeys.

The Anxi Region in southern Fujian Province, is a region with a rich history of cultivating award-winning, world-class cultivars. The region’s terroir – the farms’ altitude, their proximity to the sea, the shape of the foothills and terraced mountains, the ample rains and mists of the coastal area – all of these features work together to create the ideal environment for cultivating lush, rich flavors.

So, when you see the words “Monkey Picked” on a tea name it really means “Taste Great, Cost More”!

Next… Ma Liu Mi in my cup.

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