Yunnan province is located in the south west corner of China. It shares borders with Tibet, Vietnam, Laos, and Myanmar and is crossed by the Tropic of Cancer. It ranges in elevation from the Honghe River valley at 76 meters to Kawagebo Peak which has an elevation of 6,700 meters.
Tea is grown at elevations between 1,200 to 2,000 meters, and the tea growing areas have mean temperatures ranges between 12 and 23 degrees Celsius. Annual rainfall in the area is between 1,000 and 2,000 mm.
Conditions in Yunnan province are ideal for tea trees, and it is for these trees that Yunnan province is famous. There are 200 species of tea trees found in Yunnan province, most of which are known as "Yunnan large-leaf tea" which is ideal for producing Pu-erh tea and black tea.
Yunnan Tea History
Tea has been grown in Yunnan province for at least 2,100 years when the first wild tea trees were domesticated. There are still 3 ancient tea trees growing – the Bada wild tree (1,700 years old); the Nannou Mountain cultivated tree (800 years old); and the transitional Bangwei ancient tree (1,000 years old). These three trees are known as the "Three Ancient Tea Tree Kings."
The earliest records of tea cultivation say that the Pu people of Yunnan began growing tea in the Shang Dynasty (ca. 1600 – 1050 BC). Tea production spread to various parts of Yunnan province and by the Song Dynasty (960 – 1279) Pu-erh county had become famous for its pressed tea.
Yunnan began exporting tea to foreign countries in 1763 and the peak period for exports was between 1926 and 1936 which saw the sales of 5,000 tons of tea per year to Tibet and Sichuan, and 500 tons a year to foreign countries.
Currently the two largest tea producing areas are Fengqing and Menghai counties which produce green tea, black tea and pressed tea. Yunnan black tea is one of China’s important exports and is known for its high quality. The famous aged Pu-erh tea is produced in Pu-erh county and Xiaguan Tuo tea is mainly produced in Dali. Xiaguan Tuo tea is pressed into a ball shape and has a pleasant flavor and color.
Other teas produced in Yunnan province include jade green tea, mixed tea, Xuanchun tea, Hongbao tea, Yinzhen tea, aw well as scented varieties such as smoked tea, white orchid tea, and the popular jasmine tea.