This article frequently references and links to babelcarp. Babelcarp is a Chinese Tea Lexicon that is an essential resource for tea nerds that want to dive in further and don’t understand Chinese! This article also sources many maps from a TeaChat thread, original sources vary.
Home of the most famous tea factory, several high-profile areas (Lao Banzhang) and many of the most famous cakes from the masterpiece era of Pu’erh, Menghai County is both historically important in old school pu’erh and is featured prominently in much of contemporary pu’erh’s marketing. Much of the importance of region as both a brand and marker of terroir was covered in a post on Yiwu/Eastern Xishuangbanna. Locationwise, Menghai County is the westernmost county in Xishuangbanna, west of both Jinghong and Mengla.
Note #1: Mengla County is famous as part of the greater Yiwu region, but Jinghong County doesn’t have the pedigree of its neighbors. The only real tea-growing area of note in Jinghong is You Le Mountain, one of the six famous tea mountains.
A Brief History
In the 1940s Menghai Tea Factory was established (as Fohai). During the 1950s, tea production (previously centered around Yiwu) shifted westward to Menghai County, where the large Menghai Tea Factory was based. During this period, there was a far greater focus on big operations and large factories, a contrast to the family-centric operations in eastern Xishuangbanna. Many of these previously hot regions stopped producing tea entirely or simply sold their raw materials to the larger factories.
In the early 1970s ripe pu’erh was developed by Kunming Tea Factory (CNNP) and Menghai Tea Factory, largely to satiate Hong Kong’s thirst for aged pu’erh. Ripe pu’erh served as a surrogate for aged raw tea. To this day, big factories, especially Menghai, dominate the ripe pu’erh market. As a result, Menghai County is closely associated with big factories, machines, plantation tea, and ripe pu’erh.
Aged Examples: 1950s/60s Red Label, 1950s/60s Blue Label, 1970s Yellow Mark, 1988 Qing Beeng.
Characteristic Taste [Raw Pu’erh]
Menghai County tea is known to pack a stronger punch than its cousins in eastern Xishuangbanna. These teas are sought after for an aggressive taste with a powerful punch and a strong huigan. The premium regions of western Xishuangbanna (Lao Banzhang) also generally follow this profile and are known for their potency. These hot regions, especially ones with old trees, are some of the most sought after and expensive regions in Yunnan. Menghai County is also one of the regions with a strong track record (perhaps the strongest) of successfully aged teas, most famously the 1950s/1960s Red Label.
Note #1: Menghai County (via CNNP and Menghai Tea Factory) is largely responsible for many of the famous examples of raw and ripe pu’erh from the 1950s-1990s, while the greater Yiwu region is famous for its pre-1950s teas.
Bulang mountain is located on the western side of Xishuangbanna in Menghai County. Bulang is the southernmost mountain in a series of mountains in western Xishuangbanna and has an extremely large growing area encompassing Lao Banzhang and Lao Man’e (covered below). Its name is often mentioned, but not usually as a big-ticket item. Teas from the more famous areas of greater Bulang will be marketed as being from their individual village and will earn a higher pricetag. Teas markteted as Bulang typically do not demand the same price tag as many of the hot villages within it, but bear many of the same punchy, bitter characteristics.
Also: Jie Liang.
Lao Banzhang, [Bulang] (babelcarp)
The most famous area on the Bulang mountain is Lao Banzhang. Not so long ago, Lao Banzhang (Old Banzhang) was just another village in the mountain and became famous through big-factory cakes that spotlighted and highlighted it. As Lao Banzhang has increased in popularity and in price, there have been a couple other nearby regions that have been highlighted by enthusiasts and pu’erh producers. These areas all share similar characteristics with a bold, bitter, and energizing flavor. As a result of the rise to fame of Lao Banzhang, there have been strong marketing pushes for many of the nearby areas and villages, notably Lao Man’e and Xin Banzhang. There are also a massive amount of Lao Banzhang fakes!
Note #1: Lao Banzhang was also famously locked down by pu’erh producer Chen Sheng Hao, helping to contribute to the hype.
Lao Man’e [Bulang] (babelcarp)
Lao Man’e shares many of the same characteristics with the nearby Lao Banzhang. Lao Man’e is known for having a similar characteristic to much of Bulang, strong and quite bitter.
Note #1: It is important to note that not all tea will fit neatly into regional taste categorizations. For instance Tea Urchin and White2Tea have both sold either less bitter/sweet Lao Man’e or blends containing both.
One of the most visited tea mountains with easy access to both Menghai city and Jinghong (the capital of Xishuangbanna). Nannuo is also in the same range of mountains as Bulang and bears many similarities. While its basic character is considered to be punchier than Yiwu tea, Nannuo tea is also thought to be less bitter and friendly towards newcomers. It also is noted for frequently featuring strong floral and fragrant notes. Like Bulang, Nannuo is a large mountain and will have a good range of flavors, many of which belie its reputation of being soft, floral and fragrant. Some have drawn a distinction in the terroir of the southern Nannuo (bitter/closer to Bulang) and north Nannuo (softer/sweeter/further from Bulang).
The furthest north mountain in the mountain range as Nannuo and Bulang. Mengsong bears many similar characteristics. Mengsong is one of the highest elevation areas in Xishuangbanna and the tea leaves are slightly smaller than the varieties in other mountains, the result of crossbreeding. A Mengsong village, Naka, was one of the earliest regions to generate attention as a village/smaller growing area.
Hekai and Pasha are in the same range as western Xishuangbanna areas (Nannuo, Bulang Mengsong) and also have many similarities with western Xishuangbanna teas. These mountains and surrounding areas represent the Menghai County taste.
The odd mountain out. Bada is on the western border of Xishuangbanna neighbroing Myanmar. Bada has a distinctive, grassy taste and is rarely sold on its own. It is usually blended in with other mountains for taste. Menghai Tea Factory notably owns a tea plantation on Bada and uses the leaves principally for their own blends.
Also: Zhang Lang.